Pankhurst, Sylvia 1882–1960

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Pankhurst, Sylvia 1882–1960

(Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst)

PERSONAL: Born May 5, 1882, in Manchester, England; died September 27, 1960, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; daughter of Richard Marsden (an attorney) and Emmeline Pankhurst (a suffragist); common-law wife of Silvio Ersmus Corio; children: Richard Pankhurst. Education: Attended art school in Vienna, Austria, and at Royal College of Art.

CAREER: Political activist and author. Founder of East London Federation of Suffragettes; founder, Women's Dreadnought (socialist journal; renamed Worker's Dreadnought, 1917); cofounder, with Charlotte Despard, Women's Peace Army; founder, New Times and Ethiopian News; editor, Ethiopian Observer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Decoration of the Queen of Sheba.


The Suffragette: The History of the Women's Militant Suffrage Movement, 1905–10, Sturgis & Walton (New York, NY), 1911.

Housing and the Worker 's Revolution: Housing in Capitalist Britain and Bolshevik Russia, Workers' Socialist Federation (London, England), 1917.

Lloyd George Takes the Mask Off, Workers' Socialist Federation (London, England), 1920.

Rebel Ireland: Thoughts on Easter Week, 1916. Workers' Socialist Federation (London, England), c. 1920.

Soviet Russia as I Saw It, Workers' Dreadnought (London, England), 1921.

Writ on Cold Slate, Workers' Dreadnought (London, England), 1922.

Education of the Masses, Dreadnought (London, England), 1924.

India and the Earthly Paradise, Sunshine Publishing House (Bombay, India), 1926.

Delphos: The Future of International Language, Dutton (New York, NY), 1927.

Save the Mothers: A Plea for Measures to Prevent the Annual Loss of about 3,000 Child-Bearing Mothers and 20,000 Infant Lives in England and Wales, and a Similar Grievous Wastage in Other Countries, Knopf (London, England), 1930.

The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals (autobiography), Longmans (New York, NY), 1931.

The Home Front: A Mirror to Life in England during the World War, Hutchinson (London, England), 1932.

The Life of Emmeline Pankhurst: The Suffragette Struggle for Women's Citizenship, T.W. Laurie (London, England), 1935, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1936.

British Policy in Eastern Ethiopia, the Ogaden, and the Reserved Area, privately printed (Woodford Green, Essex, England), 1946.

British Policy in Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia, privately printed (Woodford Green, Essex, England), 1946.

The Ethiopian People: Their Rights and Progress, New Times & Ethiopian News Book Department (Woodford Green, Essex, England), 1946.

Eritrea on the Eve: The Past and Future of Italy's "First-Born" Colony, Ethiopia's Ancient Sea Province, New Times and Ethiopian News Book Department (Woodford Green, Essex, England), 1951.

(With Richard Pankhurst) Ethiopia and Eritrea: The Last Phase of the Reunion Struggle, 1941–52, Lalibela House (Woodford Green, Essex, England), 1953.

Ethiopia: A Cultural History, Lalibela House (Woodford Green, Essex, England), 1955.

Also author of The Truth about the Oil War, Dreadnought (London, England), and A Sylvia Pankhurst Reader, edited by Kathryn Dodd, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England).

ADAPTATIONS: Shoulder to Shoulder, a television play, was adapted from Pankhurst's life and writings, 1974.

SIDELIGHTS: Sylvia Pankhurst, along with her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, and older sister, Christabel Pankhurst, was a prominent suffragist in England during the early 1900s. Unlike her mother and sister, however, she was a more fervent supporter of the lower classes, a pacifist who opposed England's entry into World War I, and a supporter of the Russian Revolution and independence for Ethiopia (then called Abyssinia). She was also a talented artist who studied painting in Venice and London. Although Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst became more prominent in the women's suffrage movement, it was Sylvia Pankhurst who first led them to more radical means of drawing attention to their cause.

After her father's death in 1898, Pankhurst was asked by the Independent Labour Party (ILP) to help decorate its hall in his memory. However, when the newly decorated hall was opened to the public, neither she nor her mother—nor any woman—was allowed to enter. This outrage led Sylvia to radical actions that were soon emulated by her sister and mother. Her pro-suffrage activities got her imprisoned for the first of several times in 1906. However, she soon began to split with Christabel and Emmeline on several points. Unlike them, Pankhurst remained a member of the ILP, and she also believed that social and political equality must run hand in hand with the women's suffrage issue. Christabel and her mother, in contrast, abandoned the ILP to form the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and focused solely on voting rights, which they believed would, when obtained, lead to other social improvements in England.

In 1914 Sylvia broke with the WSPU and concentrated her energies on the working-class East London Federation. She established a newspaper, the Women's Dreadnought, which was renamed the Worker's Dreadnought in 1917; this reflected her decreased support for feminism and her increased socialist sympathies. With the outbreak of war in 1914 the WSPU ceased its militancy and directed all of its energies toward supporting the war cause. The union's open support of the war widened the gulf between Sylvia and her sister and mother. Christabel's The Suffragette became the pro-war Britannia; Sylvia, on the other hand, co-founded the Women's Peace Army with Charlotte Despard and attended the International Congress of Women for Peace at the Hague. In 1917 she welcomed the Bolshevik revolution, and at the end of the war she visited Russia. She also joined the British Communist Party, but eventually her demands for freedom of expression resulted in her expulsion.

At the end of the war Pankhurst became involved with left-wing exile Silvio Erasmus Corio, with whom she had a child in 1927. She never married Corio, nor did her son, Richard, take Corio's surname. The birth of this child out of wedlock further strained the relationship between mother and daughter, as did her mother's decision to become a conservative candidate for Parliament in the general election of 1929. Pankhurst became even more left wing over time. She opposed fascism and, in protest over Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, founded the New Times & Ethiopia News, which she edited for twenty years. She also wrote a number of books on Ethiopia and moved there in 1956, where she helped to establish a Social Service Society and edited the Ethiopia Observer. For her services to Ethiopia, she received the decoration of the Queen of Sheba and died in Addis Ababa on September 27, 1960.



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

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

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

Pankhurst, Richard, Sylvia Pankhurst, Artist and Crusader: An Intimate Portrait, Paddington Press (New York, NY), 1979.

Romero, Patricia, E. Sylvia Pankhurst: Portrait of a Radical, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1987.