Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst 1858 - 1928

Emmeline Goulden was born on 14th July 1858 in Manchester, Moss Side. She was the eldest daughter of 10 children and grew up in a politically active family. Her parents were both abolitionists and supporters of female suffrage; Goulden was fourteen when her mother took her to her first women’s suffrage meeting. However, Emmeline chafed at the fact that her parents prioritized their sons' education and advancement over hers. 

Emmeline PankhurstAfter studying in Paris, she returned to Manchester, where she met Dr.Richard Pankhurst in 1878. Richard was a lawyer who supported a number of radical causes, including women’s suffrage. Though he was 24 years older than Emmeline (44) they were married in St Luke's Church, Pendleton on 18th December 1879 and Emmeline became Mrs Pankhurst. 

Over the next decade, Emmeline gave birth to five children: daughters Christabel, Sylvia and Adela, and sons Francis (who died in childhood from diptheria) and Harry. Despite her children and other household responsibilities, Emmeline remained involved in politics, campaigning for her husband during his unsuccessful runs for Parliament and hosting political gatherings at their home. 

In 1889, Emmeline founded the Women's Franchise League, which fought to allow married women to vote in local elections. In 1897 Richard Pankhurst began to experience severe stomach pains, he had developed a gastric ulcer, and his health deteriorated. Emmeline had taken their oldest daughter Christabel to Corsier, Switzerland, to visit her old friend Noémie. A telegram arrived from Richard, reading: “I am not well. Please come home, my love.” She returned immediately to England and on 5th July, while on a train from London to Manchester, she noticed a newspaper announcing the death of Richard Pankhurst 

In October 1903, she helped found the more militant Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) - an organisation that gained much notoriety for its activities and whose members were the first to be christened 'suffragettes'. Emmeline's daughters Christabel and Sylvia were both active in the cause. British politicians, press and public were astonished by the demonstrations, window smashing, arson and hunger strikes of the suffragettes. In 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under the king's horse at the Derby as a protest at the government's continued failure to grant women the right to vote. 

Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years and went on hunger strike herself, resulting in violent force-feeding. When prison officials tried to enter her cell, Pankhurst raised a clay jug over her head and announced: “If any of you dares so much as to take one step inside this cell I shall defend myself. “Pankhurst was spared further force-feeding attempts after this incident. 

In 1913, in response to the wave of hunger strikes, the government passed what became known as the 'Cat and Mouse' Act. Hunger striking prisoners were released until they grew strong again, and then re-arrested. 

Back in London in 1925 Emmeline was visited by Sylvia, who had not seen her mother in years. Their politics were by now very different, and Sylvia was living, unmarried, with an Italian anarchist. Sylvia described a moment of familial affection when they met, followed by a sad distance between them. 

In 1926 Pankhurst joined the Conservative Party and two years later ran as a candidate for Parliament in Whitechapel and St George's. Her transformation from a fiery supporter of the ILP and window-smashing radical to an official Conservative Party member surprised many people. 

Emmeline Pankhurst's campaign for Parliament was pre-empted by her ill health and a final scandal involving Sylvia. The years of touring, lectures, imprisonment and hunger strikes had taken their toll; fatigue and illness became a regular part of Pankhurst's life. Even more painful, however, it was the news in April 1928 that Sylvia had given birth out of wedlock. Emmeline spent an entire day crying; her campaign for Parliament ended with the scandal.  

This period of militancy was ended abruptly on the outbreak of war in 1914, when Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. Emmeline died on 14th June 1928 aged 69, and She was interred in Brompton Cemetery in London. Shortly after women were granted equal voting rights with men (at 21). 

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