Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, Carried by Officer

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Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, Carried by Officer


By: Anonymous

Date: June 1914

Source: "Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, Carried by Officer." Corbis, 1914.

About the Photographer: This image is part of the stock collection at Corbis photo agency. The photographer is not known.


While British women gained the right to vote in local elections in 1868, British authorities did not believe that women should be allowed to cast a ballot on national matters. Men were the heads of families and the ones expected to go to war, so men were the only ones allowed to vote. In response, British women created several suffrage organizations. The best-known group was the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903.

Pankhurst, born Emmeline Goulden in Manchester, England in 1858, came from a politically active family. Her father supported the anti-slavery movement and her mother took Emmeline to her first suffrage meeting. After attending school in Paris, she married a barrister who was also a social reformer. Pankhurst joined her husband in campaigning for women to have the right to control their own property. She became a member of the Liberal Party as well as the Manchester Women's Suffrage Committee but soon became disenchanted with traditional politics.

Pankhurst believed that the existing women's suffrage organizations were too timid. She left the Liberal Party in 1907 and began an aggressive plan to win the vote. Starting in 1907, the WSPU held parades in English cities. Male spectators responded by violently attacking the marchers, who were then arrested by the police for disturbing the peace. Pankhurst began to argue that only direct, violent action would secure women the vote since men would do nothing unless their property was threatened.

Pankhurst's militancy brought enormous publicity to the suffrage cause. Along with her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, Pankhurst etched slogans with acid in golf greens and set fires in mailboxes. In 1908, she was arrested after issuing a manifesto calling upon people to storm the House of Parliament in support of women's suffrage. When Prime Minister Herbert Asquith refused to endorse women's suffrage in 1911, Pankhurst led a systematic assault on London's most exclusive shops, breaking windows to get attention for suffrage. She received a nine-month prison sentence and, upon her release, continued the violence. For plotting to bomb David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith's cabinet, Pankhurst earned a three-year prison term. To the dismay of government authorities, Pankhurst drew additional publicity by conducting repeated hunger strikes during her prison stay.

With the outbreak of World War I, Pankhurst suspended the operations of the WSPU and engaged in recruitment tours in Great Britain and the United States on behalf of the war effort. Many of the other militant suffragists regarded such moves as a betrayal of the women's movement. Following the war, Pankhurst lived in Canada while working as a lecturer in social hygiene for the National Council for Combating Venereal Diseases. She returned to England in 1925 and died in 1928.



See primary source image.


Women in England at the start of the nineteenth century had more freedom than in most countries. British women could vote for and serve on school and local government boards. Without their volunteer work in schools and charity organizations, the educational and social support system of Britain would have collapsed. Yet women, along with felons and the mentally ill, could not vote for members of Parliament.

The right to vote was central to the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in parliamentary systems of government. Some women viewed the right to vote as their reward for having served alongside men in the development of modern society, while others saw the ballot as a means of improving social conditions for the oppressed, including women. By the eve of World War I, the suffrage issue had become the foundation for the first mass-based women's political movement. Both enemies and supporters of women's rights criti-cized the tactics of militants such as Pankhurst. However, Pankhurst succeeded in making the vote for women a public issue that would not go away.

The final victories in the suffragist battle were not won until after World War I. Women had played a major part on the home front in World War I. As a reward, women over the age of thirty gained the right to vote in national elections in 1918. British women gained the right to vote on the same terms as men in 1923. At that time, any woman twenty-one years old and a six-month resident of Great Britain could cast a ballot.



Bartley, Paula. Emmeline Pankhurst. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Raeburn, Antonia. The Militant Suffragettes. London: Joseph, 1973.

Web sites

The Time 100. "Emmeline Pankhurst: The Victorian Englishwoman Marshaled the Suffragist Movement, Which Won Women the Vote." 〈http://www.time.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/pankhurst01.html〉 (accessed February 20, 2006).

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Emmeline Pankhurst, Suffragette, Carried by Officer

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