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Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

A passionate and fearless campaigner for the rights of women.

Emmeline declared herself a committed suffragist – a campaigner for women’s right to vote – when she was just fourteen. She went on to dedicate her life to the cause.

She fought tirelessly for the poor and oppressed, believing that society could only progress if women had an equal voice with men. In 1903 she formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and began a peaceful campaign for the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst smiling from a train door Emmeline travelled extensively, giving speeches and campaigning across Britain and in America, Canada and even Russia. (Credit: LSE Library / Flickr)

The motto of the WSPU was ‘Deeds not words’ and, in the face of continued opposition, the suffragettes became more militant. They were condemned by many for marching, heckling, setting fires and throwing stones, but it kept their campaign in the news. It took until 1928 for women over 21 to be given the right to vote. Tragically, Emmeline died three weeks before the law was passed.

Suffragettes processing on a crowded street The WSPU suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst, were regularly arrested and imprisoned for their militant actions. Many went on hunger strike in prison to protest, and were painfully force fed. (Credit: LSE Library / Flickr)

Emmeline asked her fellow suffragettes to halt their militant campaigning when the First World War broke out in 1914. In the face of such danger, she felt they should put their energies into the war effort instead.

She urged all men to volunteer, and for women to ‘keep the country going, to get in the harvest, to carry on the industries’ in their absence.

Emmeline Pankhurst with Christabel Emmeline and Christabel in Paris in 1912. Christabel was wanted by the police for her militant WSPU activity, and fled to France. (Credit: LSE Library / Flickr)

Emmeline’s eldest daughter Christabel, also a committed suffragette, agreed with her mother. By contrast, her two youngest daughters, Adela and Sylvia, were passionate pacifists. This caused a terrible rift between the women that never healed.

Further information

Emmeline Pankhurst monument

You will often see purple, white and green bouquets left at Emmeline’s grave on the Central Avenue. These were the distinctive colours of the WSPU.

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