Pankhurst, Christabel (Harriette) 1880-1958

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PANKHURST, Christabel (Harriette) 1880-1958


Born September 22, 1880, in Manchester, England; died February 13, 1958, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Richard Marsden (an attorney) and Emmeline (a suffragist) Pankhurst; children: Betty (adopted). Education: Manchester University, LL.B. (first class honors), 1906; also studied law at Victoria University.


Political and social activist and author. Founder and editor, The Suffragette.


Women's Social Political Union (co-founder with mother, Emmeline Pankhurst).


International law prize, 1905; named dame, Order of the British Empire, 1936.


The Parliamentary Vote for Women, A. Heywood (Manchester, England), c. 1896.

The Commons Debate on Women Suffrage with a Reply, Women's Press (London, England), 1908.

The Militant Methods of the NWSPU, Women's Press (London, England), c. 1908.

The Great Scourge and How to End It, Women's Press (London, England), 1913.

Plain Facts about a Great Evil, D. Nutt (London, England), 1913.

America and the War (speech), Women's Social and Political Union (London, England), c. 1914.

The War (speech), National Woman Suffrage (New York, NY), 1914.

International Militancy (speech), Women's Social and Political Union (London, England), 1915.

Pressing Problems of the Closing Age, Morgan & Scott (London, England), 1924.

Some Modern Problems in the Light of Bible Prophecy, F. H. Revell (New York, NY), 1924.

The World's Unrest: Visions of the Dawn, Morgan & Scott (London, England), 1926.

Seeing the Future, Harper & Bros. (New York, NY), 1929.

The Uncurtained Future, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1940.

Unshackled: The Story of How We Won the Vote (autobiography), edited by Lord Pethic-Lawrence, Hutchinson (London, England), 1959.

Also author of The Lord Commeth! Author of series of articles "The Confessions of Christabel," for Weekly Dispatch.

Pankhurst's manuscripts are housed at the National Library of Wales, Manchester University, and Trinity College Library, Cambridge University.


The firstborn daughter of renowned British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst became just as well known as her mother for her tireless efforts to win women the right to vote in England. With her mother, she cofounded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), which became a militant force in the movement. Later in life, after women's suffrage had become law, she became a Second Adventist and was a popular speaker on religious issues.

Pankhurst was raised by parents who adored her and in an environment that encouraged liberal thinking. After her father died in 1898, she returned to England from Geneva, where she had been studying French, to help her mother with the other children, as well as to work at her mother's store. She disliked this work, however, and decided to take some courses as Manchester University, where she met two women's rights advocates, Eva Gore Booth (sister of the first woman elected to Parliament) and Esther Roper, who were working to revive the women's movement. Pankhurst was quickly drawn into the meetings and activities of the Manchester branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and began a political apprenticeship among the working women of the north. "Here, then, was an aim in life for me—the liberation of politically fettered womanhood," she would later write in her autobiography, Unshackled: The Story of How We Won the Vote.

Always very close to her mother, in 1903 they founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) together. Pankhurst agreed with her mother that men would never do anything positive for women. Her anti-male tendencies have been interpreted by some historians as an indication of lesbianism, although in her Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, Barbara Castle preferred to view them as part of Christabel's suffrage strategy, which evolved into an open sex war endorsing "Votes for Women, Chastity for Men." Men, Pankhurst argued, were responsible for women's sexual and economic subordination; by their insistence on denying women's suffrage, which women would undoubtedly use to purify both the male race and society, she was also able to hold men responsible for all kinds of social evils, including venereal disease and prostitution.

In May of 1905 a private member's bill supporting women's suffrage had been "talked out" in parliament; this suggested to the Pankhursts that the tactics of the constitutional suffragists—which consisted of repeated petitions and deputations—were not getting anywhere. More direct action was needed. The younger Pankhurst, along with friend and fellow working-class suffragette Annie Kenney, decided to disrupt a speech that Prime Minister Winston Churchill was giving at Manchester's Free Trade Hall during the build-up to a general election. During the assembly, they asked whether the Liberal Party, if it came to power, would support women's suffrage. When no answer was given, Pankhurst unfurled a banner on which "Votes for Women" was emblazoned. The two women were ejected from the meeting and were promptly arrested outside the Free Trade Hall when Christabel attempted to make a pro-suffrage speech.

Such militant tactics intensified from 1908 onwards. When they escalated to attacks on property and arson the government decided, in 1912, to arrest the leaders of the WSPU on charges of conspiracy. Christabel escaped arrest by fleeing to Paris, where she continued to direct the WSPU campaign and edited The Suffrage for the next two years.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 the WSPU ceased its militancy and directed all of its energies towards supporting the war cause. The Union's open support of the war widened a gulf between Pankhurst and her sister Sylvia, however. Pankhurst's The Suffragette became the pro-war Britannia; Sylvia, on the other hand, cofounded the Women's Peace Army with Charlotte Despard, attended the International Congress of Women for Peace at the Hague, and eventually became a communist. Pankhurst returned to England, believing that women would soon be given the right to vote. She was partially right when in 1918 Parliament granted women over the age of thirty the right to vote. Men could vote at the age of twenty-five, but this disparity was corrected with new legislation in 1928 that made voting age the same for both sexes.

With the battle for women's suffrage won, Pankhurst turned to politics as a candidate. She ran for Parliament twice, but was defeated both times. After unsuccessfully seeking employment in an area that would interest her, she became interested in Second Adventism while visiting her mother in Canada. This led to her becoming a convert, and she set about giving sermons about the Second Coming of Christ, as well as writing books such as The World's Unrest: Visions of the Dawn, which reflects her belief that the world was coming to an end and that Judgment Day was nigh.

After adopting a daughter, Betty, in 1930 she worked to support Conservative Party candidates while continuing to preach in England for several years about the Second Coming. Pankhurst spent the final years of her life in California, where her daughter had moved, and lived long enough to complete her autobiography, which was published a year after her death in 1958.



Castle, Barbara, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1987.

Mitchell, David, The Fighting Pankhursts: A Study in Tenacity, Cape (London, England), 1967.

Mitchell, David, Queen Christabel: A Biography of Christabel Pankhurst, Macdonald & Jane (London, England), 1977.

Noble, Iris, Emmeline and Her Daughters: The Pankhurst Suffragettes, Messner (New York, NY), 1971.

Pankhurst, Christabel, Unshackled: The Story of How We Won the Vote, edited by Lord Pethic-Lawrence, Hutchinson (London, England), 1959.*