Emmeline Pankhurst

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Emmeline Pankhurst (around 1913)
Emmeline Pankhurst (around 1913)

Emmeline Pankhurst [ ˈpæŋkˌhɜːst ] (born July 15, 1858 as Emmeline Goulden in Moss Side , Manchester , † June 14, 1928 in London ) was a British feminist theorist and suffragette ( women's rights activist ).


Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens , Westminster, London

Emmeline Pankhurst, daughter of Robert Goulden and Sophia Crane, grew up in a middle-class family with the radical-democratic attitude of her parents, who campaigned in the Liberal Party against slavery, the grain customs law and for women's suffrage. At the age of 14 she attended her first meeting on women's suffrage. From 1873 to 1879 she attended a girls' school in Paris. On her return to Manchester, she married the lawyer Richard Marsden Pankhurst (1834–1898), 24 years her senior, that same year . She had five children with him: Christabel Harriette (1880–1958), Estelle Sylvia (1882–1960), Frank (1884–1889; died at the age of five of diphtheria ), Adela (1885–1961) and Harry (1889– 1910). After the death of her husband in 1898, she and her children had to keep themselves and their children afloat on the miserable wages of a registrar.

Women's Social and Political Union

On October 10, 1903, together with her daughter Christabel and four other women in Manchester, she founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), a radical, bourgeois women's movement .

She developed a theory of nonviolent resistance that was later adopted by the women's movement in the United States . Her daughters Sylvia and Christabel were also active in the women's movement, whose methods became more and more radical and eventually even included arson and bomb attacks, which is why Pankhurst was arrested several times.

After a legislative proposal on women's suffrage had failed in parliament in 1910, the WSPU organized a demonstration. 300 suffragettes marched to Parliament under the leadership of Pankhurst. Due to police violence, the day became known as Black Friday . 115 women and four men were arrested, but the charges were dropped the next day. A subsequent report by the parliamentary Conciliation Committee collected numerous reports of sexualized attacks, especially the twisting and squeezing of the demonstrators' breasts.

Pankhurst's sister, Mary Jane Clarke, was among the protesters. She was arrested at another meeting a few days later and sentenced to one month in prison, her third sentence. Two days after her release, Clarke died on Christmas Day at her and Emmeline's brother Herbert Goulden's home.

Condemnation and imprisonment, radicalization of the women's movement

On April 3, 1913, Pankhurst was sentenced to three years imprisonment in the Old Bailey for masterminding a bomb attack on the country house of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George . The verdict sparked a series of street battles between women's rights activists and the police and resulted in attacks on public institutions and prominent people such as Prime Minister Herbert Asquith , who was pelted with pepper and a dead cat by activists. The protests spread across the country in the form of arson attacks and bombings and were soon referred to by the contemporary press as the Reign of Terror .

Due to poor health caused by a hunger strike, Emmeline Pankhurst was released from Holloway Detention Center on April 12, 1913 . The unrest, however, continued to grow. Bombs detonated, acid doused mailboxes, churches set on fire and public transport destroyed. It was characteristic of the actions that no human life should be affected. Sympathizers intoned “God save Emmeline Pankhurst” at Sunday services in St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey , while numerous other churches in the country went up in fire.

The events culminated with the death of the suffragette Emily Davison , who threw herself in front of the king's horse during the race at the summer derby in Epsom on June 4, 1913 and died a little later from her serious injuries. The Pankhursts then stylized Emily as a martyr of the women's movement and depicted her on the cover of their publication The Suffragette as the angel of the racetrack. Pankhurst explained this means of politically motivated suicide: “Human life is sacred to us, so we are determined to do it: if life has to be sacrificed, it is our own. We will not kill ourselves, but we will force our opponents into a position in which they have to decide: finally give us our unrestricted freedom or kill us. "

Cat and Mouse Act

Arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst on May 21, 1914 in front of Buckingham Palace

In the same year, 1913, as hunger strikes among detained suffragettes increased, Parliament passed a law known as the Cat and Mouse Act , which said that prisoners should be released from prison if they became seriously ill from hunger strikes and the associated force-feeding . After recovering, the convicted person should be imprisoned again. Because of this Cat and Mouse Act , Emmeline Pankhurst, who had since recovered, was arrested again in February 1914, whereupon she was again forced on a hunger strike, fell ill and was released.

On May 21, 1914, Pankhurst was arrested again in front of Buckingham Palace and taken away while trying to hand over a petition to King George V. Photographers present held the defending suffragette in the arms of Superintendent Rolfe. During her evacuation she is said to be “Arrested at the gates of the Palace. Tell the King! " exclaimed, as The Suffragette subsequently reported. The photograph, which featured in all London newspapers on the same day, became a significant visual document of the women's movement.

First World War, political engagement and late years

After the outbreak of World War I , Pankhurst turned to promoting the British war effort as the radical women's rights movement ebbed in the face of the war. Emmeline Pankhurst campaigned for soldiers and seafarers to vote during the First World War. For example, she wrote to the then Armaments Minister David Lloyd George that the draft law for the right to vote for soldiers and seafarers should not also include the demand for women to vote so that the former would not fail.

After the outbreak of war, Pankhurst supported the Order of the White Feather like her daughter . The aim of this association was to force men into military service by attaching a white feather to young women when they were not wearing a uniform, thereby making it public that the men were not ready to fight for their country.

In 1918, Emmeline Pankhurst joined the Tories , the British Conservative Party, and rhetorically opposed Bolshevism .

Finally, from November 1918, women older than 21 years of age were allowed to run as candidates for parliamentary elections ( passive right to vote ), but were only allowed to vote themselves from the age of 30 ( active right to vote ).

Pankhurst spent the following years in Canada and the Bermuda Islands because of her poor health . She did not return to the United Kingdom until 1925 and died in 1928. About three weeks later, on July 2, 1928, universal suffrage for women also came into force in Great Britain .


Works (selection)

  • The Powers and Duties of Poor Law Guardians in Times of Exceptional Distress. 1895.
  • The Present Position of the Women's Suffrage Movement in: The Case for Women's Suffrage. Edited by B. Villiers, 1907.
  • The Importance of the Vote. 1908.
  • Suffrages Speeches from the Dock. 1912.
  • My own story , 1914 (autobiography), Ger. A life for women's rights. Steidl, Göttingen 1996, ISBN 3-88243-447-3 .
    • New edition, translated by Agnes S. Fabian and Hellmut Roemer: Suffragette. The story of my life. Steidl, Göttingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-95829-050-1 .


  • E. Sylvia Pankhurst: The Life Of Emmeline Pankhurst: The Suffragette Struggle For Women's Citizenship. Kessinger Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4325-6529-9
  • Melanie Phillips: The Ascent of Woman - A History of the Suffragette Movement and the ideas behind it. Time Warner Book Group, London 2003, ISBN 0-349-11660-1
  • Martin Pugh : The Pankhursts. Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-14-029038-9
  • Sylvia Pankhurst: The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals (1931). New edition by Virago Press, London 1988, ISBN 0-86068-026-6

Web links

Commons : Emmeline Pankhurst  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jane Robinson: Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote . Transworld, London 2018, ISBN 978-1-4735-4086-6 , pp. 109-110.
  2. ^ Diane Atkinson, Rise Up Women !: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes , Kindle. Bloomsbury, London 2018, ISBN 978-1-4088-4406-9 , p. 4451.
  3. ^ Crawford, Elizabeth: Women's Suffrage Movement . Taylor & Francis, 2013, ISBN 1-135-43402-6 , pp. 114-115.
  4. ^ A b First years' record of militant "Reign of Terror". (PDF) The New York Times, April 28, 1914, accessed April 4, 2008 .
  5. ^ Emmeline Pankhurst arrested outside Buckingham Palace. (No longer available online.) Museum of London Picture Library, May 22, 1914, archived from the original on April 8, 2008 ; Retrieved April 4, 2008 .
  6. Mrs. Pankhurst arrested. (PDF; 210 kB) BBC / The Daily Mirror, May 22, 1914, accessed April 3, 2008 .
  7. Laura E. Nym Mayhall: Domesticating Emmeline: Representing the Suffragette, 1930-1993 . In: NSWA Journal . Vol. 11, 2 (Summer). The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1999, pp. 3 , JSTOR : 4316653 (English).
  8. ^ Women and the vote. Key dates. In: UK Parliament website. UK Parliament , accessed March 25, 2012 .
  9. ^ Women and the vote: Parliamentary Collections. Equal Franchise Act 1928. (No longer available online.) In: UK Parliament website. UK Parliament, archived from the original on March 12, 2012 ; accessed on March 25, 2012 (English).
  10. Internet Movie Database Suffragette (2015)
  11. You had no choice . In: press portal . Retrieved November 9, 2019.