The gripping memoir of the leader of the British suffragette movement who was named by Time as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century
With insight and great wit, Emmeline’s autobiography chronicles the beginnings of her interest in feminism through to her militant and controversial fight for women’s right to vote. While Emmeline received a good education, attending an all-girls school and being expected to conform to social norms, she rebelled against conventional women’s roles. At the age of 14 a meeting of women’s rights activists sparked a lifelong passion in her to fight for women’s freedom and she would later claim that it was on that day she became a suffragist. As one after another of the proposed feminist bills were defeated in parliament, Pankhurst was inspired to turn to extreme actions. While she was the figurehead of the suffragette movement, it advocated some controversial tactics such as arson, violent protest, and hunger strikes. Even today there is still debate about the effectiveness of her extreme strategies, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain. Her mantle was taken up by her daughters and granddaughter with her legacy still very much alive today.
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About the Author
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) was a political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement. In 1903, she founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). She died only weeks before the Conservative government's extended the vote to all women over 21 years of age.
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My Own Story
By Emmeline Pankhurst
Hesperus Press LimitedCopyright © 2015 Hesperus Press Limited
All rights reserved.
Those men and women are fortunate who are born at a time when a great struggle for human freedom is in progress. It is an added good fortune to have parents who take a personal part in the great movements of their time. I am glad and thankful that this was my case.
One of my earliest recollections is of a great bazaar which was held in my native city of Manchester, the object of the bazaar being to raise money to relieve the poverty of the newly emancipated negro slaves in the United States. My mother took an active part in this effort, and I, as a small child, was entrusted with a lucky bag by means of which I helped to collect money.
Young as I was – I could not have been older than five years – I knew perfectly well the meaning of the words slavery and emancipation. From infancy I had been accustomed to hear pro and con discussions of slavery and the American Civil War. Although the British government finally decided not to recognise the Confederacy, public opinion in England was sharply divided on the questions both of slavery and of secession. Broadly speaking, the propertied classes were pro-slavery, but there were many exceptions to the rule. Most of those who formed the circle of our family friends were opposed to slavery, and my father, Robert Goulden, was always a most ardent abolitionist. He was prominent enough in the movement to be appointed on a committee to meet and welcome Henry Ward Beecher when he arrived in England for a lecture tour. Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was so great a favourite with my mother that she used it continually as a source of bedtime stories for our fascinated ears. Those stories, told almost fifty years ago, are as fresh in my mind today as events detailed in the morning's papers. Indeed they are more vivid, because they made a much deeper impression on my consciousness. I can still definitely recall the thrill I experienced every time my mother related the tale of Eliza's race for freedom over the broken ice of the Ohio River, the agonising pursuit, and the final rescue at the hands of the determined old Quaker. Another thrilling tale was the story of a negro boy's flight from the plantation of his cruel master. The boy had never seen a railroad train, and when, staggering along the unfamiliar railroad track, he heard the roar of an approaching train, the clattering car-wheels seemed to his strained imagination to be repeating over and over again the awful words, 'Catch a nigger – catch a nigger – catch a nigger –' This was a terrible story, and throughout my childhood, whenever I rode in a train, I thought of that poor runaway slave escaping from the pursuing monster.
These stories, with the bazaars and the relief funds and subscriptions of which I heard so much talk, I am sure made a permanent impression on my brain and my character. They awakened in me the two sets of sensations to which all my life I have most readily responded: first, admiration for that spirit of fighting and heroic sacrifice by which alone the soul of civilisation is saved; and next after that, appreciation of the gentler spirit which is moved to mend and repair the ravages of war.
I do not remember a time when I could not read, nor any time when reading was not a joy and a solace. As far back as my memory runs I loved tales, especially those of a romantic and idealistic character. 'Pilgrim's Progress' was an early favourite, as well as another of Bunyan's visionary romances, which does not seem to be as well known, his 'Holy War'. At nine I discovered the Odyssey and very soon after that another classic which has remained all my life a source of inspiration. This was Carlyle's 'French Revolution', and I received it with much the same emotion that Keats experienced when he read Chapman's translation of Homer – '... like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken'.
I never lost that first impression, and it strongly affected my attitude towards events which were occurring around my childhood. Manchester is a city which has witnessed a great many stirring episodes, especially of a political character. Generally speaking, its citizens have been liberal in their sentiments, defenders of free speech and liberty of opinion. In the late sixties there occurred in Manchester one of those dreadful events that prove an exception to the rule. This was in connection with the Fenian Revolt in Ireland. There was a Fenian riot, and the police arrested the leaders. These men were being taken to the jail in a prison van. On the way the van was stopped and an attempt was made to rescue the prisoners. A man fired a pistol, endeavouring to break the lock of the van door. A policeman fell, mortally wounded, and several men were arrested and were charged with murder. I distinctly remember the riot, which I did not witness, but which I heard vividly described by my older brother. I had been spending the afternoon with a young playmate, and my brother had come after tea to escort me home. As we walked through the deepening November twilight he talked excitedly of the riot, the fatal pistol shot, and the slain policeman. I could almost see the man bleeding on the ground, while the crowd swayed and groaned around him.
The rest of the story reveals one of those ghastly blunders which justice not infrequently makes. Although the shooting was done without any intent to kill, the men were tried for murder and three of them were found guilty and hanged. Their execution, which greatly excited the citizens of Manchester, was almost the last, if not the last, public execution permitted to take place in the city. At the time I was a boarding-pupil in a school near Manchester, and I spent my weekends at home. A certain Saturday afternoon stands out in my memory, as on my way home from school I passed the prison where I knew the men had been confined. I saw that a part of the prison wall had been torn away, and in the great gap that remained were evidences of a gallows recently removed. I was transfixed with horror, and over me there swept the sudden conviction that that hanging was a mistake – worse, a crime. It was my awakening to one of the most terrible facts of life – that justice and judgement lie often a world apart.
I relate this incident of my formative years to illustrate the fact that the impressions of childhood often have more to do with character and future conduct than heredity or education. I tell it also to show that my development into an advocate of militancy was largely a sympathetic process. I have not personally suffered from the deprivations, the bitterness and sorrow which bring so many men and women to a realisation of social injustice. My childhood was protected by love and a comfortable home. Yet, while still a very young child, I began instinctively to feel that there was something lacking, even in my own home, some false conception of family relations, some incomplete ideal.
This vague feeling of mine began to shape itself into conviction about the time my brothers and I were sent to school. The education of the English boy, then as now, was considered a much more serious matter than the education of the English boy's sister. My parents, especially my father, discussed the question of my brothers' education as a matter of real importance. My education and that of my sister were scarcely discussed at all. Of course we went to a carefully selected girls' school, but beyond the facts that the headmistress was a gentlewoman and that all the pupils were girls of my own class, nobody seemed concerned. A girl's education at that time seemed to have for its prime object the art of 'making home attractive' – presumably to migratory male relatives. It used to puzzle me to understand why I was under such a particular obligation to make home attractive to my brothers. We were on excellent terms of friendship, but it was never suggested to them as a duty that they make home attractive to me. Why not? Nobody seemed to know.
The answer to these puzzling questions came to me unexpectedly one night when I lay in my little bed waiting for sleep to overtake me. It was a custom of my father and mother to make the round of our bedrooms every night before going themselves to bed. When they entered my room that night I was still awake, but for some reason I chose to feign slumber. My father bent over me, shielding the candle flame with his big hand. I cannot know exactly what thought was in his mind as he gazed down at me, but I heard him say, somewhat sadly, 'What a pity she wasn't born a lad.'
My first hot impulse was to sit up in bed and protest that I didn't want to be a boy, but I lay still and heard my parents' footsteps pass on towards the next child's bed. I thought about my father's remark for many days afterwards, but I think I never decided that I regretted my sex. However, it was made quite clear that men considered themselves superior to women, and that women apparently acquiesced in that belief.
I found this view of things difficult to reconcile with the fact that both my father and my mother were advocates of equal suffrage. I was very young when the Reform Act of 1866 was passed, but I very well remember the agitation caused by certain circumstances attending it. This Reform Act, known as the Household Franchise Bill, marked the first popular extension of the ballot in England since 1832. Under its terms, householders paying a minimum of ten pounds a year rental were given the Parliamentary vote. While it was still under discussion in the House of Commons, John Stuart Mill moved an amendment to the bill to include women householders as well as men. The amendment was defeated, but in the act as passed the word 'man', instead of the usual 'male person', was used. Now, under another act of Parliament it had been decided that the word 'man' always included 'woman' unless otherwise specifically stated. For example, in certain acts containing rate-paying clauses, the masculine noun and pronoun are used throughout, but the provisions apply to women rate- payers as well as to men. So when the Reform Bill with the word 'man' in it became law, many women believed that the right of suffrage had actually been bestowed upon them. A tremendous amount of discussion ensued, and the matter was finally tested by a large number of women seeking to have their names placed upon the register as voters. In my city of Manchester 3,924 women, out of a total of 4,215 possible women voters, claimed their votes, and their claim was defended in the law courts by eminent lawyers, including my future husband, Dr Pankhurst. Of course the women's claim was settled adversely in the courts, but the agitation resulted in a strengthening of the woman-suffrage agitation all over the country.
I was too young to understand the precise nature of the affair, but I shared in the general excitement. From reading newspapers aloud to my father I had developed a genuine interest in politics, and the Reform Bill presented itself to my young intelligence as something that was going to do the most wonderful good to the country. The first election after the bill became law was naturally a memorable occasion. It is chiefly memorable to me because it was the first one in which I ever participated. My sister and I had just been presented with new winter frocks, green in colour, and made alike, after the custom of proper British families. Every girl child in those days wore a red flannel petticoat, and when we first put on our new frocks I was struck with the fact that we were wearing red and green – the colours of the Liberal party. Since our father was a Liberal, of course the Liberal party ought to carry the election, and I conceived a brilliant scheme for helping its progress. With my small sister trotting after me, I walked the better part of a mile to the nearest polling-booth. It happened to be in a rather rough factory district, but we did not notice that. Arrived there, we two children picked up our green skirts to show our scarlet petticoats, and brimful of importance, walked up and down before the assembled crowds to encourage the Liberal vote. From this eminence we were shortly snatched by outraged authority in the form of a nursery maid. I believe we were sent to bed into the bargain, but I am not entirely clear on this point.
I was fourteen years old when I went to my first suffrage meeting. Returning from school one day, I met my mother just setting out for the meeting, and I begged her to let me go along. She consented, and without stopping to lay my books down I scampered away in my mother's wake. The speeches interested and excited me, especially the address of the great Miss Lydia Becker, who was the Susan B. Anthony of the English movement, a splendid character and a truly eloquent speaker. She was the secretary of the Manchester committee, and I had learned to admire her as the editor of the Women's Suffrage Journal, which came to my mother every week. I left the meeting a conscious and confirmed suffragist.
I suppose I had always been an unconscious suffragist. With my temperament and my surroundings I could scarcely have been otherwise. The movement was very much alive in the early seventies, nowhere more so than in Manchester, where it was organised by a group of extraordinary men and women. Among them were Mr and Mrs Jacob Bright, who were always ready to champion the struggling cause. Mr Jacob Bright, a brother of John Bright, was for many years member of Parliament for Manchester, and to the day of his death was an active supporter of woman suffrage. Two especially gifted women, besides Miss Becker, were members of the committee. These were Mrs Alice Cliff Scatcherd and Miss Wolstentholm, now the venerable Mrs Wolstentholm-Elmy. One of the principal founders of the committee was the man whose wife, in later years, I was destined to become, Dr Richard Marsden Pankhurst.
When I was fifteen years old I went to Paris, where I was entered as a pupil in one of the pioneer institutions in Europe for the higher education of girls. This school, one of the founders of which was Madame Edmond Adam, who was and is still a distinguished literary figure, was situated in a fine old house in the Avenue de Neuilly. It was under the direction of Mlle. Marchef-Girard, a woman distinguished in education, and who afterwards was appointed government inspector of schools in France. Mlle Marchef-Girard believed that girls' education should be quite as thorough and even more practical than the education boys were receiving at that time. She included chemistry and other sciences in her courses, and in addition to embroidery she had her girls taught bookkeeping. Many other advanced ideas prevailed in this school, and the moral discipline which the pupils received was, to my mind, as valuable as the intellectual training. Mlle Marchef-Girard held that women should be given the highest ideals of honour. Her pupils were kept to the strictest principles of truth-telling and candour. Myself she understood and greatly benefited by an implicit trust which I am sure I could not have betrayed, even had I felt for her less real affection.
My roommate in this delightful school was an interesting young girl of my own age, Noémie Rochefort, daughter of that great Republican, Communist, journalist and swordsman, Henri Rochefort. This was very shortly after the Franco-Prussian War, and memories of the Empire's fall and of the bloody and disastrous Commune were very keen in Paris. Indeed my roommate's illustrious father and many others were then in exile in New Caledonia for participation in the Commune. My friend Noémi was torn with anxiety for her father. She talked of him constantly, and many were the bloodcurdling accounts of daring and of patriotism to which I listened. Henri Rochefort was, in fact, one of the moving spirits of the Republican movement in France, and after his amazing escape in an open boat from New Caledonia, he lived through many years of political adventures of the most lively and picturesque character. His daughter and I remained warm friends long after our schooldays ended, and my association with her strengthened all the liberal ideas I had previously acquired.
I was between eighteen and nineteen when I finally returned from school in Paris and took my place in my father's home as a finished young lady. I sympathised with and worked for the woman-suffrage movement, and came to know Dr Pankhurst, whose work for woman suffrage had never ceased. It was Dr Pankhurst who drafted the first enfranchisement bill, known as the Women's Disabilities Removal Bill, and introduced into the House of Commons in 1870 by Mr Jacob Bright. The bill advanced to its second reading by a majority vote of thirty-three, but it was killed in committee by Mr Gladstone's peremptory orders. Dr Pankhurst, as I have already said, with another distinguished barrister, Lord Coleridge, acted as counsel for the Manchester women, who tried in 1868 to be placed on the register as voters. He also drafted the bill giving married women absolute control over their property and earnings, a bill which became law in 1882.
My marriage with Dr Pankhurst took place in 1879.
I think we cannot be too grateful to the group of men and women who, like Dr Pankhurst, in those early days lent the weight of their honoured names to the suffrage movement in the trials of its struggling youth. These men did not wait until the movement became popular, nor did they hesitate until it was plain that women were roused to the point of revolt. They worked all their lives with those who were organising, educating, and preparing for the revolt which was one day to come. Unquestionably those pioneer men suffered in popularity for their feminist views. Some of them suffered financially, some politically. Yet they never wavered.
Excerpted from Suffragette by Emmeline Pankhurst. Copyright © 2015 Hesperus Press Limited. Excerpted by permission of Hesperus Press Limited.
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Table of Contents
BOOK I THE MAKING OF A MILITANT,
BOOK II FOUR YEARS OF PEACEFUL MILITANCY,
BOOK III THE WOMEN'S REVOLUTION,
Selected Titles from Hesperus Press,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am a high school sophomore who chose to read this book for my research project. I am glad I chose this book because it was easy to read and also very interesting. I enjoyed it very much because I show interest in women's rights and equality. The writing was a little detached, more of a daily journal than a autobiography in my opinion but overall was great. I loved the way it portrayed the bravery she had and the power to stand up against all the people who wanted different than what she wanted. Emmeline had endless dedication to the suffragettes even though many wanted her dead. By reading this book, it really gave me an insight to how her life was and what she went through. I really enjoyed getting to know how she became the women she was. The book really gave me insight to what women went through just to get equality we don't quite have yet.
I am a sophomore in high school, and I read this book for a research project. This is a very great book in gaining a real vivid account on women’s history. However, I would not recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an autobiography on Emmeline Pankhurst. I noticed this book was written more as a diary, or whenever a significant event occurred to Emmeline throughout her journey. This book does include many valuable resources such as, a timeline of important events, detailed photographs, etc. There were times in the book when Emmeline went into full detail, which was sometimes very tedious to read. I really enjoyed reading and learning more about Emmeline and the many brave women who took part in gaining women's right to vote. Although there were many positives, I unfortunately would not read this book a second time. I still strongly believe this book is overall very good and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper insight in the history of women gaining the right to vote.