Women’s Rights and Mrs Pankhurst

As a baby boomer I grew up in the time of the  Women’s Liberation Movement .   Bra burning, equal pay, “I am Woman, hear me Roar, etc”.   If you are younger than say 50,  you may not realize that as recently as the 1970s,  here in the US, women couldn’t get a loan at a bank by themselves,  they had to have a male family member co-sign the loan with them.  Apparently we were so feeble minded we couldn’t be relied upon to understand complicated business matters.  I was a young wife in 1975 when I got my first job at a bank.  The name of it was “The Women’s Bank of California”, and we prided ourselves on treating women with the same respect as we treated men.  My manager was a man by the way, no surprise there.

At any rate, as I am still working in the banking world, I often share this bit of history with my new tellers. They are usually young 20 somethings and are always amazed by this fact.  Of course, the 1970s probably feels like ancient history to them, but to me it just wasn’t all that long ago.

I was thinking about this the other day which then prompted thoughts of my grandmother’s day and the trials they had to go through.  She was born in 1896 and according to one of my cousins that grew up with her, she helped young women that were “in trouble” much the same way that Imelda Staunton did in the movie “Vera Drake”.  It’s hard to imagine now that a woman had no other choice back then, and they did what they had to do.

Thinking about the hardships of this time then made me think about the Women’s Vote,  which immediately made me remember  “Mary Poppins” and the “Votes for Women” parts of that movie.  Mrs. Pankhurst’s work was mentioned here because Mrs. Banks was a follower.

I did some research on Mrs. Pankhurst and she was a pretty interesting woman.  It’s funny how in history one or two of the players will stand out and we don’t give much thought to all of the others that sacrificed and worked in the background, but those one or two are what make us know about it at all.

There were actually two different movements working for a woman’s right to vote in England at the same time.  I had never heard of the moderate one where intelligent women tried to get the vote through just by arguing the point.  The person that is most well known for this is Millicent Fawcett, and I would love you to comment if you have ever heard about her.  Perhaps if you did grow up in England you learned about her in school, but being an American, I had never once heard her name before doing my research.

One of the most famous woman that worked for women’s rights in England was Emmeline Pankhurst, who favored the militant approach.  She was born in 1858 into a family that had a long tradition of radical politics.  She married Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer and supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.

Mrs. Pankhurst formed the “Women’s Franchise League” in 1889 which fought to allow married women the right to vote in local elections.  In  1903, she helped found the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation notorious for it’s activities.  This organisation’s members were the first christened “suffragettes”.  The British general public were astonished by the demonstrations, window smashing, arson and hunger strikes of the suffragettes.  The nation was appalled when in 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison died when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby. She was protesting the government’s continued failure to grant women the right to vote.

Like many suffragettes, Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years.  I love this photo of her being arrested and the policeman actually having to pick her up and carry her away!

Can you imagine being a woman at the time and having to go through this kind of humiliation?

This period of militancy  ended abruptly  at the outbreak of war in 1914, when Emmeline turned her energies to supporting the war effort.  She died shortly after achieving her dream of woman having equal voting rights with men at age 21.  It was 1928.

I got this information from a history of Emmeline Pankhurst by the BBC.  I am really awed by the heroism of people in this age.  I feel like in today’s world, we complain loudly about the things we don’t like,  freedom of speech right? But how many of us would do something that would inconvenience us by  getting thrown in jail for our beliefs?


9 thoughts on “Women’s Rights and Mrs Pankhurst

  1. What a great peek into the history of women’s suffrage in England. Women have come a long way there as well as here but still have a way to go. Young people I think, don’t realize how easily our rights, that a lot of people have worked so hard to achieve, can be taken away. Case in point Roe V Wade.


  2. Thank you Suzanne, it’s so true. We all take this stuff for granted and forget that many people in the past gave up their lives or at least their personal lives so we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today!


  3. Emily Davison was the aunt of an 88 year old lady I know. She lives in Storrington. Her father was Joseph Davison, and Emily was his sister. They were a well off family, and Joseph was a brilliant pianist. He was however, a very bad husband and father! There is a film of this incident on Youtube which I put on my Facebook page some time ago.
    A lot of people stood up for their rights to the point of death back then, including Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to vote, or go to war as this would have entailed killing other human beings. They were thrown in prisons in USA and Canada, and put in concentration camps in Germany with a purple triangle to identify them. Incidentally, they were the only group of people in Nazi Germany who could have gained their freedom by signing a paper renouncing their beliefs. They did not, and more JW’s came out of the camps than went in!


  4. Pingback: British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, new biography interview | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. I have heard of Millicent Fawcett but couldn’t have told you from where. Certainly the other names are far more famous though I think many younger people and for some reason particularly young ladies are not familiar with any of them.

    I wonder if people like the “Occupy” movement and others are the closest we have. No-one really disagrees with ideas of living wages, controls on multi-nationals putting profit before personal wellbeing but only a minority are willing to protest. Lets hope it doesn’t take 100 years before the often very sensible but also uncomfortable truths of modern day protesters are recognised.


  6. Stephen, I totally agree. I was talking the other day with my brother about this issue. We’ve all, all over it seems, have gotten too comfortable. We will complain constantly about the things we don’t like, but rarely step up to even protest because it would be inconvenient to us. I do admire people throughout history though, who have had the fortitude to stand up and say “this is wrong”. We’re very lucky to have that in our countries history.


    • Yes, that was horrible! Those are the kind of things that make intelligent people wonder if it’s a sensible cause. Violence and insane acts are not the way really. I think if enough people stand together, eventually the powers that be will start listening, and it may take awhile, but worth it in the end!


      • Maybe. I reckon if enough people stand together, eventually the powers that be will just let them do that thing. No-one was listening to these women. They were patted on the head with a soothing, ‘there there dear,’ so they did what they did. But seriously, she really needn’t have bothered on my behalf. All governments are bad, I couldn’t in all integrity vote for any of them.


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