BBC History Magazine
...or an old story retold?
In the Fern Riddell interview she claims that “no one knows” about the violence undertaken by the suffragettes. She argues that its “true extent” has been “hidden in archives, forgotten, ignored, or passed over” by historians until she discovered it. Yet in this very magazine in May 2007, the late CJ Bearman and myself had an exchange of views on this subject in The Suffragettes: Heroes or Terrorists? Furthermore, Simon Webb has said it all before in his 2014 book The Suffragette Bombers: Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists.
After discussing the violent acts undertaken by one such suffragette, Kitty Marion, Riddell then generalises to say that the suffragettes were “terrorists”. What is remarkable is that Riddell does not define ‘terrorism’. If the suffragettes were such fearsome ‘terrorists’ – whom she mentions in the same breath as the IRA – how was it that they killed no one? Emmeline Pankhurst gave instructions that human life was not to be recklessly endangered, and that order was obeyed. June Purvis, emeritus professor of women’s and gender history, University of Portsmouth Fern Riddell replies: The work of C J Bearman is clearly acknowledged in my book. book HoweverHowever, my research is the very first to combine court, police and newspaper records and Home Office files as well as personal memoirs, coded diaries and letters of the suffragettes.
In my book, the contemporary definition of terrorism sits alongside the Pall Mall Gazette’s article on ‘Suffragette Terrorism’ (19 February 1913). In disregard for the fact that this is how the violence was referred to at the time, Professor Purvis has claimed that those who acknowledge the suffragettes as terrorists are misguided and sensationalist. Yet it is neither of those things, simply accurate history. The suffragettes were intensely proud of their “Reign of Terror” and, as Emmeline Pankhurst said, “The result was exactly what we anticipated. The public were thrown into a state of emotion of insecurity and frightened expectancy.”