Remembering the suffrag e GIRL P
EMMELINE PANKHURST’S LEGA
AS the coffin was carried through London streets watched by a sombre crowd, observers likened it to the funeral of a general mourned by his army.
Yet this was no decorated military officer feted for victories on the battlefield – but a heroine who fought and won a different kind of campaign.
This was the solemn send-off for suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who died 90 years ago this week.
Her death followed a bout of illness brought on by the stresses and strains of her long fight – the ultimate sacrifice for the cause she believed in.
Her passing on June 14, 1928 at 69 was recognised as the loss of one of the century’s most influential women.
The marches, lectures, jail and hunger strikes for the Votes For Women movement had taken a massive toll on her health.
Tragically she died only weeks before she was able to see all women over 21 get the vote. Only those over 30 had been enfranchised under the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which she and thousands of others fought for.
In a further twist her funeral service was held at St John’s Church in Smith Square – once the target of a suffragette bomb plot.
Today Emmeline, who was buried in Brompton Cemetery and portrayed by Meryl Streep in the 2015 film Suffragette, is remembered as the inspirational figure who led women to make a mark on history.
And those who have followed in her footsteps remember her formidable character and enduring legacy. Her greatgranddaughter Dr Helen Pankhurst, a women’s rights activist and author, said: “Footsteps is a good word for it. It conjures up images of all the marching that they did.
“As soon as I think about Emmeline I think about her image as a public icon.
“A single, visible symbol of women’s rights with the attributes of strength, charisma, perseverance and power.”
Born Emmeline Goulden in 1858 in Manchester, eldest of 10 children, she grew up in a politically charged family.
Her parents were slavery abolitionists and supporters of female suffrage, taking Emmeline to her first meeting at 14.
In 1878 she married Dr Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer who backed women’s suffrage and rights over property and money. After she had five children – Christabel, Sylvia, Adela, Harry and Frank, who died young – her husband encouraged her passion for the advancement of women.
She founded the Women’s Franchise League in 1889, which fought to allow married women to vote in local elections.
Four years later she helped form the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union.
The group had non-violent roots but later Emmeline advocated direct action and her resolve for “Deeds not Words” deepened. The WSPU gained notoriety as an army of women willing to bomb postboxes, burn down buildings and die for the cause. In 1913, member Emily Davison was killed when she stepped in front of the King’s horse at the Derby. Helen, 53, a senior adviser to CARE International, said: “For me fundamentally Emmeline’s legacy is about women demanding power in traditional but also in new ways. “For women to be taken seriously sometimes they need to do battle in the way that men have. “They have to refus willing
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STRUGGLE: Emmeline’s arrest at the Palace, 1914 CAMPAIGNER: Emmeline at the height of battle INSPIRED: Helen honours ‘icon’