Today we’re celebrating one of the key leaders of the British women’s suffrage movement: Emmeline Pankhurst.
14 July was an important day in Pankhurst’s life. It was both the date she claimed to have been born (although her birth certificate records this as 15 July 1858) and a day that held great significance to her as she lived her life in the shadow of the radical tradition of Bastille Day.
Pankhurst was the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), one of the predominant suffrage organisations involved in campaigning for votes for women. The WSPU was known for its militant actions, and became known as ‘suffragettes’ (a Daily Mail slur that was reclaimed by the movement).
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was the predominant constitutional organisation, often known as the ‘suffragists’, although many other societies also existed, and many men and women were members of multiple societies.
Emmeline Pankhurst constantly interacted with the government, which leaves us with a wealth of records around her involvement in the suffrage movement. She was arrested, and evaded capture, many times for the cause.
While acts of militancy were often instigated by individuals they were actively advocated by the WSPU, such as the window smashing campaigns of 1912 and the targeting of individual cabinet ministers.
Our records contain prison petitions in Pankhurst’s own words asking for suffragettes to be treated as political prisoners, as well as items seized from WSPU headquarters; they give fascinating insights into her activities. Continue reading »