Emmeline Pankhurst, a fiery, determined and courageous woman, paved the way for feminists by defying the traditional roles of 'wife' and 'mother' .
Emmeline Goulden was born in Manchester, England, in 1858. Her parents were both political activists and supporters of women’s right. Emmeline is considered to be one of the leaders of the suffragette movement in the UK who led the way to win the right for women to vote. In 1879 at the age of 20 she married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister and a supporter of the women's suffrage movement.
In 1889, Emmeline founded the Women's Franchise League, which championed the rights of married and unmarried women to vote in local elections. She later formed a more militant organisation, Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the members were called ‘suffragettes’. The public and authorities were appalled by the demonstrations, arson, window smashing, hunger strikes and assault on police officers.
Although she gave birth to five children in ten years she continued her political activism and campaigning. Their daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela were all active in the cause, although there was later to be an acrimonious parting with Sylvia who had formed a socialist political party, the Workers' Socialist Federation (WSF). When Adela left WSPU, Emmeline was furious and sent her to Australia, causing a rift between them for life. Richard died in 1898 leaving Emmeline devastated and in debt.
Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested numerous times and imprisoned where she and her fellow suffragettes went on hunger strike resulting in violent force-feeding. 1914 saw outbreak of the First World War, and Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort.
Emmeline Pankhurst was a contradictory figure; she could be extremely kind and generous to a fault, adopting 4 children of unwed mothers during the war when she had little money; she could be brutal with her words and deeds when it came to her own children, sending Adela away to Australia, and her relationship with Sylvia remained strained. Interestingly, having been a devoted socialist all her life, she switched sides after the war and joined the conservative party which was seen as a betrayal of her family and the movement. Controversy followed her throughout her life and continues to do so even now. Historians question whether WSPU helped or hindered the movement, however it is clear that it raised the public’s consciousness of the gender divide and rights of women.
In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. Emmeline died on 14 June 1928, shortly after women were granted equal voting rights with men (at 21).
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