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Emmeline Pankhurst was a British suffragette and activist whose political advocacy won women voting rights. She organized the Women’s Social and Political Union and actively participated in the Independent Labor Union party for most of her life. She focused on establishing legal gender equality and, later, supporting Britain during World War I.

Young Life and Education

Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst was born in Moss Side, Manchester, England on July 15, 1858, to a family of political activists.

From a young age, Emmeline Pankhurst easily recognized where disparities existed and constantly questioned the reason for their existence.

Sophia Jane Craine, her mother, came from the Manx people on the Isle of Man. Robert Goulden, her father, grew up in large, political charged family from Manchester as well.[1] Pankhurst became fully immersed in her parent’s activist lifestyle. She read hungrily as a child and although she exhibited high intelligence and a great capacity for learning, her parents ascribed to historic gender roles and forced her to learn homemaking skills.

Emmeline Pankhurst quotes in her autobiography, “[My brothers and I] were on excellent terms of friendship, but it was never suggested to them as a duty that they make home attractive to me."[2] Despite their educational restrictiveness, Pankhurst’s parents still supported and introduced her to women’s suffrage. In 1873, she moved to Paris to enroll in École Normale de Neuilly. A friend found her a husband, but her father refused to pay the dowry and the man retracted his offer.[3]

Pankhurst Family

Emmeline Goulden met Richard Pankhurst in 1878 and, after Richard persuaded her it would help her political career, they married on December 18, 1879, at St. Luck’s Church in Pendelton.[4] The couple produced five children in 10 years: Christabel (1880), Estelle Sylvia (1882), Francis Henry (1884), Adela (1885), and Henry Francis (1889).

They hired a nanny so Emmeline Pankhurst would not have to be “a household machine” as she quotes in her autobiography. The family moved to London in 1886 where Richard lost in an election for Parliament and Emily Pankhurst started a fabric shop.[5] On September 11, 1888, Francis died from diphtheria and they moved to Russell Square.[6]

Women’s Franchise League

After the split of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1888, two new organizations were created, The Great College Street Society and the Parliament Street Society. Pankhurst chose to join the second, but disagreed with the organization’s limited goals in only getting single women and widows the right to vote since a husband could vote for a married woman.

The Pankhurst's decided to found a new group to advocate for universal women’s suffrage. The Woman’s Franchise League (WFL) held its first meeting at their home on July 25, 1889, but only survived one year due to its extremely progressive ideals of labor unions and legal gender equality.[7]

Activism and the Death of Richard

The driving force behind much of Emmeline Pankhurst’s activism originated in the inequality and poverty she witnessed throughout her community.

The family moved back to Manchester in 1893 where Emily Pankhurst quickly reentered into political activism.[8] She worked with the Women’s Liberal Federation for a brief time, but soon left due to the organization’s moderate stances. She met Keir Hardie in 1888 and joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) he created in 1893 as a member of Parliament. [9]

Emmeline Pankhurst visited Manchester workhouses as Poor Law Guardian for the ILP and she quotes in her autobiography, “These poor, unprotected mothers and their babies I am sure were potent factors in my education as a militant.”[10]

In 1897, a doctor diagnosed Richard with a gastric ulcer. He died while Pankhurst traveled home from Switzerland on July 5, 1898.[11] She received greater exposure to the inequality facing women in her new jobs as Chorton’s Registrar of Births and Deaths and on the School Board of Manchester in 1900.[12]

Women’s Social and Political Union

Emmeline Pankhurst fully supported the violent tactics used by WSPU members even if she did not give the orders herself.

Frustrated with the ILP and other organizations’ lack of success, Pankhurst and others formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) on October 10, 1903, accepting only women and completely dedicated to the right to vote. Arrested in February 1908 for the first time, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech after and discovered incarceration helped publicize her cause. She prompted her own imprisonment several times.

In 1908, WSPU began using more aggressive tactics, including smashing windows, vandalism, and hunger strikes. WSPU members across the nation use the latter to protest their imprisonment and many were force fed, bringing attention and condemnation from doctors and fellow suffragists.

Pankhurst staged several hunger strikes during her seven incarcerations and, although force-fed at first, prison officials stopped and released her to recover. Their aggressive strategies increased in 1912 with members using axes, acid, and arson. Emmeline Pankhurst gave her famous “Freedom or Death” speech on November 13, 1913, addressing the desperate reasons behind WSPU’s violent tactics.[13]

World War I and Russia

In August 1914, World War I started and Emmeline and her daughter, Christabel, encouraged WSPU to cease its current activities to support the war effort. She dedicated all her time in patriotic support of the war and helping the wives and children of fallen soldiers. She founded an adoption home in Campden Hill and adopted four children herself in 1915. Pankhurst met with Russian Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky in August 1917 where she began questioning socialism and developed a fear of Bolshevism.[14]

The Right to Vote and Later Career

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act granted women over 30 the right to vote, with some restrictions. The WSPU became the Women’s Party as political organizations contemplated combining gender specific groups. Emmeline Pankhurst gave many a speech and continued to advocate for equal marriage laws, job opportunities, and pay for women.

Pankhurst traveled extensively around England to support the war effort and educate about Bolshevik danger. Pankhurst joined the Conservative Party in 1926, possibly due to her alienation of the Liberal and Labor parties hindering her work to achieve universal women’s suffrage.[15]

Sickness and Death

Emmeline Pankhurst suffered from poor health in the late 1920s, after years of hunger strikes and her daughter, Sylvia’s, widely publicized scandal of having a child out of wedlock. In 1928, she moved to a Hampstead nursing home. She died on June 14, 1928, and was buried in London in Brompton Cemetery.[16]



Bartley, P. (2003). Emmeline Pankhurst (Routledge Historical Biographies). London: Taylor & Francis.

Pankhurst, E. (1914). My Own Story. London: Virago Press.

Pankhurst, S. E. (2010). The Suffragette Movement, An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals. United Kingdom: Whitley Press.

Purvis, J. (2002). Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography. London: Taylor & Francis. 


  1. Bartley, 2003
  2. Pankhurst, 1914
  3. Purvis, 2002
  4. Bartley, 2003
  5. Pankhurst, 1914
  6. Pankhurst, 2010
  7. Purvis, 2002
  8. Pankhurst, 1914
  9. Bartley, 2003
  10. Pankhurst, 1914
  11. Purvis, 2002
  12. Pankhurst, 1914
  13. Bartley, 2003
  14. Purvis, 2002
  15. Purvis, 2002
  16. Bartley, 2003

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