Memories of Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst was the driving force behind the Suffragettes. With her two daughters she launched a more dynamic approach to getting the right to vote. Therefore, as one of the key figures of early 20thC British history, the memories of Emmeline Pankhurst are very valuable to historians.
“I was between 18 and 19 when I finally returned from school in Paris and took my place in my father’s home as a finished young lady. I sympathised with and worked for the women’s suffrage movement, and came to know Dr. Richard Pankhurst, whose work for women’s suffrage had never ceased. It was Dr. Pankhurst who drafted the first enfranchisement bill, known as the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill and introduced into the House of Commons in 1870 by Mr. Jacob Bright. The bill advanced to a second reading by a majority vote of 33, but it was killed in committee by Mr. Gladstone’s peremptory order.
Dr. Pankhurst acted as counsel for the Manchester women, who tried in 1868 to be placed on the register as voters. He also drafted the bill giving married women absolute control over their property and earnings, a bill, which became law in 1882.
I think we cannot be too grateful to the group of men and women who like Dr. Pankhurst in those early days lent the weight of their honoured names to the suffrage movement in the trials of its struggling youth. These men did not wait until the movement became popular, nor did they hesitate until it was plain that women were roused to the point of revolt. They worked all their lives with those who were organising, educating, and preparing for the revolt, which was one day to come. Unquestionably those pioneer men suffered in popularity for their feminist views. Some of them suffered financially, some politically. Yet they never wavered.
My marriage to Dr. Pankhurst took place in 1879 and lasted through nineteen happy years. Once I have heard the taunt that suffragists are women who have failed to find any normal outlet for their emotions, and are therefore soured and disappointed beings. This is probably not true of any suffragist, and it is most certainly not true of me. My home life and relations have been as nearly ideal as possible in this imperfect world. About a year after my marriage my daughter Christabel was born, and in another eighteen months my second daughter Sylvia was to come. Two other children followed, and for some years I was rather deeply immersed in my domestic affairs.
I was never so absorbed with family and children, however, that I lost interest in community affairs. Dr. Pankhurst did not desire that I should turn myself into a household machine. It was his firm belief that society as well as the family stands in need of women’s services. So while my children were still in their cradles I was working on the executive committee of the Women’s Suffrage Society, and also on the executive board of the committee, which was working to secure the Married Women’s Property Act. This act was passed in 1882. I threw myself into the suffrage work with renewed energy. A new reform act, known as the County Franchise Bill, extending the suffrage to farm labourers, was under discussion, and we believed that our years of educational propaganda work had prepared the country to support us in a demand for a women’s suffrage amendment to the bill. For several years we had been holding the most splendid meetings in cities all over the kingdom. The crowds, the enthusiasm, the generous response to the appeals for support, all these seemed to justify us in our belief that women’s suffrage was near.
In 1893, we returned to our Manchester home and again took up the work of the Suffrage Society. At my suggestion the members began to organise their first out-of-doors meetings, and we continued these until we succeeded in working up a great meeting that filled the Free Trade Hall, and overflowed into and crowded a smaller hall near at hand. This marked the beginning of a campaign of propaganda among working people, an object which I had long desired to bring about.”