British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst dies

British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst dies


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Sylvia Pankhurst, British suffragette and international socialist, dies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the age of 78.

Born in Manchester, England, in 1882, Sylvia Pankhurst was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, a champion of woman suffrage who became active in the late 1880s. Sylvia won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and in London divided her time between her studies and involvement in her mother’s campaign to win women the right to vote. With her mother and older sister–Christabel–she helped found the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, a political organization dedicated to achieving equality between the sexes, with an emphasis on female enfranchisement.

In 1906, she abandoned her studies and a promising career in art to pursue politics full time. A socialist, she believed that lower-class women would never be liberated until they were brought out of poverty. Because of this view, she began to drift from her more conservative mother and sister, who were focused on the goal of woman suffrage. Nevertheless, she remained a dedicated member of the WSPU and, like her sister and mother, was arrested numerous times for nonviolent protests and conducted hunger strikes. When Christabel and other members of the WSPU began to advocate violent acts of agitation–particularly arson–Sylvia, a pacifist, opposed them.

In 1914, Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for her insistence on involving working-class women in the suffrage movement. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst felt that suffrage could best be achieved through the efforts of middle-class women like themselves. Bringing leftist politics into the movement, they reasoned, would only enflame the British government. The gulf between the Pankhursts grew wider when Emmeline and Christabel called off their suffrage campaign at the outbreak of World War I and became adamant supporters of the British war effort. These actions won them the admiration of the British government, but Sylvia refused to compromise her pacifist beliefs and took an opposite approach.

From her base in the poor East End of London, Sylvia ran the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) and published a working-class women’s paper, the Woman’s Dreadnought. She became regarded as a leader of working-class men as well as women and convinced a few labor organizations to oppose the war. Because non-agricultural male laborers had also not yet been granted the vote, she changed the name of the ELFS to the Workers’ Suffrage Federation in 1916, and in 1917 the Woman’s Dreadnought became the Workers’ Dreadnought. She corresponded with Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and in 1920 was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In 1921, however, she was expelled from the party when she refused to close the Workers’ Dreadnought in favor of a single CPGB paper.

Britain granted universal male suffrage in 1918. Soon after, women age 30 or over were guaranteed the vote. In 1928, the voting age for women was lowered to 21, the age that men could vote. By then, Sylvia Pankhurst had shifted her energies to opposing racism and the rise of fascism in Europe. In 1935, she campaigned vigorously against the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy and founded The New Times and Ethiopia News to publicize the plight of the Ethiopians and other victims of fascism. She later helped settle Jewish refugees from Germany.

In 1956, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie invited her to live in Ethiopia, and she accepted the invitation. Although in her 70s, she founded the Ethiopia Observer and edited the paper for four years. She died on September 27, 1960, and was given a state funeral by the Ethiopian government in recognition of her service to the country.


Storry History

Born in Manchester, England, in 1882, Sylvia Pankhurst was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, a champion of woman suffrage who became active in the late 1880s. Sylvia won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and in London divided her time between her studies and involvement in her mother&rsquos campaign to win women the right to vote. With her mother and older sister&ndashChristabel&ndashshe helped found the Women&rsquos Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, a political organization dedicated to achieving equality between the sexes, with an emphasis on female enfranchisement.

In 1906, she abandoned her studies and a promising career in art to pursue politics full time. A socialist, she believed that lower-class women would never be liberated until they were brought out of poverty. Because of this view, she began to drift from her more conservative mother and sister, who were focused on the goal of woman suffrage. Nevertheless, she remained a dedicated member of the WSPU and, like her sister and mother, was arrested numerous times for nonviolent protests and conducted hunger strikes. When Christabel and other members of the WSPU began to advocate violent acts of agitation&ndashparticularly arson&ndashSylvia, a pacifist, opposed them.

In 1914, Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for her insistence on involving working-class women in the suffrage movement. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst felt that suffrage could best be achieved through the efforts of middle-class women like themselves. Bringing leftist politics into the movement, they reasoned, would only enflame the British government. The gulf between the Pankhursts grew wider when Emmeline and Christabel called off their suffrage campaign at the outbreak of World War I and became adamant supporters of the British war effort. These actions won them the admiration of the British government, but Sylvia refused to compromise her pacifist beliefs and took an opposite approach.


From her base in the poor East End of London, Sylvia ran the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) and published a working-class women&rsquos paper, the Woman&rsquos Dreadnought. She became regarded as a leader of working-class men as well as women and convinced a few labor organizations to oppose the war. Because non-agricultural male laborers had also not yet been granted the vote, she changed the name of the ELFS to the Workers&rsquo Suffrage Federation in 1916, and in 1917 the Woman&rsquos Dreadnought became the Workers&rsquo Dreadnought. She corresponded with Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and in 1920 was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In 1921, however, she was expelled from the party when she refused to close the Workers&rsquo Dreadnought in favor of a single CPGB paper.

Britain granted universal male suffrage in 1918. Soon after, women age 30 or over were guaranteed the vote. In 1928, the voting age for women was lowered to 21, the age that men could vote. By then, Sylvia Pankhurst had shifted her energies to opposing racism and the rise of fascism in Europe. In 1935, she campaigned vigorously against the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy and founded The New Times and Ethiopia News to publicize the plight of the Ethiopians and other victims of fascism. She later helped settle Jewish refugees from Germany.

In 1956, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie invited her to live in Ethiopia, and she accepted the invitation. Although in her 70s, she founded the Ethiopia Observer and edited the paper for four years. She died on September 27, 1960, and was given a state funeral by the Ethiopian government in recognition of her service to the country.


History World Series

Born in Manchester, England, in 1882, Sylvia Pankhurst was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, a champion of woman suffrage who became active in the late 1880s. Sylvia won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and in London divided her time between her studies and involvement in her mother&rsquos campaign to win women the right to vote. With her mother and older sister&ndashChristabel&ndashshe helped found the Women&rsquos Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, a political organization dedicated to achieving equality between the sexes, with an emphasis on female enfranchisement.

In 1906, she abandoned her studies and a promising career in art to pursue politics full time. A socialist, she believed that lower-class women would never be liberated until they were brought out of poverty. Because of this view, she began to drift from her more conservative mother and sister, who were focused on the goal of woman suffrage. Nevertheless, she remained a dedicated member of the WSPU and, like her sister and mother, was arrested numerous times for nonviolent protests and conducted hunger strikes. When Christabel and other members of the WSPU began to advocate violent acts of agitation&ndashparticularly arson&ndashSylvia, a pacifist, opposed them.

In 1914, Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for her insistence on involving working-class women in the suffrage movement. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst felt that suffrage could best be achieved through the efforts of middle-class women like themselves. Bringing leftist politics into the movement, they reasoned, would only enflame the British government. The gulf between the Pankhursts grew wider when Emmeline and Christabel called off their suffrage campaign at the outbreak of World War I and became adamant supporters of the British war effort. These actions won them the admiration of the British government, but Sylvia refused to compromise her pacifist beliefs and took an opposite approach.


From her base in the poor East End of London, Sylvia ran the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) and published a working-class women&rsquos paper, the Woman&rsquos Dreadnought. She became regarded as a leader of working-class men as well as women and convinced a few labor organizations to oppose the war. Because non-agricultural male laborers had also not yet been granted the vote, she changed the name of the ELFS to the Workers&rsquo Suffrage Federation in 1916, and in 1917 the Woman&rsquos Dreadnought became the Workers&rsquo Dreadnought. She corresponded with Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and in 1920 was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In 1921, however, she was expelled from the party when she refused to close the Workers&rsquo Dreadnought in favor of a single CPGB paper.

Britain granted universal male suffrage in 1918. Soon after, women age 30 or over were guaranteed the vote. In 1928, the voting age for women was lowered to 21, the age that men could vote. By then, Sylvia Pankhurst had shifted her energies to opposing racism and the rise of fascism in Europe. In 1935, she campaigned vigorously against the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy and founded The New Times and Ethiopia News to publicize the plight of the Ethiopians and other victims of fascism. She later helped settle Jewish refugees from Germany.

In 1956, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie invited her to live in Ethiopia, and she accepted the invitation. Although in her 70s, she founded the Ethiopia Observer and edited the paper for four years. She died on September 27, 1960, and was given a state funeral by the Ethiopian government in recognition of her service to the country.


Contents

Women's Social and Political Union Edit

The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed in 1903 by the political activist Emmeline Pankhurst. From around 1905—following the failure of a private member's bill to introduce the vote for women—the organisation increasingly began to use militant direct action to campaign for women's suffrage. [1] [2] [a] According to the historian Caroline Morrell, from 1905 "The basic pattern of WSPU activities over the next few years had been established—pre-planned militant tactics, imprisonment claimed as martyrdom, publicity and increased membership and funds." [4]

From 1906 WSPU members adopted the name suffragettes, to differentiate from the suffragists of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, who employed constitutional methods in their campaign for the vote. [1] [5] [b] From 1907 WSPU demonstrations faced increasing police violence. [7] Sylvia Pankhurst—the daughter of Emmeline and a member of the WSPU—described a demonstration in which she took part in February that year:

Parliament was guarded by an army of police to prevent the women approaching its sacred precincts. The constables had their orders to drive them away, making as few arrests as possible. Mounted men scattered the marchers foot police seized them by the back of the neck and rushed them along at arm's length, thumping them in the back, and bumping them with their knees in approved police fashion. . Those who took refuge in doorways were dragged down the steps and hurled in front of the horses, then pounced upon by constables and beaten again. . As night advanced the violence grew. Finally fifty-four women and two men had been arrested. [8]

After one demonstration in June 1908 in which "roughs appeared, organised gangs, who treated the women with every type of indignity", [9] Sylvia Pankhurst complained that "the ill-usage by the police and the roughs was greater than we had hitherto experienced". [9] During a demonstration in June 1909 a deputation tried to force a meeting with H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister 3,000 police provided tight security to prevent the women from entering parliament, arresting 108 women and 14 men. [10] [11] Following the police violence used on that occasion, the WSPU began to shift to a strategy of breaking windows rather than attempting to rush into parliament. Sylvia Pankhurst wrote that "Since we must go to prison to obtain the vote, let it be the windows of the Government, not the bodies of women which shall be broken, was the argument". [12] [c]

At a demonstration in October 1909—at which the WSPU again attempted to rush into parliament—ten demonstrators were taken to hospital. The suffragettes did not complain about the rising level of police violence. Constance Lytton wrote that "the word went round that we were to conceal as best we might, our various injuries. It was no part of our policy to get the police into trouble." [15] The level of violence in suffragette action increased throughout 1909: bricks were thrown at the windows of Liberal Party meetings Asquith was attacked while leaving church and roof tiles were thrown at police when another political rally was interrupted. Public opinion turned against the tactics and, according to Morrell, the government capitalised on the shifting public feeling to introduce stronger measures. Thus, in October 1909, Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary, instructed that all prisoners on hunger strike should be force fed. [16]

Political situation Edit

The Liberal government elected in 1905 was a reforming one which introduced legislation to combat poverty, deal with unemployment and establish pensions. The Conservative Party-dominated House of Lords impeded much of the legislation. [18] [d] In 1909 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, introduced the so-called People's Budget, which had the expressed intent of redistributing wealth amongst the population. [21] This budget was passed by the House of Commons, but rejected by the Lords. [e] As a result, on 3 December 1909, Asquith called a general election for the new year to obtain a fresh mandate for the legislation. [18] [22] As part of the campaigning for the January 1910 election, Asquith—a known anti-suffragist—announced that should he be re-elected, he would introduce a Conciliation Bill to introduce a measure of female suffrage. The proposal was dismissed by suffrage campaigners as being unlikely to materialise. [23] The election produced a hung parliament, with the Liberals' majority eliminated although they won the largest number of seats, they returned only two more MPs than the Conservative Party. Asquith retained power after he was able to form a government with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party. [24] [f]

On 31 January 1910, in response to Asquith's statement, Pankhurst announced that the WSPU would pause all militant activity and focus on constitutional activities only. [26] For six months the suffrage movement went into a propaganda drive, organising marches and meetings, and local councils passed resolutions supporting the bill. [27] When the new Parliament convened, a cross-party conciliation committee of pro-women's suffrage MPs was formed under the chairmanship of Lord Lytton, the brother of Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton. [28] [29] [g] They proposed legislation that would have enfranchised female householders and those women that occupied a business premises the bill was based on existing franchise laws for local government elections, under which some women had been able to vote since 1870. [30] [h] The measure would have added approximately a million women to the franchise it was kept to a relatively small number to make the bill as acceptable as possible to MPs, mostly Conservatives. [33] Although the WSPU thought the scope of the bill too narrow—it excluded women lodgers and most wives and working-class women—they accepted it as an important step. [27] [34]

The Conciliation Bill was introduced into Parliament as a private members bill on 14 June 1910. [35] [36] The question of women's suffrage was divisive within Cabinet, and the bill was discussed at three separate meetings. [37] At a Cabinet meeting on 23 June, Asquith stated that he would allow it to pass to the second reading stage, but no further parliamentary time would be allocated to it and it would therefore fail. [38] Nearly 200 MPs signed a memorandum to Asquith asking for additional parliamentary time to debate the legislation, but he refused. [39] The bill received its second reading on 11 and 12 July, which it passed 299 to 189. Both Churchill and Lloyd George voted against the measure Churchill called it "anti-democratic". [35] At the end of the month Parliament was prorogued until November. [40] The WSPU decided to wait until Parliament reconvened before they decided if they were to return to militant action. They further decided that if no additional parliamentary time was given over to the Conciliation Bill, Christabel Pankhurst would lead a delegation to Parliament, demand the bill be made law, and refuse to leave until that was carried out. [35] On 12 November the Liberal Party politician Sir Edward Grey announced that there would be no further parliamentary time given to the conciliation legislation that year. The WSPU announced that in protest they would undertake a militant demonstration to Parliament when it reconvened on 18 November. [41]

On 18 November 1910, in an attempt to resolve the parliamentary impasse arising from the House of Lords veto on Commons legislation, Asquith called a general election, and said that parliament would be dissolved on 28 November all remaining time was to be given over to official government business. He did not refer to the Conciliation Bill. [42] At noon on the same day the WPSU held a rally at Caxton Hall, Westminster. The event had been widely publicised, and the national press were prepared for the expected demonstration later in the day. [43] From Caxton Hall, approximately 300 members—divided into groups of ten to twelve by the WSPU organiser Flora Drummond—marched to parliament to petition Asquith directly. [44] [45] [i] The deputation was led by Emmeline Pankhurst. The delegates in the lead group included Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, Hertha Ayrton and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. [47] [j] The first group arrived at St Stephen's entrance at 1:20 pm. [48] They were taken to Asquith's office where his private secretary informed them that the prime minister refused to see them. They were escorted back to St Stephen's entrance, where they were left to watch the demonstration. [49]

Previous demonstrations at the Houses of Parliament had been policed by the local A Division, who understood the nature of the demonstrations and had managed to overcome the WSPU tactics without undue levels of violence. [50] Sylvia Pankhurst wrote that "During our conflicts with the A Division they have gradually come to know us, and to understand our aims and objects, and for this reason, whilst obeying their orders, they came to treat the women, as far as possible, with courtesy and consideration". [51] On the day of the demonstration, police had been drafted in from Whitechapel and the East End these men were inexperienced in policing suffragettes. [52] [53] Sophia van Wingerden, in her history of the women's suffrage movement, writes that "the differing accounts of the event of that day make it difficult to determine the truth about what happened" [54] Morrell similarly observes that the government, the press and the demonstrators all provide markedly different accounts. [55]

Groups approaching Parliament Square were met at the Westminster Abbey entrance to the square by groups of bystanders, who manhandled the women. As they moved past the men, the suffragettes were met by lines of policemen who, instead of arresting them, subjected them to violence and insults, much of which was sexual in nature. The demonstration continued for six hours police beat women attempting to enter parliament, then threw them into the crowds of onlookers, where they were subjected to further assaults. [56] Many of the suffragettes considered that the crowds of men who also assaulted them were plain clothes policemen. [57] Caxton Hall was used throughout the day as a medical post for suffragettes injured in the demonstration. Sylvia Pankhurst recorded that "We saw the women go out and return exhausted, with black eyes, bleeding noses, bruises, sprains and dislocations. The cry went round: 'Be careful they are dragging women down the side streets!' We knew this always meant greater ill-usage." [58] One of those taken down a side street was Rosa May Billinghurst, a disabled suffragette who campaigned from a wheelchair. Police pushed her into a side road, assaulted her and stole the valves from the wheels, leaving her stranded. [59] The historian Harold Smith writes "it appeared to witnesses as well as the victims that the police had intentionally attempted to subject the women to sexual humiliation in a public setting to teach them a lesson". [60]

On 18 November, 4 men and 115 women were arrested. [49] [61] The following morning, when those arrested were brought up at Bow Street Police Court, the prosecution stated that Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, had decided that on the grounds of public policy "on this occasion no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution" all charges were dropped. [62] Katherine E. Kelly, in her examination of how the media reported the suffrage movement in the early 20th century, considers that by dropping the charges against the demonstrators Churchill implemented "a tacit quid pro quo . [in which] he refused to inquire into the charges of police brutality". [63] [64] On 22 November Asquith announced that should the Liberals be returned to power at the next election, there would be parliamentary time for a Conciliation Bill to be put to parliament. The WSPU were angered that his promise was for within the next parliament, rather than the next session, and 200 suffragettes marched on Downing Street, where scuffles broke out with the police 159 women and 3 men were arrested. The following day another march on parliament was met with a police presence, and 18 demonstrators were arrested. Charges against many of those arrested on 22 and 23 November were subsequently dropped. [65] [66]

On 19 November 1910, newspapers reported on the events of the previous day. According to Morrell they "almost unanimously refrained from any mention of police brutality", and focussed instead on the behaviour of the suffragettes. [67] The front page of The Daily Mirror that day showed a large photograph of a suffragette on the ground, having been hit by a policeman during Black Friday the image is probably that of Ada Wright. [68] [69] [k] The art editor of the newspaper forwarded the photograph to the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police for comments. He initially tried to explain the image away by saying the woman had collapsed through exhaustion. [73] [74] The image was also published in Votes for Women, [51] The Manchester Guardian [75] and the Daily Express. [76]

Morrell observes that where sympathy was shown by newspapers, it was directed towards the policemen. The Times reported that "Several of the police had their helmets knocked off in carrying out their duty, one was disabled by a kick on the ankle, one was cut on the face by a belt, and one had his hand cut" [77] The Daily Mirror wrote that "the police displayed great good temper and tact throughout and avoided making arrests, but as usual many of the Suffragettes refused to be happy until they were arrested . in one scuffle a constable got hurt and had to be led limping away by two colleagues." [78] References to the suffragettes were in tones of disapproval for their actions after Churchill decided not to prosecute the suffragettes, some newspapers criticised his decision. [79]

On 3 March Georgiana Solomon—a suffragette who had been present at the demonstration—wrote to The Times to say that police had assaulted her. She had been bed-ridden after their manhandling, and had not been able to make a complaint at the time. Instead, she had written to Churchill on 17 December with a full statement of what she had suffered, and the actions she had witnessed against others. She had received a formal acknowledgement, but no further letter from the government on the events. Her letter to Churchill had been printed in full in the suffragette newspaper Votes for Women. [80] [81] [82]

The WSPU leadership were convinced that Churchill had given the police orders to manhandle the women, rather than arrest them quickly. Churchill denied the accusation in the House of Commons and was so angered he considered suing Christabel Pankhurst and The Times, who had reported the claim, for libel. [83] [l] The 25 November 1910 edition of Votes for Women stated that "The orders of the Home Secretary were, apparently, that the police were to be present both in uniform and in the crowd and that the women were to be thrown from one to the other". [84] In her biography of Emmeline Pankhurst, June Purvis writes that the police followed Churchill's orders to refrain from making arrests [85] the historian Andrew Rosen considers that Churchill had not given any orders to the police to manhandle the demonstrators. [86]

Murray and Brailsford report Edit

When members of the conciliation committee heard the stories of the demonstrators' maltreatment, they demanded a public inquiry, which was rejected by Churchill. The committee's secretary—the journalist Henry Brailsford—and the psychotherapist Jessie Murray collected 135 statements from demonstrators, nearly all of which described acts of violence against the women 29 of the statements also included details of violence that included indecency. [87] [88] The memorandum they published summarised their findings:

The action of which the most frequent complaint is made is variously described as twisting round, pinching, screwing, nipping, or wringing the breast. This was often done in the most public way so as to inflict the utmost humiliation. Not only was it an offence against decency it caused in many cases intense pain . The language used by some of the police while performing this action proves that it was consciously sensual. [89]

A woman, who gave her name as Miss H, stated that "One policeman . put his arm round me and seized my left breast, nipping it and wringing it very painfully, saying as he did so, 'You have been wanting this for a long time, haven't you'" [90] the American suffragette Elisabeth Freeman reported that a policeman grasped her thigh. She stated "I demanded that he should cease doing such a hateful action to a woman. He said, 'Oh, my old dear, I can grip you wherever I like to-day'" [91] and another said "the policeman who tried to move me on did so by pushing his knees in between me from behind, with the deliberate intention of attacking my sex". [92]

On 2 February 1911 the memorandum prepared by Murray and Brailsford was presented to the Home Office, along with a formal request for a public inquiry. Churchill again refused. [93] On 1 March, in response to a question in parliament, he informed the House of Commons that the memorandum:

contains a large number of charges against the police of criminal misconduct, which, if there were any truth in them, should have been made at the time and not after a lapse of three months. . I have made inquiry of the Commissioner [of Metropolitan Police] with regard to certain general statements included in the memorandum and find them to be devoid of foundation. There is no truth in the statement that the police had instructions which led them to terrorise and maltreat the women. On the contrary, the superintendent in charge impressed upon them that as they would have to deal with women, they must act with restraint and moderation, using no more force than might be necessary, and maintaining under any provocation they might receive, control of temper. [94]

The deaths of two suffragettes have been attributed to the treatment they received on Black Friday. [95] Mary Clarke, Emmeline Pankhurst's younger sister, was present at both Black Friday and the demonstration in Downing Street on 22 November. After a month in prison for breaking windows in Downing Street, she was released on 23 December, and died on Christmas Day of a brain haemorrhage at age 48. Emmeline blamed her death on the maltreatment Clarke received at the two November demonstrations [1] [96] Murray and Brailsford wrote that "we have no evidence which directly connects the death of Mrs Clarke" to the demonstrations. [97] The second victim the WSPU claimed had died from maltreatment was Henria Leech Williams. [98] She had given evidence to Brailsford and Murray that "One policeman after knocking me about for a considerable time, finally took hold of me with his great strong hands like iron just over my heart. . I knew that unless I made a strong effort . he would kill me". [99] Williams died of a heart attack on 1 January 1911 [100] Murray and Brailsford wrote "there is evidence to show that Miss Henria Williams . had been used with great brutality, and was aware at the time of the effect upon her heart, which was weak". [97] Her brother Llewellyn later stated that “She knowingly and willingly shortened her days in rendering services to the womanhood of the nation.” [101]

The events that took place between 18 and 25 November had an impact on the WSPU membership, many of whom no longer wanted to take part in the demonstrations. The deputations to parliament were stopped, and direct action, such as stone-throwing and window-breaking, became more common this allowed women a chance to escape before the police could arrest them. [60] [102] The historian Elizabeth Crawford considers the events of Black Friday determined the "image of the relations between the two forces and mark a watershed in the relationship between the militant suffrage movement and the police". [103] Crawford identifies a change in the tactics used by the police after Black Friday. Sir Edward Troup, the under-secretary at the Home Office, wrote to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in January 1911 to say that "I think there can be no doubt that the least embarrassing course will be for the police not to arrest too soon or defer arresting too long", which became the normal procedure adopted. [104]

On 17 November 2010 a vigil called "Remember the Suffragettes" took place on College Green, Parliament Square "in honour of direct action". [105]

Notes Edit

  1. ^ The first such act was in October 1905. Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a political rally in Manchester to ask the pro-women's suffrage Liberal Party politician Sir Edward Grey "Will the Liberal government give votes to women?". The two women were arrested for assault and obstruction on refusing to pay the fines levied against them, they were sent to prison. [3]
  2. ^ Charles E. Hands, the Daily Mail journalist, coined the name suffragettes to belittle members of the WSPU in 1906, but they adopted the label with pride. [5][6]
  3. ^ The women arrested for window breaking began a hunger strike to be treated as First Division prisoners—reserved for political crimes—rather than Second or Third Division, the classifications for common criminals. They were released early, rather than being reclassified. First Division prisoners were those who had committed crimes for political reasons. They had open access to books and writing equipment, did not have to wear prison uniforms and could receive visitors. Prisoners in the Second and Third Divisions were managed under more restrictive prison regulations. [13][14]
  4. ^ According to the historian Bruce Murray, many of the measures introduced by the government were "mangled by amendments or rejected outright" by the House of Lords [19] in total, ten parliamentary bills sent to them from the Commons were rejected by the Lords, who also amended over 40 per cent of the legislation they received. [20]
  5. ^ The rejection of the budget was a breach of the constitutional convention that the House of Lords were not supposed to interfere in financial bills from the House of Commons. [21]
  6. ^ The Conservative and Liberal Unionists gained 272 seats (up 116 from the previous parliament) the Liberals won 274 seats (down 123) the Irish Parliamentary Party won 71 (down 11) and Labour won 40 (up 11). [25]
  7. ^ The committee was composed of 25 Liberal MPs, 17 Conservative MPs, 6 Irish Nationalist MPs and 6 Labour MPs. [28]
  8. ^ The terms of the Conciliation Bill, officially named "A Bill to Extend the Parliamentary Franchise to Women Occupiers" were that the franchise should be extended to:

    Every woman possessed of a household qualification, or of a ten-pound occupation qualification, within the meaning of the Representation of the People Act 1884, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter, and, when registered, to vote for the county or borough in which the qualifying premises are situate.


Related media:

"Shoulder to Shoulder," produced by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), based on the documentary book of the same name compiled and edited by Midge MacKenzie , was shown in the U.S. as a 6-part series on "Masterpiece Theater," 1988. The episodes are titled, "The Pankhurst Family," "Annie Kenney," "Lady Constance Lytton," "Christabel Pankhurst," "Outrage," and "Sylvia Pankhurst." While Sylvia Pankhurst is included in all 6 parts, she is emphasized in the first and last episodes which portray her as the "hero" of the women's suffrage movement.


My history hero: Emma Barnett chooses Sylvia Pankhurst (1882–1960)

Born in Manchester, Sylvia Pankhurst trained as an artist but became an activist for women’s suffrage alongside her mother, Emmeline, and sister Christabel. She was force-fed repeatedly in prison after going on hunger strike. A pacifist, she diverged from her family during the First World War because of their support for the British effort. After the war, she helped found the British Communist party, and supported Ethiopian independence after the Italians invaded in 1935. She lived in the African nation from 1956 until her death.

When did you first hear about Pankhurst?

I’ve always known her name, as I went to the same school as her and her sisters. Much was made of the suffragette girls being part of our school heritage in Manchester. But I didn’t know very much about Sylvia and her work until I went to a show a few years ago featuring her beautiful drawings and paintings. Understandably, history tends to focus more on her mother, the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

What kind of person was she?

The Pankhurst women were trailblazers in fighting for women to have a voice. But Sylvia took her fight in a different direction, leading her to go against her mother’s wishes (no mean feat if your mother is Emmeline Pankhurst). In her early twenties, she set off on a tour of northern England and Scotland to document the lives of female workers. She wanted to get up close and personal with the grim circumstances women found themselves in. Her ambitious trip in the summer of 1907 took her to potteries, fisheries, chain-makers, pit brows and farms.

Frustrated with her mother and elder sister’s bourgeois focus, Sylvia wanted to find out how the working women of Britain were being treated alongside male labourers. The answer? Terribly. As her drawings and notes attest, conditions for most workers back then were appalling, regardless of gender, but for women things were particularly bad.

She never followed a set path and ended her life in Ethiopia, having agitated on behalf of the country. I am proud to call her granddaughter, Dr Helen Pankhurst – a formidable campaigner for women’s rights in the developing world – a good friend. She is herself based in Ethiopia, following unexpected paths on behalf of women in need.

What made her a hero?

She looked to the poorest in society for their truth and tried to tell their story when no one else really was. What Sylvia witnessed was the harshest side of life and she didn’t shy away from it, dedicating her energies to working women and to securing their rights.

Sylvia had a meticulous eye for detail, recording how these women’s days played out – often with them working a double shift, labouring as hard at home as in the factories, preparing everyone’s food and clothing. The stories she uncovered were heartbreaking. She gave the voiceless a voice that has transcended the decades.

Can you see any parallels between her life and your own?

I would never dare compare myself. But I gain inspiration from people who don’t take the world at face value, who push for answers and don’t shy away from posing difficult questions. Sylvia and her quest for information personifies that curious and furious combination.

Emma Barnett presents The Emma Barnett Show on Radio 5 Live and Newsnight on BBC Two, and recently published a book on women’s health called Period: It’s About Bloody Time (HQ, 2019)

LISTEN: Barbara Castle selected Sylvia Pankhurst in an episode of Radio 4’s Great Lives


A Suffragette Describes What It Felt Like to Be Force-Fed

In a 1913 article, a portion of which is reprinted below, Sylvia Pankhurst, the British suffragette, describes the experience of being force-fed in prison. Like the rapper, actor, and activist Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), who subjected himself to force-feeding last week in order to draw attention to the experiences of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Pankhurst used a first-person description of the procedure to show its brutality.

Pankhurst, whose mother Emmeline and sister Christabel were also prominent suffragettes, went to jail multiple times in 1913 alone, trying to draw attention to her cause. In 2005, the British government released documents that showed how careful those in charge of her case were to prevent her from dying in prison, as they were aware of her power as a political symbol.

One of these documents shows that a physician was sent to the prison to assess the procedure and returned with a recommendation that its use be discontinued in Pankhurst’s case. He blamed her own behavior for her pain:

The British press covered the issue of force-feeding extensively. To satisfy the public’s curiosity, papers such as the Illustrated London News commissioned artists to create imagined representations of what the procedure might look like (as in the image that accompanies this post).

The version of Pankhurst’s story that appears below was printed in McClure’s magazine, an American literary and current-events periodical of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. The Manchester Guardian printed an earlier, briefer version of Pankhurst’s account on March 26, 1913.

This article was brought to my attention by the editors of the new project The Browser Review, a site that resurrects and reprints news stories from 100 years ago.

Artist’s impression of a prisoner being force-fed. Published in the Illustrated London News, April 27, 1912. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

FORCIBLY FED: THE STORY OF MY FOUR WEEKS IN HOLLOWAY GAOL

As published in McClure’s magazine, August 1913, pp 87-93. This is an excerpt. The entire piece may be found here.

… About half past nine that first morning, the doctor came to me and saw the breakfast tea and bread and butter lying untouched. He pointed to it and said: “Will you not reconsider?” I answered, “No”. Then he felt my pulse and sounded my heart, and went away.

At twelve o’clock a wardress brought me a chop, some potatoes and cabbage, and some milk pudding. At five came supper—bread, butter, an egg, and a pint of milk. I left them all untasted, and sat reading the Bible hour after hour. I had nothing else to do.

So two days passed. I felt constantly a little hungry, but never for one moment did I wish to eat a morsel. I was very cold—partly, I suppose, from want of food, partly because the temperature of the cell was very low, the hot water pipe—the only means of heating—having little warmth in it. I sat with my feet on the hot-water pipe, wearing a woollen dress, a thick knitted woollen sweater, a long cloth coat, and with thick woollen gloves on my hands but still I was cold.

On the morning of the third day I was taken out into the corridor to be weighed, and some time afterwards the two doctors came into my cell to sound my heart again. They said: “Will you eat your food?” And—when I said, “No”,—“Then we have only one alternative—to feed by force.”

They went. I was trembling with agitation, feverish with fear and horror, determined to fight with all my strength and to prevent by some means this outrage of forcible feeding. I did not know what to do. Ideas flashed through my mind, but none seemed of any use.

I gathered together in a little clothes basket my walking-shoes, the prison brush and comb and other things, and put them beside me, where I stood under the window, with my back to the wall.

I thought that I would throw these things at the doctors if they dared to enter my cell to torture me. But, when the door opened, six women officers appeared, and I had not the heart to throw things at them, though I struck one of them slightly as they all seized me at once.

I struggled as hard as I could, but they were six and each one of them much bigger and stronger than I. They soon had me on the bed and firmly held down by the shoulders, the arms, the knees, and the ankles.

Then the doctors came stealing in behind. Some one seized me by the head and thrust a sheet under my chin. I felt a man’s hands trying to force my mouth open. I set my teeth and tightened my lips over them with all my strength. My breath was coming so quickly that I felt as if I should suffocate. I felt his fingers trying to press my lips apart,—getting inside,—and I felt them and a steel gag running around my gums and feeling for gaps in my teeth.

I felt I should go mad I felt like a poor wild thing caught in a steel trap. I was tugging at my head to get it free. There were two of them holding it. There were two of them wrenching at my mouth. My breath was coming faster and with a sort of low scream that was getting louder. I heard them talking: “Here is a gap.”

“No here is a better one—this long gap here.”

Then I felt a steel instrument pressing against my gums, cutting into the flesh, forcing its way in. Then it gradually prised my jaws apart as they turned a screw. It felt like having my teeth drawn but I resisted—I resisted. I held my poor bleeding gums down on the steel with all my strength. Soon they were trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat.

I was struggling wildly, trying to tighten the muscles and to keep my throat closed up. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but a mad revolt of struggling, for at last I heard them say, “That’s all” and I vomited as the tube came up.

They left me on the bed exhausted, gasping for breath and sobbing convulsively. The same thing happened in the evening but I was too tired to fight so long.

Day after day, morning and evening, came the same struggle. My mouth got more and more hurt my gums, where they prised them open, were always bleeding, and other parts of my mouth got pinched and bruised.

Often I had a wild longing to scream, and after they had gone I used to cry terribly with uncontrollable noisy sobs and sometimes I heard myself, as if it were some one else, saying things over and over again in a strange, high voice.

Sometimes—but not often I was generally too much agitated by then — I felt the tube go right down into the stomach. It was a sickening sensation. Once, when the tube had seemed to hurt my chest as it was being withdrawn, there was a sense of oppression there all the evening after, and as I was going to bed I fainted twice. My shoulders and back ached very much during the night after the first day’s forcible feeding, and often afterwards.

But infinitely worse than any pain was the sense of degradation, the sense that the very fight that one made against the repeated outrage was shattering one’s nerves and breaking down one’s self-control.

Added to this was the growing unhappy realization that those other human beings, by whom one was tortured, were playing their parts under compulsion and fear of dismissal, that they came to this task with loathing of it and with pity for their victim, and that many of them understood and sympathised with the fight the victim made.


Suffragette – Where’s Sylvia Pankhurst?

Ask anybody what name they most associate with the suffragette movement and almost universally the answer will be Sylvia Pankhurst. This film for all its merits only once mentions her in passing, and then only to suggest that she didn’t really approve of what the suffragettes were doing. What explanation can there be for this distracting mystery? The answer lies in the bourgeois falsification of history, as we shall see.

In any class society the predominant culture is the culture of the ruling class. We live in an imperialist country and the ruling class is the imperialist bourgeoisie. Bourgeois culture predominates and all aspects of culture are called into action in support of the bourgeoisie and its continuing rule. Those statements may seem too obvious to need repeating, but one of the successes of the ruling class in our society is to convince the majority living in the UK today that culture and cultural values are both classless and timeless.

The film Suffragette was greeted with enthusiasm by the bourgeois media. On the one hand, The Telegraph review (Robbie Collin, 12/10/15) stated ” Sarah Gavron’s film technically qualifies as a period drama: its story takes place in 1912 & 1913 and its sets and costumes vividly and convincingly evoke a bygone age. But it’s written, shot and acted with a hot-blooded urgency that reminds you that the struggle it depicts is an on-going one and which shakes up this most well-behaved of genres with a surge of civil disobedience. … [It]has less in common with British prestige film-making – think The King’s Speech … – than women-under-pressure dramas like Erin Brockovich … andSilkwood.” The film was summed up as “…the untold story of the real foot-soldiers of the suffragettes movement“. On the other hand The Observerreview (Mark Kermode, 11/10/15) stated that the film captures “a revolutionary moment in history … [showing that] the battle for voting rights [was] as hard fought as any struggle for independence.” This ridiculous hyperbole was followed by equally inaccurate statements: ” This polemical work provides a solidly researched and at times surprisingly grim primer on the years leading up to Emily Wilding Davidson’s still contested act of self-sacrifice in 1913. … This is an important story and Suffragette tells it without stylistic fuss or frills in a solidly down-the-line fashion“. Sheila O’Malley on rogereburt.com, a film review website, commented that the camera work gave the film “a real documentary feel, comparable, say, to the neo-realist style of The Battle of Algiers .

The clue to this enthusiasm can perhaps be found in the review on the US web-site BUSTLE (which proclaims itself as the place to go to for the latest news and views on all women’s issues) and the much-heralded interview by Jenni Murray with two of the film’s stars, Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan, on our own BBC R4’s Woman’s Hour. On BUSTLE the reviewer (Olivia Truffant-Wong) wrote: “Suffragette is a huge Hollywood victory for women. Not only is the film about the suffragette movement in Britain that lobbied for women’s right to vote, it also features an all-star female cast including Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, and the film was written and directed by women – Abi Morgan and Sarah Gavron respectively. The menu … is unique – a film about women made by women. It would be easy to say thatSuffragette aims at teaching a new generation about the history of feminism, but, contrary to popular belief, not all the characters in Suffragette are based on real people“. During the interview on Woman’s Hour, the same point was made about the film’s claim to be made about women, by women, for women (the new demographic of young women film-goers, which, along with Meryl Streep’s high-profile involvement, probably was what convinced the backers to finance the film). The conversation then turned to the current position of women in the film industry. Meryl Streep agreed that she was not paid as much as the leading male stars in Hollywood, notwithstanding her 3 Oscars and 18 Oscar nominations. The reason, she said, was simple: the all-action movies were still the biggest money-spinners for Hollywood, the stars of these all were men and money talks.

Opposition to women’s suffrage

The film deals with a very specific time: from March 1912, when the suffragettes broke the windows of the West End department stores, to June 1913, when Emily Wilding Davison died under the hooves of the king’s horse during the Derby at Epsom.

Emily Wilding Davidson, under the Hooves of the King’s Horse. Epsom 1913.

This was a turbulent period of the suffragettes’ history and of the history of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the organisation, led and run by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel. There can be no objection to including fictional characters in a historical drama or to changing the order of some events in order to achieve dramatic effect and condense the narrative to a normal length for a play or film. But to present as historical a drama which fundamentally distorts the truth about the period and events depicted is wholly objectionable and in this case quite pernicious. Before one can understand what are the distortions of the truth in this film and then work out what lies behind them, it is necessary to understand something of the true history of the WSPU and the events leading up to and during the period March 1912 and June 1913.

In their time, the militant suffragettes were seen as a threat to the continued rule of the bourgeoisie: any expansion of the suffrage was resisted as a possible opening of the floodgates to universal suffrage, i.e., to the inclusion among the voters of the whole of the working class, who would inevitably outnumber the ruling class and all of its faithful stooges and servants. There had been polite pressure for much of the last half of the 19 th century for the expansion of the suffrage to include women of property on the same basis as men that would only have applied to unmarried women or widows who held property in their own right, as a woman’s property automatically belonged to her husband after marriage. It was only after The Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1882 that a married woman could own property in her own name. The aristocracy had got around the old law by establishing trusts (settlements) in favour of their daughters, so that their property would not be automatically swallowed up by their husbands upon marriage. But the new industrial bourgeoisie eventually changed the law once they had secured their place as the ruling class with appropriate parliamentary power after the Reform Acts had done away with the rotten boroughs (parliamentary seats in areas of little or no population which were in the gift of the local landowner, lord or duke) and obtained both representation for the new industrial cities and extension of the franchise to the newly wealthy.

Neither the old aristocracy nor the new industrial bourgeoisie had forgotten the events of 1848, however. In that year of revolutionary upheavals all over Europe, there had flourished in Britain the Chartist movement.

People’s Charter Demonstration – Kennington Common, 1848 (And very first crowd photograph ever taken!)

The Chartists came from the most conscious and organised sections of the working class with support also from radicals among the other classes and the intelligentsia.

The ruling class had managed to see off their demand for universal suffrage for all men irrespective of property, but only by extending the franchise (by lowering the property qualification for the vote) as a means of splitting the ranks of the Chartist supporters.

In the 19 th century the ruling class did not feel confident that the mass of the working class, if enfranchised, could be relied upon to exercise the right to vote ‘responsibly’, i.e., by voting for the bourgeois parties and not for a new, working class party with a radical agenda which might threaten the power and profits of the ruling class. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century such parties were forming all over Europe. The years before the outbreak of war in 1914 had been full of industrial unrest as well as political uncertainty at home and abroad. At home, the working and living conditions of most of the British working class were still abysmal (we would categorise them now as third world conditions) notwithstanding the great wealth generated by the British Empire. Abroad, Germany, newly united under Prussian leadership into a single country out of 26 princely states and dukedoms only in 1871, expanded its trade and production as a direct result of its newly enlarged home market and sought to get a place in the world – in particular in respect of the division of the world into colonies – commensurate with its new wealth and increasing industrial and military power.

The Pankhursts

Emmeline Goulden was a scion of the industrial bourgeoisie.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Her father was a partner in a cotton printing and bleaching firm and a Liberal Councillor in Manchester, the first industrial city, a centre of industrial and scientific advances and a bastion of Liberalism. She married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 20 years her senior and the son of a Liberal dissenting minister, in 1879. They both began as supporters of the Liberal Party until that party in office in 1880 abandoned its idealism and pursued repressive policies in Ireland and India. Richard then ran as an independent candidate in a by-election in 1883, criticising the Liberals. He lost the election and also became estranged from his father-in-law as well as boycotted professionally. The family moved to London then with their two eldest children, Christabel and Sylvia, still infants, and the parents joined the Fabian Society. The Pankhursts were leading members of the Women’s Franchise League, formed in 1889, which always rejected the idea that women’s suffrage could be separated from the wider struggle for women’s emancipation and proclaimed that the “modern movement…..seeks …in all…relations…principles of equal justice[and] has necessarily attacked the privileges and disabilities founded on colour, race, religion and class“. However, Richard and Emmeline joined the Independent Labour Party when it was founded in 1893 in opposition to the growing militancy of the working-class movement and revolutionary socialists such as Eleanor Marx, who were deeply involved in the ‘New Unionism’ of that period. Instead, the ILP advocated parliamentary reform as the sole means whereby to create an equal and just society.

The Pankhursts had moved back to Manchester in the early 1890s.

They continued to be politically active. They had sacrificed family harmony and economic prosperity for their principles in 1883 and in 1896 Emmeline saw off the City Council’s Parks Committee in its attempt to ban all public meetings in Manchester’s Boggart Hole Clough, as the Committee could not bring themselves to prosecute or imprison a respectable middle-class woman for breach of the City by-laws both of these being seminal experiences and providing lessons which would be borne in mind in the later campaigns. The breach between the Pankhursts and the ILP came after Richard’s death in 1898. In 1900 Emmeline left the Fabian Society in protest at their refusal to oppose the Boer War. Sylvia had won a free place at the Municipal School of Art in 1899 and she won a series of prizes in 1902, one of which enabled her to study abroad. After her return to Britain, in 1903 Sylvia was commissioned to decorate the Pankhurst Hall, built in honour of her father (a constant campaigner for women’s rights) but the family was appalled to learn that the completed Hall was to be used by a branch of the ILP that did not admit women. As a result, Emmeline invited local ILP women to her house where they formed the Women’s Social and Political Union.

The Women’s Social and Political Union

The WSPU was originally closely bound up with the wider labour movement and its members saw the right to vote as bound up with wider social changes.

Sylvia moved back to London to pursue her artistic studies. There she started the London branch of the WSPU. She presided over a campaign which organised working-class women in the East End, used militancy to obtain practical gains such as audiences with ministers and worked closely with the labour movement and the campaigns in which the East End women were involved. However, Sylvia was not left in charge in London for long. Once Christabel came to London and took over the national leadership, the WSPU rapidly began to break all links with the labour movement. This allowed the struggle for adult suffrage ” the true field of the Labour movement – [to be left]to those who were either hostile or indifferent to the inclusion of women” (Sylvia Pankhurst, writing in her book The Suffragette – A History of the Suffragette Movement 1905-1910 in 1911).

The new orientation of the WSPU led to it intervening in by-elections in support of any party opposing the Liberals – which in practice meant the Conservatives. Those women who saw the struggle for women’s suffrage as a part of the wider struggle were marginalised by Emmeline and Christabel and at the 1907 Conference of the WSPU Emmeline literally tore up the constitution which had provided a democratic framework for the organisation and replaced it with the autocratic rule of herself, Christabel, with two others including Emmeline Pethwick-Lawrence, a wealthy benefactor, who stated that Christabel, as the architect of the new militant campaign “could not trust her mental offspring to the mercies of politically untrained minds“. The leadership saw working-class women as weak and not able to lead the struggle. Sylvia had resigned her post but remained a member, though she never signed the required pledge that members would never support any political party until after women won the vote. Sylvia’s art-work had created the public image of the WSPU, though her earlier depictions of strong working women in the vanguard gave way to the angel symbol, and she remained a member until she was finally expelled by Christabel for sharing a platform at a public meeting in 1914 with James Connolly.

The final break between Sylvia and her mother and sister came with the outbreak of the first world war in 1914 when Emmeline and Christabel suspended their campaigning for the vote to become energetic campaigners in support if the war, while Sylvia opposed it.

VANESSA REDGRAVE (1968) playing Sylvia Pankhurst, in the film ‘OH, WHAT A LOVELY WAR’.

In the meantime, Sylvia had been taking a back seat in the campaign: nursing her brother during his final illness, writing a history of the movement at her mother’s request (which largely followed the official line then) and then touring the US twice to promote the book. Those tours re-ignited her radical socialist views. Less than two months after Sylvia’s return to Britain in April 1911 from her first visit to the US there was a wave of strikes in the docks, which were later joined by dockers’ wives, all protesting against their appalling conditions of work. The WSPU opposed the strike, initially on the grounds that the men’s strike just increased the hardship for their wives and families, and preached in their journal Votes For Women that the solution to starvation wages ‘is the Parliamentary vote’, ignoring the more immediate solutions being put forward by the workers themselves. Sylvia, however, went to the East End and talked to (rather than at) ‘fully three hundred women’, asking them about their lives.

When Sylvia returned again from America in April 1912 she found a very different situation. The WSPU had refrained from militancy during the passage of the Conciliation Bill, which would have given a very limited group of women the vote. Early in 1912 the government suddenly introduced its own Reform Bill – to enfranchise more men – and women would only be included if a separate amendment was introduced and passed. Emmeline declared that ‘the argument of the broken pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics’. On 1 st and 4 th March suffragettes strolled down the fashionable West End streets before pulling hammers from their handbags and smashing the famous department stores’ windows. Emmeline Pankhurst, together with Emmeline and Frederick Pethwick-Lawrence were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit damage to property. They were eventually given 9 month sentences. Christabel escaped in disguise to France. Although Sylvia also travelled incognito to France in order to consult her sister, she then ignored her instructions ‘to behave as though you were not in the country’ and instead proceeded to put forward her ideas within the London branch, helping to organise the biggest suffragette demonstrations since 1908: there were 12,000 at Wimbledon, 15,000 in Regents Park and 30,000 in Blackheath.

Street corner meetings were organised to coincide with the workers’ dinner hours and the end of the working day. The suffragettes, who had largely ignored the Bermondsey strikers the year before, were sent there to agitate and found the women receptive to linking the struggles. Sylvia increasingly defined the women’s struggle in class terms. The campaign culminated in a huge Hyde Park demonstration on 14 th July – Mrs Pankhurst’s birthday. Red banners (the colour of the first WSPU London banner in 1905) re-appeared and were flown together with together with the green, white and purple banners designed by Sylvia for the WSPU. Sylvia also added red caps of liberty to sit on top of the tricolour banners, in memory of the Peterloo battle of 1815 when the workers had been gunned down for demanding political rights.

In the autumn of 1912 Sylvia persuaded the West London militants to campaign in the East End, choosing the area, as she had done in 1905, because it was ‘the greatest homogeneous working-class area accessible to the House of Commons by popular demonstrations’. More importantly, she wanted these women to be fighters on their own account, not mere objects of others’ campaigns, demanding ‘for themselves and their families a full share of civilisation and progress’. Then Christabel announced that ‘a woman’s war upon the Parliamentary Labour Party is inevitable’ unless Labour Party members voted against every measure put forward by the Liberals. She encouraged a Labour MP, George Lansbury, to resign his seat in East London and stand again on the sole question of women’s suffrage, this being done without any consultation with the grass roots organisations, including the local active suffragettes and the management of the election campaign being handed to another, not Sylvia, even though she was working in the area.

‘By 1913 the suffragettes were in the contradictory position of undertaking the greatest acts of sacrifice at the time they were making their least appeal to public support’ (Sylvia Pankhurst by Katherine Connelly 2013). The suffragettes justified their arson attacks on the post boxes by stating in an open letter to the British public on the front page of their paper Votes For Women : ” There are two ways of stirring you to action. One is to stir your emotions by means of some appalling tragedy…. The other is to make you uncomfortable …”. Along with the attacks on post boxes went arson attacks on empty buildings. Because these carried long prison sentences, they had to be carried out in secret, giving rise to the view that they were trying to get away with it. There was also the tragedy of Emily Wilding Davison at the Derby in June 1913 – still disputed as to whether she just wanted to unfurl her ‘Votes for Women’ banner in order to catch the eye of the king and the press or whether she really was prepared to risk death (she had the return half of her railway ticket in her pocket). Sylvia opposed these secret acts of militancy. She argued that ‘open militancy’, where suffragettes gave themselves up for arrest, would complement the building of a mass movement. She called a demonstration in East London on 17th February 1913 when she smashed an undertaker’s window, gave herself up to the police and was imprisoned. She was imprisoned more than any other suffragette and also went further than any other by going on a thirst as well as a hunger strike.

Two lines in the movement for women’s suffrage

From this brief sketch of the history of the struggle for the woman’s right to vote at the end of the 19 th and beginning of the 20 th centuries one can see that the period was characterised by the struggle between two lines relative to this issue as well as in the working-class movement as a whole. The history of Marxism and the working-class movement all over the world teaches us that is was ever thus and is still thus today. The essence of that struggle is the struggle between the revolutionary and opportunist wings of the movement: between the proletarian and bourgeois lines. When the women’s movement again came to prominence from 1969 until the mid seventies, it, too, was characterised by this same struggle between two lines.

The greatest division was between those who saw the struggle for women’s emancipation as an integral part of the working-class struggle against capitalism (broadly described hereafter as the socialist wing of the movement) and those who saw the struggle as being against the dominance of men or Patriarchy and the patriarchal family (the bourgeois feminists).

The socialist wing was divided between the revolutionary Marxists, who reasoned that only when the system of imperialism was overthrown and the proletarian state was established would it be possible for women to achieve full emancipation and equality with men, and the opportunists who saw reforms through a Labour government as the way forward (ignoring the warnings that reforms can be lost as well as won so long as imperialism continues, as we are now seeing). The bourgeois feminists, on the other hand, saw men as the enemy, rejecting any class basis for women’s oppression.

The basis for the Marxist-Leninist view of the struggle for women’s emancipation as well as analyses of the various trends seen and organisations involved in the movement of the 1970s are set out in the articles written by our comrades involved in the women’s movement of the time and collected into the publication Marxism and the Emancipation of Women edited by Cde Ella Rule and published in 2000.

In the present context you are recommended to read in particular the article on bourgeois feminism:Against reactionary feminism by our late comrade Iris Cremer (ibid. pp 131-162). The names of individuals and organisations may change, but the policies put forward remain in essence the same. After the efforts to create a united women’s movement failed, at the end of the seventies the various organisations went their separate ways. The bourgeois feminists, with the aid of the bourgeois media, monopolised and made their own, the terms Feminist and Feminism. In the popular estimation, therefore, feminists as a whole were and are seen as hostile to men and opposed to the working class struggle. The campaigns of the bourgeois feminists have largely ignored and been irrelevant to the lives and struggles of working-class women, notwithstanding the fact that the women’s movement of the 70s only arose at that time as a result if the Ford women machinists’ strike for equal pay in 1969 (see the review of Made in Dagenham, in Proletarian of February 2011). One of the organisations of bourgeois feminists which continued after the ’70s wasWomen in Media. The film Suffragette can be seen as an achievement of bourgeois feminism in general and of that organisation in particular even if that organisation is no longer active, the film represents the apotheosis of its aspirations.

How the film distorts reality

Why do we characterise the film as putting forward the ideas and values of bourgeois feminism, which are inimical to the revolutionary struggle of the working class, men and women, for emancipation? A look at the ways in which the film falsifies history will provide the answer.

Facts: The WSPU leadership in 1912 did not regard working class women as potential members, preferring the educated and non-working women of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie as their activists nor did they regard their struggle as linked in any way to the labour movement or the struggle to improve workers’ conditions only Sylvia Pankhurst ever made that link after 1907 and only she actively campaigned in the East End on behalf of the WSPU in order to create a mass movement and in opposition to individual and secret acts of destruction.

Film: This shows what Helena Bonham Carter has described as “a terrorist cell” in the East End, totally isolated from the working women of the area, actively pursuing Emmeline and Christabel’s policy of this period of individual, secret acts of destruction. The fictional heroine of the film, Maud Watts, played by Carey Mulligan, is a young working-class woman in her twenties, married with a child, ill-educated and working in an East End laundry since she was a child herself. She is seen as being drawn into the movement by a series of accidental events, then losing home, job and child as a result of her involvement.

Facts: Sylvia Pankhurst was imprisoned more than any other member of the WSPU, suffered hunger strikes and force feeding and also was the only member to go on thirst as well as hunger strike.

Film: The only reference to Sylvia in the entire film is when one of the fictional members of the fictional East End ‘terrorist cell’ states that: ” The movement is divided. Even Sylvia Pankhurst is opposed to her mother and sister’s militant strategies“. This is a half-truth which amounts to a lie in the context of the false scenario created by the film-makers. The remark feels as though it is put in for the benefit of the viewers, rather than as a natural part of the conversation.

Facts: Sylvia was particularly active organising IN THE EAST END during the summer of 1912 (the central period covered by the film) when her mother was in prison and her sister was in France after and as a result of the arson attacks. Large demonstrations took place in all parts of London during that period.

Sylvia Pakhurst carried by East End Workers – June 1914

Film: Not only is there no mention of Sylvia’s work among the women of the East End of London, there is no mention of these demonstrations, which were major events in 1912 and which would have received much attention in the press.

Emmeline is seen just once, addressing a small crowd of supporters and encouraging them to further acts of individual militancy (the opportunity to bring in Meryl Streep, who otherwise is noticeable by her absence, notwithstanding her star billing for the film).

Emmeline is seen eluding arrest by the police, but no mention is made of her arrest, trial and imprisonment for 9 months during this period, which also would have been a very significant event.

The result of all these falsifications of history is to skew this account of the struggle away from any reference to the even sporadic involvement of working-class women EN MASSE in the movement or to any link between the suffragettes’ struggle and that of the working-class as a whole. The focus is entirely on the individual women and, in the case of the working-class women characters, showing them as completely isolated from their families and fellow workers. The message is also repeated in many ways: men are the enemy. The director has confirmed that a colour palette was chosen deliberately which used ‘softer’ purple and green for the scenes where the women were in control,

whilst shades of grey were used for scenes showing areas where men’s influence predominated (thus conveying this message subliminally).

No opportunity was lost to insert the message into the dialogue and the story. The supposedly illiterate heroine says to the high-ranking police officer, whose brief it is to spy upon the organisation and who wants to recruit her as his informer: “War is the only language MEN listen to” (our emphasis) “We want to be law-makers not law-breakers“ ” If they want us to respect the law, they need to make the law respectable“ and “We are half the human race: you can’t stop us“. The government minister’s wife, arrested at the same time as the ‘cell’ members, is shown as having her bail paid by her husband, who then refuses her request to bail her fellow campaigners, the clear implication being that only he had access to money (wrong in both respects, as wealthy WSPU members consistently chose to go to prison rather than pay fines). There is a sub-story line of sexual harassment of his youngest female worker by the foreman at the laundry where the heroine works and we learn that she also suffered the same abuse at his hands in the past. There is more in the same vein which it becomes tedious to relate.

The conclusion is that this film is “an effective piece of agitprop” (Sheila O’Malley, ibid.) which uses all the tricks of the trade to put across the politics of bourgeois feminism. By all means see it but do not be beguiled by its art into accepting its message.


Rise of the Suffragettes

Over the next few years, Pankhurst would encourage WSPU members to rein in their demonstrations when it seemed possible that a bill on women’s suffrage might move forward. But when the group was disappointed𠅊s in 1910 and 1911, when Conciliation Bills that included women’s suffrage failed to advance—protests would escalate. By 1913, militant actions by WSPU members included window-breaking, vandalizing public art and arson.

"We were called militant, and we were quite willing to accept the name. We were determined to press this question of the enfranchisement of women to the point where we were no longer to be ignored by the politicians."

Throughout these protests, suffragettes were arrested, but in 1909 the women had begun to engage in hunger strikes while in prison. Though this resulted in violent force-feeding, the hunger strikes also led to early release for many suffragettes. When Pankhurst was given a nine-month sentence in 1912 for throwing a rock at the prime minister’s residence, she too embarked on a hunger strike. Spared from being forcibly fed, she was soon freed.


Watch the video: Sylvia Pankhurst dies September 27, 1960