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.
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.
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’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.