Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst (c. 1913)

One of the books I am reading is My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst (available free from Project Gutenberg) who was a political activist and a leader of the British suffragette movement which helped women win the right to vote. The book is fascinating, not least because of the accounts relating to the various police actions which many people today would not be surprised about if, say, they were watching a news item relating to climate change protesters.

This is an extract from the book:

Following this event, the second Women’s Parliament assembled, on the afternoon of March 20, 1907. As before, we adopted a resolution calling upon the Government to introduce an official suffrage measure, and again we voted to send the resolution from the hall to the Prime Minister. Lady Harberton was chosen to lead the deputation, and instantly hundreds of women sprang up and volunteered to accompany her. This time the police met the women at the door of the hall, and another useless, disgraceful scene of barbarous, brute-force opposition took place. Something like one thousand police had been sent out to guard the House of Commons from the peaceful invasion of a few hundred women. All afternoon and evening we kept Caxton Hall open, the women returning every now and again, singly and in small groups, to have their bruises bathed, or their torn clothing repaired. As night fell the crowds in the street grew denser, and the struggle between the women and the police became more desperate. Lady Harberton, we heard, had succeeded in reaching the entrance to the House of Commons, nay, had actually managed to press past the sentries into the lobby, but her resolution had not been presented to the Prime Minister. She and many others were arrested before the police at last succeeded in clearing the streets, and the dreadful affair was over.

The next day, in Westminster police court, the magistrate meted out sentences varying from twenty shillings or fourteen days to forty shillings or one month’s imprisonment. Two of the women, Miss Woodlock and Mrs. Chatterton, who had left Holloway only a week before, were, as “old offenders,” given thirty days without the option of a fine. Another woman, Mary Leigh, was given thirty days because she offended the magistrate’s dignity by hanging a “Votes for Women” banner over the edge of the dock. Those of my readers who are unable to connect the word “militancy” with anything milder than arson are invited to reflect that within the first two months of the year 1907 the English Government sent to prison one hundred and thirty women whose “militancy” consisted merely of trying to carry a resolution from a hall to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. Our crime was called obstructing the police. It will be seen that it was the police who did the obstructing.

Please take the time to download and read the book; apart from being a very interesting read, the book also contains lessons which are applicable today.

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