Emmeline Pankhurst (July 15, 1858 – June 14, 1928) founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and played a crucial role in helping women gain the right to vote in the United Kingdom.
Pankhurst, who had been a member of a Manchester suffragist group called the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, had grown impatient with the respectable, gradualist tactics of the society and was frustrated with their lack of success. She believed it would take an active organization – with young working class women – to draw attention to the cause. The WSPU used militant tactics to fight for women’s suffrage and gained much notoriety for their activities, following Pankhurst's “deeds not words” approach.
The press soon dubbed the women of the new organization “suffragettes.” British politicians were outraged by the demonstrations, window-smashing, arson and hunger strikes that became part of this society's campaign tactics. Like many suffragettes, Pankhurst was arrested on numerous occasions over the next few years and went on hunger strikes, resulting in violent force-feeding.
The rough treatment of many suffragettes arrested and jailed during the course of their protests garnered increasing sympathy and support from the public. That, coupled with the commendable behavior of the suffrage movement during the war (suspending their protests for the sake of national unity, encouraging women to join the war effort and fill factory jobs so men could fight on the front lines) proved that these women were far from unreasonable. Parliament granted British women limited suffrage in 1918. Pankhurst died in 1928, shortly before women were given full voting rights.
Emmeline Pankhurst epitomized the passionate belief that women deserved equal rights.
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