Friday, December 30, 2016

Women, A History: Emmeline Pankhurst - Forger of Women's Equality


Emmeline Pankhurst
Forger of Women's Equality
(1858-1928)


      Many women paved the way for social equality between men and women, but no one left such a mark as Emmeline Pankhurst. Any woman who voted in the Brexit and the election of the new prime minister last summer; and even women in the U.S. who voted in the presidential election, all owe a great deal of gratitude to Emmeline Pankhurst. She revolutionized women's suffrage and was not afraid to go beyond the boundaries of the law to make herself heard. 

     Born in Manchester England in 1858, Emmeline Goulden was the daughter of a modest merchant who provided well for his family.  The Gouldens were all active politically and socially. They were fierce abolitionists and Uncle Tom's Cabin was a frequent bedtime story to the Goulden children. Oftetimes abolitionists from the United States were frequent visitors to the Goulden household. Unfortunately, Emmeline's parents did not see much of a future for their daughter for advanced education even though they supported women's suffrage. 

     When Emmeline was fourteen she went and heard known suffragist, Lydia Becker speak. Emmeline was so movied by her speech that she declared herself a suffragist that day. When she was twenty, Emmeline met Richard Pankhurst, a forty-four year old barrister and supporter of women's suffrage. Despite her mother's objections, Emmeline and Richard were married a year later on December 18, 1879. Together they had five children; two of her daughters Christobel and Sylvia accompanied their mother during her suffragette travels. 


     In 1898, Richard Pankhurst died from health problems and Emmline was left to care for her large family with considerable debt. In 1903, Emmmeline founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) which separated itself from political parties. The WSPU was known for its violent activities such as breaking windows, bombings and public disorder all in the name of women's suffrage. Many women, Emmeline included, were arrested and faced abuse, humiliation and public disgrace. While in prison many women went on hunger strikes, became ill and even died.

     Eventually, the tactics of the WSPU were becoming too controversial and soon united with several other moderate organizations to become the National Union of Women's Suffrage Society (NUWSS). Arrests and hunger strikes still continued for the Suffragette movement, but was put on hold due to WWII where Emmeline believed the war should have the aid of all people. During the war, Emmeline traveled to the U.S. to give her aid and support to the Suffragette movement. 

     After spending time in Russia where she was well known due to her autobiography and where she urged the people not to side with Germany, Emmeline returned to England after the war ended and continued with her work. In 1918, the political atmosphere started to turn in favor to women's rights. Emmeline tried to put together an all women's political party, but was unsuccessful. Eventually, she became more active in the politics of British Unity than in women's suffrage but still continued to support the cause. 

     Years of travel and campaigning for different causes as well as issues with her daughter, Sylvia, began to wear on Emmeline's health. On June 14, 1928, Emmeline died at sixty-nine and is buried in London. She left behind an incredible legacy that is paralleled by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It wasn't just her role in women's suffrage, but her role in politics in general that defined her as a formidable women with the intelligence and integrity to take on anyone who challenged her position, her thoughts and her beliefs. 

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