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On this day in history in 1928, died Emmeline Pankhurst.
Pankhurst was a life long campaigner for women’s suffrage. She and her comrades achieved full equality of voting in the year of her death.
Emmeline Goulden married Dr Richard Pankhurst in 1879. Her husband had unsuccessfully attempted to introduce women’s suffrage to Parliament and had drafted the Married Women’s Property Acts, which had given some women limited voting rights at local government level.
Ten years after her marriage, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Franchise League, which, after much canvassing, achieved votes for women property owners at municipal elections. Although women could elect representative for local government and even stand for election, the League could not make any progress towards total female suffrage.
In 1903, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), known as the suffragettes, an institution which became notorious for its aggressive tactics. A typical ploy was for women to chain themselves to railings in order to disrupt business. Some women blocked traffic; others disrupted Parliament and political meetings. Many women assaulted the constables who tried to deter them. They refused to pay fines and were sent to prison.
When in prison, many women went on hunger strike. Sometimes they were force-fed. Often, they had to be discharged from jail for fear that they might die. Parliament passed a particularly severe piece of legislation, The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge For Ill Health) Act, known generally as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. This Act allowed women to be discharged for a short time and later taken back to complete their sentences.
When the First World War started, Pankhurst and the WSPU ceased all protest and directed their efforts urging women to take over men’s jobs thereby releasing men for the armed services. Many of the suffragettes were involved in the White Feather Campaign, which attempted to shame men into joining up.
In 1918, Parliament granted the right to vote to women over 30, or to women over 21 who had degrees. There was little opposition in Parliament. ‘Votes for Women’ was seen as inevitable and no party wanted to be seen as the one that opposed women’s suffrage. Strangely, women aged between 21 and 30 could be elected to Parliament but could not vote.
Women were granted equal voting rights with men in 1928. Pankhurst lived just long enough to see it. She is buried in Brompton Cemetery [Old Brompton Road, London SW5 9JE].
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