Emmeline Pankhurst 1858-1928
Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulden; 15 July 1858 - 14 June 1928) was an English political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement, which helped women win the right to vote. In 1999, Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating: "she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back".
Although she was widely criticized for her militant tactics, her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain. However, historians disagree about the effect of her activity on public support for the cause.
Born and raised in Manchester by politically active parents, Pankhurst was introduced at the age of 8 to the women's suffrage movement. Although her parents encouraged her to prepare herself for life as a wife and mother, she attended the Ecole Normale de Neuilly in Paris. In 1878 she married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister known for supporting women's right to vote; they had five children over the next ten years. He also supported her activities outside the home, and she quickly became involved with the Women's Franchise League, which advocated suffrage for women. When that organization broke apart, she attempted to join the left-leaning Independent Labour Party through her friendship with socialist Keir Hardie, but was initially refused membership by the local branch of the Party on account of her gender. She also worked as a Poor Law Guardian, where she was shocked by harsh conditions in Manchester workhouses.
After her husband died in 1898, Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union, an all-women suffrage advocacy organisation dedicated to "deeds, not words". The group placed itself separately from - and often in opposition to - political parties. The group quickly became infamous when its members smashed windows and assaulted police officers. Pankhurst, her daughters, and other WSPU activists were sentenced to repeated prison sentences, where they staged hunger strikes to secure better conditions. As Pankhurst's oldest daughter Christabel took the helm of the WSPU, antagonism between the group and the government grew. Eventually arson became a common tactic among WSPU members, and more moderate organisations spoke out against the Pankhurst family. In 1913 several prominent individuals left the WSPU, among them Pankhurst's daughters Adela and Sylvia. The family rift was never healed.
With the advent of the First World War, Emmeline and Christabel called an immediate halt to militant suffrage activism in order to support the British government against the "German Peril". They urged women to aid industrial production, and encouraged young men to fight. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to women past the age of 30. Pankhurst transformed the WSPU machinery into the Women's Party, which was dedicated to promoting women's equality in public life. In her later years she became concerned with what she perceived as the menace posed by Bolshevism, and - unhappy with the political alternatives - joined the Conservative Party. She died in 1928 and was commemorated two years later with a statue in Victoria Tower Gardens.