Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst.

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Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors and misprints have been corrected.

Blank pages present in the printed original have been deleted in the
e-text version.

Text in Italics is indicated between _underscores_ whereas text in
small capitals has been replaced by regular uppercase text.

Chapter XVI appears to be missing in the printed original.

In Chapter I, the sentence starting with "Many other women's
societies..." has been retained as printed in the original.

* * * * *


[Illustration: Sylvia Pankhurst designing a part of the decorations of
the Prince's Skating Rink]





"You have made of your Prisons a temple of honour."


New York




_All rights reserved_

Copyright 1911


Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1911


This history of the Women's Suffrage agitation is written at a time
when the question is in the very forefront of British politics. What
the immediate future holds for those women who are most actively
engaged in fighting for their political freedom no one can foretell,
but one thing is certain: complete victory for their cause is not far

When the long struggle for the enfranchisement of women is over, those
who read the history of the movement will wonder at the blindness that
led the Government of the day to obstinately resist so simple and
obvious a measure of justice.

The men and women of the coming time will, I am persuaded, be filled
with admiration for the patient work of the early pioneers and the
heroic determination and persistence in spite of coercion, repression,
misrepresentation, and insult of those who fought the later militant

Perhaps the women born in the happier days that are to come, while
rejoicing in the inheritance that we of to-day are preparing for them,
may sometimes wish that they could have lived in the heroic days of
stress and struggle and have shared with us the joy of battle, the
exaltation that comes of sacrifice of self for great objects and
the prophetic vision that assures us of the certain triumph of this
twentieth-century fight for human emancipation.


4, Clement's Inn, W. C., _London_.
JANUARY, 1911.


In writing this history of the Militant Women's Suffrage Movement I
have endeavoured to give a just and accurate account of its progress
and happenings, dealing fully with as many of its incidents as space
will permit. I have tried to let my readers look behind the scenes in
order that they may understand both the steps by which the movement has
grown and the motives and ideas that have animated its promoters.

I believe that women striving for enfranchisement in other lands and
reformers of future days may learn with renewed hope and confidence
how the "family party," who in 1905 set out determined to make votes
for women the dominant issue of the politics of their time, in but
six years drew to their standard the great woman's army of to-day. It
is certain that the militant struggle in which this woman's army has
engaged and which has come as the climax to the long, patient effort of
the earlier pioneers, will rank amongst the great reform movements of
the world. Set as it has been in modern humdrum days it can yet compare
with any movement for variety and vivacity of incident. The adventurous
and resourceful daring of the young Suffragettes who, by climbing up on
roofs, by sliding down through skylights, by hiding under platforms,
constantly succeeded in asking their endless questions, has never been
excelled. What could be more piquant than the fact that two of the
Cabinet Ministers who were carrying out a policy of coercion towards
the women should have been forced into the witness box to be questioned
and cross-questioned by Miss Christabel Pankhurst, the prisoner in the
dock? What, too, could throw a keener searchlight upon the methods of
our statesmen than the evidence put forward in the course of that trial?

To many of our contemporaries perhaps the most remarkable feature of
the militant movement has been the flinging-aside by thousands of women
of the conventional standards that hedge us so closely round in these
days for a right that large numbers of men who possess it scarcely
value. Of course it was more difficult for the earlier militants to
break through the conventionalities than for those who followed, but,
as one of those associated with the movement from its inception, I
believe that the effort was greater for those who first came forward to
stand by the originators than for the little group by whom the first
blows were struck. I believe this because I know that the original
militants were already in close association with the truth that not
only were the deeds of the old time pioneers and martyrs glorious, but
that their work still lacks completion, and that it behoves those of
us who have grasped an idea for human betterment to endure, if need
be, social ostracism, violence, and hardship of all kinds, in order
to establish it. Moreover, whilst the originators of the militant
tactics let fly their bolt, as it were, from the clear sky, their early
associates rallied to their aid in the teeth of all the fierce and
bitter opposition that had been raised.

The hearts of students of the movement in after years will be stirred
by the faith and endurance shown by the women who faced violence at the
hands of the police and others in Parliament Square and at the Cabinet
Minister meetings, and above all by the heroism of the noble women who
went through the hunger strike and the mental and physical torture of
forcible feeding.

A passionate love of freedom, a strong desire to do social service and
an intense sympathy for the unfortunate, together, made the movement
possible in its present form. Those who have worked as a part of it
know that it is notable not merely for its enthusiasm and courage, but
also for its cheery spirit of loyalty and comradeship, its patient
thoroughness in organisation which has made possible its many great
demonstrations and processions, its freedom from bitterness and
recrimination, and its firm faith in the right.


London, May, 1911.


Sylvia Pankhurst designing a part of the decorations of the
Prince's Skating Rink _Frontispiece_


Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney 35

First Women's Suffrage Demonstration ever held in Trafalgar
Square, May 19th, 1906. Mr. Keir Hardie speaking: Mrs.
Pankhurst and Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy in centre of the
platform 80

Selling and advertising "Votes for Women" in Kingsway 174

Mrs. Pankhurst carrying a petition from the Third Women's
Parliament to the Prime Minister on February 13th, 1908 202

The Head of the Procession to Hyde Park, June 21st, 1908 245

A Section of the great "Votes for Women" meeting in Hyde
Park on June 21st, 1908 247

Lord Rosebery and other Members of both Houses watching
the Suffragettes' struggle in Parliament Square, June 30th,
1908 248

Christabel Pankhurst inviting the public to "rush" the House
of Commons, at a meeting in Trafalgar Square, Sunday,
October 11th, 1908 255

Mrs. Pankhurst and Christabel hiding from the police in the
roof garden at Clement's Inn, October 12th, 1908 257

Reading the Warrant, October 13th, 1908 266

Mr. Curtis Bennett listening to Miss Pankhurst's speech from
the Dock, October, 1908 268

Miss Christabel Pankhurst questioning Mr. Herbert Gladstone 285

Mr. Herbert Gladstone in the witness-box being examined by
Miss Christabel Pankhurst, October, 1908 300

Members of the Women's Freedom League attempting to enter
the House after the taking down of the grille, October 28th,
1908 319

Mrs. Pankhurst in Prison 330

Ejection of a woman questioner from Birrell's meeting in the
City Temple, November 12th, 1908 333

The Chelmsford By-Election 348

The human letters dispatched by Miss Jessie Kenney to Mr.
Asquith at No. 10 Downing Street, Jan. 23, 1909 351

Procession to welcome Mrs. Pankhurst, Christabel, and Mrs.
Leigh on their release from prison, December 19th, 1908 353

Mrs. Lawrence's Release Procession, April 17th, 1909 360

The arrest of Miss Dora Marsden, the Standard Bearer,
March 30th, 1909 362

Elsie Howey who as Joan of Arc, rode at the head of the
procession formed to celebrate Mrs. Pethick Lawrence's
release from prison 365

A part of the decoration of the Exhibition held in the
Prince's Skating Rink, May, 1909 369

The band out for the first time, May, 1909 376

Mrs. Pethick Lawrence's release, April 17th 380

Christabel waving to the hungry strikers from a house
overlooking the prison, July, 1909 383

The hunger strikers waving to Christabel from their prison
cells, July, 1909 394

Forcible Feeding with the Nasal Tube 433

Lady Constance Lytton before she threw the stone at New
Castle, October 9th, 1909 440

Arrest of Miss Dora Marsden outside the Victoria University
of Manchester, October 4th, 1909 444

Jessie Kenney as she tried to gain admittance to Mr. Asquith's
meeting on Dec. 10, 1909, disguised as a telegraph boy 476






From her girlhood my mother, the founder of the Women's Social and
Political Union, had been inspired by stories of the early reform
movements, and even before this, at an age when most children have
scarcely learnt their alphabet, her father, Robert Goulden, of
Manchester, set her to read his newspaper to him at breakfast and thus
awakened her lasting interest in politics.

The Franco-German War was still a much-discussed event when Robert
Goulden took his thirteen-year-old daughter to school in Paris, placing
her at the Ecole Normale, where she became the room-companion of Henri
Rochfort's daughter, Noémie. Noémie Rochfort told her little English
schoolfellow much of her own father's adventurous career, and Emmeline
Goulden soon became an ardent and enthusiastic republican. She was now
delighted to discover that she had been born on the anniversary of
the destruction of the Bastille and was proud to tell her friend that
her own grandmother had been an earnest politician, and one of the
earliest members of the Anti-Corn Law League, and that her grandfather
had narrowly escaped death upon the field of Peterloo. Even before her
school days in Paris she had been taken by her mother to a Women's
Suffrage meeting addressed by Miss Lydia Becker.

On returning home to England, Emmeline Goulden settled down at
seventeen years of age to help her mother in the care of her eight
younger brothers and sisters, and when she was twenty-one she married
Dr. Richard Marsden Pankhurst, who was many years older than herself,
and had long been well known as a public man.

Dr. Pankhurst had been one of the founders of the pioneer Manchester
Women's Suffrage Committee and one of its most active workers in the
early days. He had drafted the original Women's Enfranchisement Bill,
then called the Women's Disabilities Removal Bill, to give votes to
women on the same terms as men, which had first been introduced by Mr.
Jacob Bright in 1870 and had then passed its Second Reading in the
House of Commons by a majority of thirty-three. With Lord Coleridge,
Dr. Pankhurst had acted as counsel for the women who had claimed to be
put upon the Parliamentary Register in the case of Chorlton v. Lings
in 1868. He was also at the time one of the most prominent members of
the Married Women's Property Committee and had drafted the Bill to give
married women the absolute right to their own property and to sue and
be sued in the Courts of Law, which was so soon to be placed as an Act
upon the Statute Book. Two years before this great Act became law, Mrs.
Pankhurst was elected to the Married Women's Property Committee, and
at the same time she became a member of the Manchester Women's Suffrage

In 1889 my parents helped to form the Women's Franchise League. My
sister Christabel and I, then nine and seven years old, already took
a lively interest in all the proceedings, and tried as hard as we
could to make ourselves useful, writing out notices in big, uncertain
letters and distributing leaflets to the guests at a three days'
Conference held in our own home. About this time we two children had
begun to attend Women's Suffrage and other public meetings, and these
we reported in a little manuscript magazine, which we both wrote and
illustrated. When some few years afterwards, owing chiefly to lack of
funds and the ill health of its most prominent workers, the Women's
Franchise League was discontinued, Dr. and Mrs. Pankhurst returned to
Manchester and worked mainly for general questions of social reform.
Years before, my mother had joined the Women's Liberal Federation in
the hope that it would work to remove both the political and economic
grievances of women and to raise the status of women generally, but
finding that the Federation was being used merely to forward the
interests of the Liberal Party, of which women could not be members
and in the formation of whose programme they were allowed no voice,
she had resigned her membership. In 1894 she and Dr. Pankhurst joined
the Independent Labour Party, one of the decisive reasons for this
step being that, unlike the Liberal and Conservative parties, the
Independent Labour Party admitted men and women to membership on equal
terms. In the same year Mrs. Pankhurst was elected to the Chorlton
Board of Guardians, and remained a member of that body for four years.
This experience taught her much of the pressing needs of the poor, and
of the bitter hardships, especially, of the women's lives.

After Dr. Pankhurst's death, in 1898, Mrs. Pankhurst retired from the
Board of Guardians and became a Registrar of Births and Deaths.

For the next few years, my mother took no active part in politics,
except as a member of the Manchester School Board,[1] but in 1901 my
sister Christabel became greatly interested in the Suffrage propaganda
organised by Miss Esther Roper, Miss Eva Gore-Booth, and Mrs. Sarah
Dickinson amongst the women textile workers. She was also elected
to the Manchester Women's Suffrage Committee, of which Miss Roper
was Secretary. Christabel soon struck out a new line for herself.
Impressed by the growing strength of the Labour Movement she began to
see the necessity of converting to the question of Women's Suffrage the
various Trade Union organisations, which were upon the eve of becoming
a concrete force in politics. She therefore made it her business to
address as many of the Trade Unions as were willing to receive her.

We were all much interested in Christabel's work and my mother's
enthusiasm was quickly re-awakened. The experiences of her later
years had brought her a keener insight into the results of the
political disabilities of women, against which she had rebelled as
a high-spirited girl, and she now realised more strongly than ever
before, the urgent and immediate need for the enfranchisement of her
sex. She became filled with the consciousness that her duty lay in
forcing this one question into the forefront of practical politics,
even if in so doing she should find it necessary to give up all her
other work. The Women's Suffrage cause, and the various ways in which
to further its interests were now constantly present in all our
minds. A glance at the early history of the movement, to say nothing
of personal experience, was enough to show that the Liberal and
Conservative parties had no intention of taking the question up, and,
after mature consideration, my mother at last decided that a separate
women's organisation must be formed. Therefore, on October 10th, 1903,
she invited a number of women to meet at our home, 62 Nelson Street,
Manchester, and the Women's Social and Political Union was formed.
Almost all the women who were present on that original occasion were
working-women, Members of the Labour Movement, but it was decided from
the first that the Union should be entirely independent of Class and

The phrase "Votes for Women" was now for the first time in the history
of the movement adopted as a watchword by the new Union. The propaganda
work was at first mainly carried on amongst the women workers of
Lancashire and Yorkshire and, in the Spring of 1904, as a result of the
Women's Social and Political Union's activities, the Annual Conference
of the Independent Labour Party instructed its Administrative Council
to prepare a Bill for the Enfranchisement of Women to be laid before
Parliament in the forthcoming session. This Resolution, though carried
by an overwhelming majority, had been bitterly opposed by a minority of
the Conference, who asserted that the Labour Party should not concern
itself with a partial measure of enfranchisement, but should work
directly to secure universal adult suffrage for both men and women.

Therefore, before preparing any special measure, the National
Administrative Council of the Independent Labour Party went very
carefully into the whole question. They were advised by Mr. Keir Hardie
and others who understood Parliamentary procedure that a measure
for universal adult suffrage, which would not only bring about most
sweeping changes, but would open countless avenues for discussion
and consequent obstruction, could never hope to be carried through
Parliament except by the responsible Government of the day. It was,
therefore, useless for the Labour representatives to attempt to
introduce such a measure. In addition to this, it was pointed out that,
whilst a large majority of the Members of the House of Commons had
already pledged themselves to support an equal Bill to give votes to
women on the same terms as men, no substantial measure of Parliamentary
support had as yet been obtained for adult suffrage, even if confined
to men. Taking into consideration also the present state of both public
and Parliamentary feeling and with a million more women than men in the
British Isles, there was absolutely no chance of carrying into law any
proposal to give a vote to every grown man and woman in the country.
Having thus arrived at the conclusion that an adult suffrage measure
was out of the question, the Council now carefully inquired into the
various classes of women who were possessed of the qualifications
which would have entitled them to vote had they been men. On its being
ascertained that the majority would be householders, whose names were
already upon the register of Municipal voters, the following circular
was addressed to all the Independent Labour Party branches.

We address to your branch a very urgent request to ascertain from your
local voting register the following particulars: -

(1) The total number of electors in the Ward.
(2) The total number of women voters.
(3) The number of women voters of the working classes.
(4) The number of voters not of the working classes.

It is impossible to lay down a strict definition of the term "working
classes," but for this purpose it will be sufficient to regard as
working-class women, those who work for wages, who are domestically
employed, or who are supported by the earnings of wage-earning

It was not unnatural, that the majority of the branches failed to
comply with a request which obviously entailed a very extensive
work. Nevertheless returns were sent in from between forty and fifty
different towns and districts in various parts of the country and these
showed the following results:[2]

Total of electors on the Municipal register 423,321
Total of Women Voters 59,920
Total of Working Women Voters as defined above 49,410
Total of Non-working Women Voters 10,510
Percentage of Working Women Voters 82.45

On receiving these figures, the National Council of the Independent
Labour Party decided to adopt the original Women's Enfranchisement
Bill, which passed its Second Reading in 1870. The text of the Bill was
as follows:

In all Acts relating to the qualifications and registration of voters
or persons entitled or claiming to be registered and to vote in the
election of members of Parliament, wherever words occur which import
the masculine gender the same shall be held to include women for
all purposes connected with and having reference to the right to be
registered as voters and to vote in such election, any law or usage to
the contrary notwithstanding.

Meanwhile we of the Women's Social and Political Union were eagerly
looking forward to the new session of Parliament. It is indeed
wonderful, in the midst of the great Women's Movement that is present
with us to-day, to look back upon its small beginnings in that dreary
and dismal time not yet six years ago. It seemed then well-nigh
impossible to rouse the London women from their apathy upon this
question, for the old Suffrage workers had lost heart and energy in
the long struggle and those who had joined them in recent days saw no
prospect that votes for women would ever come to pass.

I myself was then a student at the Royal College of Art, South
Kensington, but I decided to absent myself in order to help my mother,
who had come down from Manchester to "lobby," as it is called, on
those few important days. The House met on Tuesday, February 13th, and
during the eight days which intervened before the result of the Private
Members' ballot was made known we spent the whole of our time in the
Strangers' Lobby striving to induce every Member who had pledged
himself to support Women's Suffrage to agree that his chance in the
ballot should be given to a Women's Suffrage Bill. It was my first
experience of Lobbying. I knew we had an uphill task before us, but I
had no conception of how hard and discouraging it was to be. Members
of Parliament all told us that they had pledged themselves to do
"something for their constituents" or had some other measure in which
they were interested, or had not been in Parliament long and preferred
to wait until they had more experience before they would care to ballot
for a Bill at all. Oh, yes, they were "in favour" of Women's Suffrage;
they believed that "the ladies ought to have votes," but they really
could not give their places in the ballot for the question; it was

Online LibraryEstelle Sylvia PankhurstThe Suffragette → online text (page 1 of 35)