british women's suffrage


July 15th 1858: Emmeline Pankhurst born

On this day in 1858, English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was born in Manchester. Born as Emmeline Goulden, her family had a tradition of radical politics, as did her husband Richard Pankhurst. In 1889, she founded the Women’s Franchise League, and in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union. The latter was far more militant in its demands for female suffrage, resorting to criminal activities like vandalism and arson. The suffragettes were known for their hunger strikes in prison, which resulted in violent force-feeding; Pankhurst herself was subjected to this while in prison on hunger strike. The actions of suffragettes appeared hysterical and fanatical to contemporary observers - especially Emily Wilding Davison’s death upon jumping in front of a horse at the 1913 Derby - and did not lead to female suffrage. Their tactics were more extreme when compared to the moderate suffragists led by Millicent Fawcett, and even divided Pankhurst’s daughters, causing a rift in the family. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Pankhurst and the suffragettes actively supported the war effort in factories and encouraging enlistment, which resulted in enfranchisement of women over thirty in 1918. This was not on par with men, and Pankhurst continued the struggle for the female voting age to be reduced to 21. Pankhurst, who had devoted her life to the cause of female equality, died soon before this was achieved in 1928.

“The condition of our sex is so deplorable that it is our duty to break the law in order to call attention to the reasons why we do”


April 3rd 1911: Emily Davison found in Parliament

On this day in 1911, suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was discovered in a broom cupboard in the chapel crypt of the Houses of Parliament. She hid during the night of April 2nd - the night of the 1911 census - so that she could officially record her place of residence as ‘the House of Commons’. Ths stunt was intended to promote the suffragette cause, and emphasise the fact that disenfranchised women were excluded from participating in the British political system. The former teacher dedicated herself to the campaign for women’s rights and female suffrage, even being subjected to force feeding while on hunger strike in prison. Davison often committed acts of civil disobedience, including hiding in Parliament overnight, burning post boxes, and throwing rocks at the carriage of chancellor David Lloyd George. Two years after the Parliament incident, at the Epsom Derby, Davison ran out in front of King George V’s horse Anmer; she was trampled by the horse, and later died from her injuries. She appears to have been attempting to attach a suffragette flag to the King’s horse, though it has also been suggested she was trying to pull down the horse. Others believed she had been aiming to commit suicide and become a martyr for the suffragette cause, but the fact she had purchased a return rail ticket that day appears to suggest otherwise. Davison’s extraordinary devotion to the suffragette cause demonstrates the lengths to which women would go to fight for their political rights. Her daring foray into Parliament is today commemorated with a plaque in the place she hid overnight.