Our June yarn is named for Emmeline Pankhurst, who in 1999 was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. They said “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back”.
Emmeline Pankhurst was widely criticised for her militant tactics, with historians disagreeing about their effectiveness, but her work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in the UK.
Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to be dedicated to “deeds, not words”. The group identified as independent from – and often in opposition to – political parties. It became known for physical confrontations: its members smashed windows and assaulted police officers.
Eventually the group adopted arson as a tactic, and more moderate organisations spoke out against the Pankhurst family. In 1913 several prominent individuals left the WSPU, among them Pankhurst’s daughters Adela and Sylvia. Emmeline was so furious that she “gave [Adela] a ticket, £20, and a letter of introduction to a suffragette in Australia, and firmly insisted that she emigrate”. The family rift was never healed.
With the advent of the First World War, Emmeline and Christabel called an immediate halt to militant activism in support of the British government’s stand against the “German Peril”. They urged women to aid industrial production and encouraged young men to fight. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. This discrepancy was intended to ensure that men did not become minority voters as a consequence of the huge number of deaths suffered during the First World War.
Emmeline Pankhurst was selected as the Conservative candidate for Whitechapel and St Georges in 1927. She died on 14 June 1928, only weeks before the Conservative government’s Representation of the People Act (1928) extended the vote to all women over 21 years of age on 2 July 1928. She was commemorated two years later with a statue in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament.