Suffragette Emmeline Goulden was born in Manchester in 1858, into a politically radical family. She was introduced to the suffragette movement by her mother at the age of 14.
After studying in Paris, in 1878, she married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 24 years her senior. He was a known supporter of women’s rights and supported her activities campaigning for women’s right to vote. Over 10 years, they had five children Christabel, Sylvia, Adela, Frank (who died in childhood) and Harry. Despite being busy with her children and other responsibilities, she supported her husband’s (unsuccessful) runs for Parliament, and hosted political meetings.
In 1889, Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League and 1903, she helped found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – an organisation whose members were the first to be known as the ‘suffragettes’.
British politicians, press and public were shocked by the at-times violent activities of the suffragettes. In 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under a horse at the Derby as a protest at the government’s continued failure to grant women the right to vote.
“Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.”
Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years. She went on hunger strikes, resulting in violent force-feeding.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort.
In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to certain women over 30 – to those who were who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and graduates of British universities. About 8.4 million women gained the vote.
In November 1918, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 was passed, allowing women to be elected into the House of Commons.
Emmeline died in London at the age of 69, on 14 June 1928, shortly after The Equal Franchise Act (1928) was introduced, finally extending equal voting rights, granting all women the vote on the same terms as men (from the age of 21). Ironically, the bill didn’t become law until 2 July 1928, a few weeks after her death.
In one of her great speeches, she said “Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible.”
What an extraordinary woman!