Militant Suffragettes: Emmeline (Emily) Pankhurst

The following is from The Guinness Guide to Feminine Achievements, by Joan and Kenneth Macksey, 1975, ISBN 0 900424 31 1, pp 84-5:

The most militant of suffragettes was Emmeline (Emily) Pankhurst (British, 1858-1928). Let down first by the Liberals and then by the Labour Party, both of which she had supported in turn, she was already politically disillusioned by 1903 when she and her daughter Christabel Pankhurst (British, 1882-1960) formed the non-party Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Manchester -- mostly from mill girls -- and became engaged in the first act of physical aggression in the struggle for the vote at the hands of Liberal Party supporters during a meeting in Manchester in 1905. Sir Edward Grey had expounded on the intentions of the Government about to be formed and at question time Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney (British, 1879-1953) asked what its intentions were over votes for women. Grey ignored them (he had answered all other questions but thought this one not `a fitting subject'). The women unfurled banners and asked again. They were seized, kicked down the gallery stairs, then thrown bodily from the hall, suffering physical injury. Outside they held a protest meeting, were arrested for obstruction and, upon refusal to pay their fine, sent to prison, the first of many prision sentences to be served by suffragettes in England. This episode was given world-wide newspaper coverage: it also provoked a wave of bitter violence from the frustrated WSPU Party whose motto became `Deeds not Words'.

In 1906 they moved to London and started a deliberate policy of sensationalism. They chained themselves to the railings of the Prime Minister's residence, harangued the terrace of Parliament from the river, broke windows -- and one woman, Emily Davidson (British) threw herself in front of the King's racehorse in the 1913 Derby and was killed. Women in prison went on hunger strike and were forcibly fed. Mr Asquith parried and procrastinated about the [suffrage] Bill throughout, while, in 1913, his Government passed the so-called `Cat and Mouse' Act -- officially called the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act. Imprisoned suffragettes who went on hunger strike would be released when in danger of death but, as soon as they were strong enough, would be rearrested to continue their sentence. This frequent and repetitive starving to near death permanently undermined the health of more than one woman. On the other hand the depredations of the militants turned many previously sympathetic people against the women ...


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