Pankhurst, Emmeline Goulden

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Pankhurst, Emmeline Goulden

Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst (ĕm´əlīn´, –lēn´, gōōl´dən, păngk´hûrst), 1858–1928, British woman suffragist. Disappointed in the disinterest in women's suffrage shown by the Liberal party, the Fabian Society, and the Independent Labour party, she founded (1903) her own movement, the Women's Social and Political Union. Using spectacular militant means to further their cause, the members of her movement were frequently arrested. Arrested and imprisoned herself in 1912, she went on a hunger strike and soon gained release. Arrested again in 1913 she was released once more after a hunger strike, but imprisoned upon her recovery according to the provisions of the newly passed "Cat and Mouse" Act (Prisoners, Temporary Discharge for Health, Act; 1913). This pattern repeated itself 12 times in the following 12 months. On the outbreak of World War I, however, the government granted her a full release, and she turned her powers of leadership from the suffragist movement to the war effort. After the war she moved to Canada and her work for women's rights virtually ceased. Upon her return to England in 1926 she was a nationally revered figure. She died while standing for election to Parliament as a Conservative candidate two years later. A statue in her memory stands at Westminster.

See her autobiography, My Own Story (1914, repr. 1970), and the biography by her daughter E. S. Pankhurst (1936, repr. 1969); R. Strachey, The Cause (1928, repr. 1969); D. Barker, Prominent Edwardians (1969).



Her oldest daughter, Christabel Pankhurst, 1880–1958, was also a suffragist. Educated for the bar but refused admittance because of her sex, she later became an evangelist. In 1936 she was made a Dame of the British Empire. The youngest daughter, Sylvia Pankhurst, 1882–1960, created a sensation by opposing marriage as an institution and defending unmarried mothers; she carried her theories into practice by bearing an illegitimate son in 1927. She later was active in the cause of Ethiopian independence. Her writings include The Suffragette Movement (1931) and Ethiopia, A Cultural History (1935), in addition to the biography of her mother (1936).

See B. Castle Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (1987).

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