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Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and LeadershipEmmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership


Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)


English suffragette (pictured right), who led the militant campaign to win the vote for British women.

Those over 30 eventually got it in 1918, extended to the over 21’s in 1928, the same as for men.


For more information about the suffragettes...

See Emily Davison's Death at the Derby in the History Highlights section.


Why was she successful and a great leader?

 Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership

1. Purpose and vision

Pankhurst (pictured right being arrested in 1914):

  • devoted her life to women’s rights.
  • realized that women themselves must fight for them.

She told a court in 1912:

“We are here, not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers”.

 Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership

2. Courage and determination

Pankhurst (pictured in prison) and her fellow suffragettes were very brave

In prison they:

  • went on hunger strike.
  • were brutally force-fed with a tube.

The controversial Cat and Mouse Act allowed the release and then re-arrest of hunger strikers, so they wouldn’t die.

In 1912 alone, Pankhurst went to prison 12 times.

 Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership

3. Communication and charisma

She inspired people with her charisma and great speeches.

When she spoke, a fellow suffragette and writer, Rebecca West (pictured right), said she was “trembling like a reed” but the reed was “of steel and it was tremendous”.


4. Brilliant organizer and tacticianEmmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership

She set up the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, helped by her daughters, Christabel (pictured right) and Sylvia, and many other dedicated women.

Their campaigns certainly brought the suffragette cause great publicity, particularly Emily Davison’s (pictured right below) tragic death at the 1913 Derby.

More controversial is the effectiveness of her violent tactics (arson, window smashing and picture slashing).Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership

She ended her campaign, when the First World War began in 1914

Some historians argue that women’s involvement in the war did more to win their vote than the suffragettes.


5. Dignity and integrity

Despite the fierce opposition of the government, she was always true to the principle of defending women’s rights as voters and human beings.


6. Benign dictatorship

She was autocratic but she gave her followers a choice about which militant acts to use.

Her dictatorial leadership gave the suffragette movement unity and decisive direction, which:

  • made it more effective.
  • attracted recruits .

 Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership

7. Family

She was heavily influenced by the radical views of her:

  • father, Robert Goulden (a Manchester manufacturer)
  • husband, Richard Pankhurst (a lawyer, who gave her dedicated support, pictured right).

His death in 1898 left her devastated and without money to bring up her four children including Christabel and Sylvia (pictured right below).

But her determination turned her grief into success.

Emmeline Pankhurst - Suffragettes and Leadership 

Key quotes on women

We are here, not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers

As long as women consent to be utterly governed, they will be.

How different the reasoning is that men adopt when they are discussing the cases of men and those of women.

Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it.

The argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics.

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