Childhood & Early Life
Emmeline was born on 15 July 1858, in Manchester, England, to Robert Goulden, a successful businessman and Sophia Jane Craine, who were politically active folks. She was one of eleven siblings and the eldest amongst her sisters.
An avid reader, she read the Odyssey, The Pilgrim's Progress, Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History, and Stowe’ Uncle Tom's Cabin, and at 15, was admitted to the École Normale de Neuilly in Paris.
Her parents did not give importance to their daughters’ education, expecting them to marry young. Her mother received the Women's Suffrage Journal, and Pankhurst was full of admiration for its editor, Lydia Becker.
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She met and began a courtship with Richard Pankhurst, a 44 year old barrister who had supported women's suffrage, freedom of speech and education reform and they wed in 1879.
At her Russell Square home, she hosted a variety of guests including US abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Indian MP Dadabhai Naoroji, socialist activists Herbert Burrows and Annie Besant, and French anarchist Louise Michel.
In 1888, when Britain's first nationwide coalition of groups advocating women's right to vote, the National Society for Women's Suffrage (NSWS), split, Pankhurst aligned herself with the group called" Parliament Street Society (PSS).
The PSS was reluctant to advocate on behalf of married women. Pankhurst and her husband helped organize the Women's Franchise League (WFL) dedicated to voting rights for all women – married and unmarried in1889.
The WFL was considered a radical organization, since apart from women's suffrage; it supported equal rights for women in the areas of divorce and inheritance, advocated trade unionism and sought alliances with socialist organizations.
She met Keir Hardie, a socialist from Scotland. He was elected to parliament in and in 1893 helped to create the Independent Labor Party (ILP). She resigned from the WLF and joined the ILP.
She distributed food to poor men and women through the Committee for the Relief of the Unemployed. In 1894, elected Poor Law Guardian in Chorlton-on-Medlock, she was appalled by the conditions in the Manchester workhouse.
Following the death of her husband in 1898, and left with a significant amount of debt, she resigned from the Board of Guardians and became a paid Registrar of Births and Deaths in Chorlton.
In 1900 she was elected to the Manchester School Board.
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In 1908, when she tried to enter Parliament to deliver a protest resolution to Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, she was charged with obstruction and sentenced to six weeks in prison.
The exclusive focus of the WSPU on votes for women was the hallmark of its militancy. The WSPU insisted on separating itself from parties which did not make women's suffrage a priority.
She led a protest march of 300 women in 1910 to meet PM Asquith who refused audience. The women marchers were treated brutally by the police. The incident became known as Black Friday.
Hunger strikes, window smashing, protest marches, courting arrests, and imprisonments became order of the day. In 1912, she was arrested, released and rearrested 12 times, serving a total of about 30 days jail
When the First World War broke out, she called off the suffrage campaign and the government released all suffragist prisoners. She established an adoption home at Campden Hill for babies of single mothers.
Pankhurst visited North America in 1916 and the United States and Canada, raising money and urging the US government to support Britain. She visited Russian and met with Alexander Kerensky, the Russian Prime Minister.
The 1918 Representation of the People Act removed property restrictions on men's suffrage and granted the vote to women over the age of 30 and the WSPU reinvented to become the Women's Party.
She joined the Conservative Party and in 1928 ran as a candidate for Parliament but her campaign was pre-empted by her ill- health.
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Personal Life & Legacy
Emmeline married Richard Pankhurst in 1878 and they had five - Christabel, Estelle Sylvia, Francis Henry, Adela and finally Henry Francis - named after his deceased brother. Richard died in 1898 leaving her in great debt.
Her daughters were active with the WSPU, but differences between her and her daughter Sylvia became apparent with the latter cultivating ties with socialists and becoming an unwed mother for which she was never forgiven.
She died on 14 June 1928 due to illness, at the age of 69.
Sylvia's 1931 book, The Suffrage Movement, criticizes her mother's for betraying the movement while Christabel’s book, Unshackled: The Story of How We Won the Vote, described her as selfless to a fault.
This British suffragette declared, “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half”.
The BBC dramatized this suffragette’s life in the mini-series, Shoulder to Shoulder, with Welsh actress Siân Phillips playing her character.