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Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst (nee Goulden) (1858 - 1928) was a prominent British suffragette leader. Married to a radical lawyer and advocate for women’s rights, Richard Marsden Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst was elected in 1880 onto the executive committee of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage and pursued socialist political activities of a range of kinds. After moving to London, Pankhurst continued her political activities through membership of the Fabian Society, the Women’s Franchise League and the Women’s Liberal Association. When the Pankhurst family returned to Manchester in 1893, Emmeline joined the Independent Labour Party, in which she became prominently active. Later, after the death of Richard Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst established the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, set up specifically to campaign for women’s suffrage. By 1908 the campaign had become militant and Pankhurst, along with other WSPU women, spent periods of time in prison.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, all imprisoned suffragettes were released and both Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst publically voiced support for Britain’s war effort. Emmeline Pankhurt’s support for conscription and women’s war work alienated her not only from many within the WSPU, resulting in the formation of break-way factions, but also from two of her daughters, Sylvia and Adela, who both held anti-war views. As Schreiner herself remarked in a 1915 letter to Ellis, many former WSPU supporters now backed the United Suffragists led by the Pethick-Lawrences. Schreiner’s letters contain several admiring comments about ‘Mrs Pankhurst’ and her qualities as a great leader, and from a letter to Will Schreiner it seems that she met Emmeline Pankhurst in May 1914. However Pankhurst’s pro-war stance tempered Schreiner’s view of her, and while she wrote of her to John Hodgson as one the “strongest & cleverest women I ever met”, she also saw her as someone she ultimately could not sympathise with because she was so “passionately war like”. By 1915 Schreiner commented to Ellis that Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were women “I shrink from intensely”.

For further information see:
Paula Bartley (2002) Emmeline Pankhurst London: Routledge
June Purvis (2002) Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography London: Routledge
June Purvis (2004) ‘Pankhurst , Emmeline (1858-1928)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35376
Emmeline Pankhurst (1914) My Own Story London: Eveleigh Nash
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