Pankhurst, Emmeline Goulden
Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst 1858-1928
English autobiographer, essayist, and speechwriter.
A feminist and activist during the suffragist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Pankhurst masterminded extreme, often violent, reform protests. Despite her radical behavior, Pankhurst is remembered as an eloquent speaker and talented author who was consumed with the issue of women's rights. My Own Story, Pankhurst's autobiography, is considered a valuable historical document that vividly chronicles her struggle for equality.
Pankhurst's parents were ardent abolitionists who served as her role models for social involvement. She was born July 14, 1858, and grew up in Manchester, England. Pankhurst attended school in Paris, returning to England at age eighteen. In 1879 she married Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer of liberal leanings. Frustrated by women's inequalities, she embarked on a dual career of child rearing and social activism. The Pankhursts moved to London in 1885, where they attracted a lively group of anarchists who shared their free-thinking philosophy. When her husband died in 1889, Pankhurst became a registrar of births and deaths to support herself and her family. At the same time she and her equally radical daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, became involved in the Independent Labour Party, a left-wing political organization that appeared to support their goals of equality. But upon discovering that the party had no intention of treating men and women equally, the Pankhurst women formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). When the WSPU members learned that a bill supporting women's suffrage had been abandoned in Parliament, the women protested, first with marches and later with hunger strikes, arson, and attacks on property. In 1908 Pankhurst went to prison for the first of many times. My Own Story appeared in 1914. Intended to encourage support of women's rights, the candid, detailed story of Pankhurst's experiences won many admirers. Three years later Pankhurst and her daughters formed the Women's Party, a political organization devoted to women's rights. In 1918 she moved to Canada, where she toured the country as a public speaker. She returned to England in 1926. Just as she died, Parliament granted women the right to vote in England.
Pankhurst's primary work is My Own Story, an eloquently told account of her struggles and frustrations in the fight for women's suffrage. The book, published in the middle of her activist career, is a candid diary of the era. Aside from outlining her life as an activist, My Own Story details Pankhurst's conflict between her English middle-class upbringing and the increasingly violent and extreme protests she came to embrace. In the course of her career, Pankhurst also published several speeches and pamphlets that helped further her political causes. A captivating public speaker, Pankhurst inspired many women to seek equality aggressively.
Since its publication, My Own Story has been consistently praised for its insight into women's struggles in nineteenth-century England. At the end of the twentieth century, critics still praise Pankhurst's importance as a first-hand commentator of the suffrage movement. Her efforts, which included twelve arrests and several life-threatening hunger strikes, are considered pivotal actions in the quest for equality.
SOURCE: “Militant Suffragists,” in The World's Greatest Speeches, edited by Lewis Copeland, Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1942, pp. 196-8.
[In the following excerpt, originally delivered as an address in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1913, Pankhurst discusses differences between the struggle for women's rights in England and America and expresses her willingness to die for her cause.]
I do not come here as an advocate, because whatever position the suffrage movement may occupy in the United States of America, in England it has passed beyond the realm of advocacy and it has entered into the sphere of practical politics. It has become the subject of revolution and civil war, and so to-night I am not here to advocate woman suffrage. American suffragists can do that very well for themselves. I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain—it seems strange it should have to be explained—what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women. I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field of battle; I am here—and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming—I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all; and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison. So you see there is some special...
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A review of “The Arch-Priestess of Militancy: My Own Story,” in The Nation, 99, 2580, December 10, 1914, pp. 688-89.
[In the following review, the critic refutes Pankhurst's arguments in My Own Story.]
Mrs. Pankhurst begins [My Own Story] with the apparently unconscious admission that “those men and women are fortunate who are born at a time when a great struggle for human freedom is in progress”; no one will doubt that when a “struggle” is on she will be eager to be there. The reader who sets out to take her good-naturedly will find the story amusing and entertaining. Mrs. Pankhurst is clever and writes with a facile pen, and she flings forth charges of “duplicity,” “mendacity,” and “perjury,” calls the judges “biassed,” Asquith “treacherous,” Lloyd George “slippery,” and both of them “scoundrels” with a grace and ease that betray practice. The numerous illustrations, mostly of Mrs. Pankhurst at the critical points of her career, serve to demonstrate the thoughtfulness of the militant organization in matters of detail. One must suppose that she never risked an appearance in public without a photographer at her side.
The reader who proposes to take her argument seriously is likely to be exasperated by the constant evidence of a feline sophistry: to begin with, of course, the common feministic sophism, implied in the...
(The entire section is 1546 words.)
A review of My Own Story, in The Dial, LVIII, 686, January 16, 1915, p. 57.
[In the following review, critic praises My Own Story for its vivid depiction of Pankhurst's life and the women's movement.]
This breathing spell in the woman suffrage agitation in England is a good time to review what that agitation has effected and to consider briefly its hopes for the future. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst's book, My Own Story gives an excellent even though warmly partisan account of the movement, especially of that part in which she has been concerned, and closes with hopeful prophecies of the future. Addressing herself to American readers and appealing for their sympathies, she writes with a very telling directness of speech about the attitude and methods of the English government in seeking to withhold from women the rights to which it will be difficult for any candid reader of her book to maintain that they have no just claim. Even of the violent means for obtaining them which she so notably advocates, she makes not a bad defence—if violence is ever defensible. Certainly as material for a book, her stormy experiences of the last few years are rich in incidents of an unusual and not seldom a startling nature. And all this vehemence and hardihood, so little in harmony with accepted traditions of what is most excellent in woman and most truly characteristic of her, we find to be manifested not...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
The Nation & Atheneum (essay date 1928)
“The Triumph of Mrs. Pankhurst,” in The Nation and the Athenaeum, Vol. XLIII, No. 12, June 23, 1928, pp. 388-89.
[In the following essay, the critic praises Pankhurst's role in the women's movement at the turn of the century]
Most poets are cradled into poetry by wrong, They learn in suffering what they teach in song.
Something of the kind might be said of Social Reformers, and it might be said of Mrs. Pankhurst. Along with her barrister husband—an expansive and generous man—she had plunged while still young into Socialism, much to the surprise of Manchester Socialists, who in the late 'eighties were unaccustomed to recruits. The newcomers quickened the pace of the local movement and led the sort of fight which in that remote age stirred the blood—a fight for free speech at Boggart Hole Clough. After victory had been won, Dr. Pankhurst, who had spent freely and neglected his worldly interests for “the cause,” died.
There were four children, and very little on which to rear them. Mrs. Pankhurst, who had served on the Manchester School Board and the Board of Guardians, became a Registrar of Births and Deaths in a drab district in which many poor women came on grief. Her years in this office made upon her an impression that never faded. She heard and saw what filled her with rage and gloom....
(The entire section is 1358 words.)
SOURCE: “Mrs. Pankhurst,” in The English Review, Vol. XLVII, July to December 1928, pp. 184-88.
[In the following essay, Chapman eulogizes Pankhurst and points to her virtue and compassion for her fellow women.]
When I received a telegram asking me to take part in Mrs. Pankhurst's funeral, I felt diffident, having endured nothing for the Suffrage Movement compared with those likely to be present. Dr. Cobb, in an eloquent address at the ceremony, pointed out how Mrs. Pankhurst, whom he eulogized in strong but unexaggerated terms, had foregone her war for the enfranchisement and the social liberty of woman in favour of the greater War, to which she and her troops nobly devoted themselves. Thus she acquired the object of her own campaign, which was more than conceded to the striking services they rendered, and the supreme fortitude they displayed.
As a public character Mrs. Pankhurst was strangely misunderstood, though, doubtless, her intimates grasped the fact not only of her gift of leadership and consummate patience, but of a certain tenderness and piety which were the marks of a saint, in its broadest meaning. Of the movement itself a more detailed account is, I understand, to be published by her daughter Christabel, who acted as her aide-de-camp throughout. Now that several years have passed, it is more possible to appraise one of the most remarkable personalities I have known,...
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SOURCE: “Mrs. Pankhurst,” in The Post-Victorians, Ivor Nicholson & Watson, LTD., September, 1933, pp. 477-500.
[In the following essay, West offers a detailed overview of Pankhurst's life and her role as a suffragette.]
There has been no other woman like Emmeline Pankhurst. She was beautiful; her pale face, with its delicate square jaw and rounded temples, recalled the pansy by its shape and a kind of velvety bloom on the expression. She dressed her taut little body with a cross between the elegance of a Frenchwoman and the neatness of a nun. She was courageous; small and fragile and no longer young, she put herself in the way of horses' hooves, she stood up on platforms under a rain of missiles, she sat in the darkness of underground jails and hunger-struck, and when they let her out because she had starved herself within touching distance of death, she rested for only a day or two and then clambered back on to the platforms, she staggered back under the horses' hooves. She did this against the grain. What she would have preferred, could her social conscience have been quieted, was to live in a pleasant suburban house, and give her cronies tea with very thin bread and butter, and sit about in the garden in a deck-chair.
Mrs. Pankhurst came to these cruel and prodigious events not as some who have attained fame in middle life. She had not lived in ease all her youth and dammed...
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SOURCE: “Mrs. Pankhurst,” in Eminent Edwardians, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980, pp. 131-94.
[In the following essay, Brendon offers a historical overview of Pankhurst's life and discusses the role of violence in her life and work.]
Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst became the most famous and the most notorious woman of her day by means of violence. Violence, after all, was a male prerogative. Its employment by this new Joan of Arc and her Suffragette minions was at once a castrating threat to the lords of humankind and a vile outrage against all notions of feminine propriety. But Mrs Pankhurst's own violence was less striking as a form of political agitation than as a mode of personal dominance. With clenched fists and a fierce tilt of her chin she confessed to a group of intimates, ‘I love fighting!’ The moral force and the evangelistic power of her oratory stemmed from a harnessed Niagara of passion. Her leadership of the militant movement was won by a combination of overwhelming charisma and histrionic dare-devilry. It was maintained by a sectarian ruthlessness and a disposition to ‘smash’ those who challenged her autocracy. It was sealed by a turbulent determination to secure her place in the temple of fame not just by crusading for the women's vote but by embracing martyrdom. As she said, ‘If men will not do us justice, they shall do us violence.’ Nowhere was...
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Mitchell, David. The Fighting Pankhursts: A Study in Tenacity. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1967, 352 p.
A biography of the Pankhurst family.
Noble, Iris. Emmeline and Her Daughters: The Pankhurst Suffragettes. Folkestone: Bailey Brothers and Swinfen Ltd., 1974, 190 p.
A detailed study of the Pankhurst women.
Pankhurst, E. Sylvia. The Life of Emmeline Pankhurst: The Suffragette Struggle for Women's Citizenship. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1936, 180 p.
The story of Pankhurst's life as told by her daughter.
Morrison, Sylvia. “My Own Story: An Autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst.” Books and Bookmen 24, No. 8 (May 1979): 64.
A retrospective analysis of My Own Story.
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. “The Selves in Hiding.” In Women's Autobiography: Essays in Criticism, edited by Estelle C. Jelenek, pp. 112-32. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.
Places Pankhurst's autobiography in the realm of submerged personas.
Additional coverage of Pankhurst's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 116.
(The entire section is 154 words.)