Women everywhere now take the right to vote for granted, and some are not even bothered to exercise that hard-won right. Emmeline Goulden came into the world on 14th July 1858, when women’s suffrage was hardly known. The daughter of a radical father who campaigned against slavery and the Corn Laws, and a passionate feminist mother who took her young daughter to women’s suffrage meetings in the early 1870s, Emmeline soon became a leading suffragette in the women’s right to vote movement.
Although receiving a conventional education, Emmeline inherited her mother’s political passion, and a charismatic, courageous personality. Marriage to the older radical barrister, Richard Marsden Pankhurst, in 1879, encouraged her enthusiasm for women’s rights. Her husband was author of the first women’s suffrage bill in Britain and instigator of the married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882.
By October 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst became frustrated at the lack of success in the
branch of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. With the help of her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, she formed the Women’s Social and Political Union in Manchester . Their revolutionary motto was ‘Deeds not Words’ and it aimed to recruit working class women into fighting for the right to vote. Manchester
Because of the suffragists’ determination to remain in the public eye, events took a more militant direction in 1905. As the media began to lose interest in their struggle, members of the WSPU stepped up their publicity campaign to attract attention. When government minister Sir Edward Grey spoke at a meeting in London, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney began shouting, “Will you give votes to women?”, until evicted by police. The women kicked and spat so much they were finally charged with assault and fined. On refusing to pay the fine, the women were imprisoned. Thus began the cycle of violence, imprisonment and hunger strikes that continued for many years.
During this time, the women of the WSPU became known as Suffragettes. In 1906, they moved their offices to London to lobby Parliament and newspapers more effectively. Over the next few years, the suffragettes increased their militant campaigns, breaking government windows and throwing stones at the Prime Minister’s house, culminating in the large WSPU demonstration in
in 1908. London
Because of the increasing violence and militancy, many break-away women’s groups began forming. When war broke out in 1914, there was wide-spread hostility to the women’s movement. Over 1,000 British suffragettes had been imprisoned by this time, with most of the leaders in prison, ill health, or in exile.
When they finally received a £2000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London, attended by 30,000 people, where they carried banners declaring: ‘We demand the Right to Serve’, and ‘For men must Fight and Women must Work’. At their meeting Emmeline Pankhurst called for the right for women to work in industries traditionally dominated by men.
By 1918, women over 30 finally won the right to vote, although it was not until 1928 that women over twenty one had the same rights, and equality with men. A right that should never be taken for granted.