Biography of Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst (born Emmeline Goulden) (15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928) was a British 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." She was widely criticized for her militant tactics, and historians disagree about their effectiveness, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain.
Born Emmeline Goulden and raised in Moss Side, Manchester, England 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 École Normale de Neuilly in Paris. In 1878 she married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister 24 years her senior 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 sex. She also worked as a Poor Law Guardian and was shocked by the harsh conditions she encountered in Manchester workhouses.
After her husband died in 1898, Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), 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 support of the British government's stand 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 over 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 London's Victoria Tower Gardens.