“I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”
― Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst is famous for her tireless and relentless activism for women's rights at a challenging time in history when gender inequality was the norm.
Born in Moss Side, Manchester, to parents who were very active in politics, she was educated in Paris, France at a school led by people who believed girls should be given the same level and variety of education as boys, and taught a curriculum which reflected those views. From an early age, Pankhurst was surrounded by people who championed and valued equality, so this must have sown the seeds for what she would later become renowned for.
At the turn of the 20th century, Emmeline Pankhurst rose to prominence in a women's suffrage movement that was already active and thriving. However, she became disillusioned with contemporary women's political groups, as she felt that they were ineffective. Soon, she founded the Women's Social and Political Union. This group was entirely unassociated with any political party, most of which they opposed. They became infamous due to militant and sometimes violent acts of protest, such as cutting phone wires, sending letter bombs, and chaining themselves to railings!
Pankhurst had a very unconventional and outrageous approach to activism. A famous incident is the march on parliament she led in 1910, with over 300 women. The police responded forcefully. Soon after, Pankhurst went on a window smashing rampage, followed by her first arrest, and conviction of conspiracy to commit property damage.
She ceased her activism during the first world war. But once the war had ended, voting rights were granted to women over thirty who were property owners. Ten years later, weeks after Pankhurst’s death, full equal voting rights were passed in parliament in 1928.
Emmeline never lived to see the long term results of the sacrifices she made, and the hard ground she broke. She was a pioneer who was ahead of her time, sowing seeds for future generations. Often, our hard work can seem futile, as though it is having no effect, especially when we are going against the grain, like Emmeline did. But if we keep going, and keep reminding ourselves of why we want what we want, we will see the long term effects.