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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Emmeline Pankhurst

b. 1858, Manchester, England; d. 1928, London

Emmeline Pankhurst was schooled in radicalism at an early age—her father was an abolitionist, her mother a feminist. Her mother had inducted her into the suffrage movement by the early 1870s. She married socialist lawyer Richard Pankhurst in 1879; he too was an earlier advocate of suffrage and together they formed the Women’s Franchise League in 1889. By the turn of the century, however, Emmeline was frustrated with the existing suffrage outfits and, together with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), through which they conducted a militant campaign to obtain the vote for women, keeping the issue in the public eye for more than a decade. Throughout that time, the suffragettes, as they were now called, deployed increasingly confrontational tactics, including stone-throwing and arson. In 1908, a pitched battle with police landed twenty-four women in jail, Emmeline among them. With the onset of World War I, the Pankhursts called a truce in the suffrage campaign and recruited for war service. Christabel and Emmeline formed the Women’s Party in 1917 with a twelve-point program that combined fervent nationalism with a demand for full women’s equality; by this time, Emmeline had abandoned socialism. After the war, she toured the U.S. and Canada as an agent for the National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. Upon her return to Britain in 1925, she joined the Conservative Party.