Dear friends of Training Centre Raya London, here is the second part of the story about Emmeline Pankhurst, the women’s voting rights activist.
Supported by her husband, in 1889 Emmeline Pankhurst and her associates founded the Women’s Franchise League (WFL). The struggle included suffrage, not just for widows and unmarried women, but for all women, along with divorce and inheritance rights.Soon after the formation of the WFL, its participants characterized it as ‘far left’, extreme and connected to the socialist political movement. Because of this, many members of the organization left and a year later it closed.
Meanwhile, Emmeline was helping unemployed men and women by distributing food products. This brings her close to the Scottish socialist Keir Hardie. While on a visit in Switzerland with her daughter, her husband’s health deteriorated due to a stomach ulcer, and she had to return home urgently. Unfortunately, his death preceded her return, and by the time she returned to England she was already a widow. The family’s financial situation worsened which forced Emmeline to start clerical work in the Birth and Death Registry for the Chorlton District. During her placement there she was exposed to the unfortunate stories of hundreds of women complaining about poverty and how the government did nothing to support them.
Emmeline realized that the time for moderation was over, and no party was putting women’s suffrage on the agenda. She and her associates founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which focused on increasingly active demonstrations so they can be noticed.Soon, three of the scandalous lady’s daughters joined the protests and were arrested in turn, along with their mother, for ” indecent acts” such as spitting on a police officer and noisy demonstrations. Constant arrests followed, and even an attack by an angry group of men who disagreed with the change in women’s rights. But the cause of the organization became more and more popular, and in 1908, 500,000 activists flocked to Hyde Park in a demonstration for women’s rights. The increasingly scandalous actions lead to numerous arrests, to which the arrested responded with hunger strikes because of the poor conditions in jail.
At the same time, Emmeline’s personal life deteriorated – she sold her home and lived with friends. She was only carrying two suitcases with her belongings and lecturing about her cause. Her son Henry became very ill and died soon after.
The movement which Emmeline was leading faced increasing aggression from the authorities, and there was also a death after an arrest. In response, the suffragettes escalated their tactics with window-breaking and even arson. But with the subsequent actions and explosions, there was a split in the women’s organization, which also affected Emmeline’s daughters, who became supporters of different political movements. The extreme actions were subject to criticism within the organization.
As the threat of the First World War became real, all drastic actions stopped, and women sided with the state in the coming war. Emmeline Pankhurst understood the role of the fairer sex in the management of the country and the industries while the men are at war and threw all her efforts in this direction. She also put a lot of effort into procuring armaments and negotiating the end of the war.
Finally, after so many years of struggle, history itself helped Emmeline. The role of women in society changed and adopted by men – ladies finally got the right to vote (after they turn 30 and with some restrictions). Emmeline Pankhurst‘s organization was reborn as the Women’s Party, which still accepted only women and fought for equal rights in all respects.
Until the end of her life, the heroine of our story remained active in various causes and, together with her four adopted children, moved to Toronto. There she did not stop fighting for equality, not only for women, but also for men. Tired of the long winters in Canada, she returned to England. Due to the subsequent rift in the family and the different paths her daughters took, Emmeline was devastated. In addition to her shaky health, because of the hunger strikes, she rapidly deteriorated and in 1928 died, only 69 years old.
Her death received a huge response across all the defenders of women’s rights. They compared it to the death of a general among their pitiful army. In 1930 a statue was erected at her grave as a sign of grief and appreciation.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a woman with a huge contribution to changing the status quo and changing the public attitude towards women and their rights. You could say that she literally reshaped history.
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Author: Iveta Radeva
Image: Getty Images
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