Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Emmeline Pankhurst

Today marks the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday, although the date is still up for debate. Emmeline always celebrated her birthday on July 14 aligning her arrival with that other revolutionary happening Bastille Day. It is more generally accepted that she was born in Manchester on July 15, 1858, the second of Robert and Jane Goulden's ten children.

Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline's involvement in socialist politics began in the 1890s when she joined the fledgling Independent Labour Park with her husband Richard Pankhurst. Her conviction that the only way women could improve their situation, still very much one of subordination to men across every stratum of society, was to campaign for the parliament vote.

In 1903 the widowed Emmeline and her daughter Christabel founded the Women's Society and Political Union in Manchester and three years later moved their organisation down to headquarters in London.


Mrs Pankhurst under police escort

On May 19, 1906 the first Women's Suffrage Demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square. Among the speakers was Keir Hardie Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and in the crowd was a Swindon schoolteacher, Edith New.

Edith began her career as a pupil teacher at Queenstown Infants, one of the first schools built in 1880 by the new Swindon School Board.  Following two years spent in London studying for her teacher's certificate, Edith returned to Swindon but in 1901 she took up a teaching post at Calvert Road School in East Greenwich.  When Charles Booth conducted his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People of London he identified this area as largely poor where the average income was between 18 and 21 shillings a week.

Edith New

Edith joined the Women' Social and Political Union and in March 1907 she was sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Gaol for attempting to get into the House of Commons. In 1908 Edith left teaching and became a paid organiser for the WSPU. She travelled the length and breadth of the country, organising by-election campaigns and addressing meetings and demonstrations. She served several terms of imprisonment, most famously for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.


Edith New (right)  and Mary Leigh following their release from Holloway

On July 14, 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst celebrated her 55th birthday during a brief respite from Holloway Gaol. In April she had been sentenced to three years penal servitude for being an accessory before the fact in the attempted burning of a house at Walton Heath. She was released on June 16th under the terms of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act. More commonly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, suffragist prisoners weakened by hunger strikes and forcible feeding, were temporarily released when their health gave prison officials cause for concern. Released on licence, once deemed sufficiently recovered, they were rearrested to continue their sentence.




Both Mrs Pankhurst and Annie Kenney had ignored the terms of their licence and on July 14 they turned up at the London Pavilion for the weekly WSPU meeting. Mrs Pankhurst received a rapturous welcome from the audience, however, the police were also present and ready to arrest the two women.

They turned their attention first to Annie while Emmeline was said to have walked through the crowd and out int a waiting taxi cab.

Annie Kenney


"A struggled followed, the detectives and uniformed policemen rushing into the mass with their heads down to protect their faces from the possibility of attacks by hatpins, and striking out in all directions," the Times reported the following day. "Detectives attempted to encircle Miss Kenney, but women pressing out from the entrance to the Pavilion rushed to the rescue. Two detectives put their prisoner into a taxicab and took her to Holloway. Standing on the pavement were women with their hair down their backs, their hats off, and clothes torn while the detectives had suffered equally, their coats being in some cases alsmot torn from their backs and their hats broken in."

Mrs Pankhurst spent the following week in a flat on Great Smith Road, Westminster with a police guard on duty outside. An attempted escape using a 'double' to lure police away from her door failed, but a week later supporters managed to smuggle her out of the flat and into the London Pavilion yet again. A week after her birthday Mrs Pankhurst was rearrested as she attempted to take the stage for the WSPU meeting.

Emmeline Pankhurst's memorial in Brompton Cemetery

Emmeline Pankhurst died on June 14, 1928, just one month before her 70th birthday and shortly after the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to all women over the age of 21. On March 6, 1930 a monument to the suffragist leader was erected in Victorian Tower Gardens next to the House of Parliament and unveiled by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Edith New died on January 2, 1951 in Polperro, Cornwall. Recognition in her home town for her achievements in the Votes for Women Campaign would take another 60 years to be put in place, thanks to an appeal made by Greendown Community School pupils. In 2011 a street on Nightingale Rise, Moredon was named Edith New Close.

Edith was buried with her much loved sister Ellen 


1 comment:

  1. Excellent information and great photos. Thanks for writing and for letting me know about this post and blog. :-)
    Susan Ozmore

    ReplyDelete