Emmeline Pankhurst (15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928)


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Victoria Tower Gardens is a public park along the north bank of the River Thames in London.

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Blue plaque, 50 Clarendon Road, London

Emmeline Pankhurst (15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928) was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win theright to vote. Born in Moss Side, Manchester, to politically active parents, Pankhurst was introduced at the age of 14 to the women’s suffrage movement. Although her parents encouraged her to prepare herself for life as a wife and mother, she attended the École Normale de Neuilly in Paris. On 18 December 1879 she married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 24 years her senior known for supporting women’s right to vote; they had five children over the next ten years. He supported her activities outside the home, and she founded and became involved with the Women’s Franchise League, which advocated suffrage for both married and unmarried women. When that organisation broke apart, she tried to join the left-leaning Independent Labour Party through her friendship with socialist Keir Hardie but was initially refused membership by the local branch on account of her gender. While working as a Poor Law Guardian, she was shocked at the harsh conditions she encountered in Manchester’s workhouses.

In 1903, five years after her husband died, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to “deeds, not words.” The group identified as independent from – and often in opposition to – political parties. It became known for physical confrontations: its members smashed windows and assaulted police officers. Pankhurst, her daughters, and other WSPU activists received repeated prison sentences, where they staged hunger strikes to secure better conditions.

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. This discrepancy was intended to ensure that men did not become minority voters as a consequence of the huge number of deaths suffered during the First World War. Pankhurst transformed the WSPU machinery into the Women’s Party, which was dedicated to promoting women’s equality in public life. In her later years she became concerned with what she perceived as the menace posed by Bolshevism and joined the Conservative Party, and was selected as a Conservative Party candidate for Stepney in 1927. She died on 14 June 1928, only weeks before the Conservative government’sRepresentation of the People Act (1928) extended the vote to all women over 21 years of age on 2 July 1928. She was commemorated two years later with a statue in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens.