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My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst

My Own Story (1914)

by Emmeline Pankhurst

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This is the autobiography of the great suffragette leader, written on the eve of the First World War when the struggle for women's right to vote was not yet won, and just at the time when she had a great falling out with her daughter Sylvia and others over some of the militant tactics of the Women's Social and Political Union. There is comparatively little about the author's early life here. She was born Emmeline Goulden, and grew up in a highly politicised family, acquiring experience of the poverty and injustice of working women's lives when became a Poor Law Guardian. She married a prominent suffrage supporter, barrister Richard Pankhurst, who drafted the first women's enfranchisement parliamentary bill in 1870. The bulk of the book recounts the increasingly bitter and militant struggles of the WPSU from around 1906 onwards, starting from rejections of the repeated petitions and requests for meetings with Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith and other Liberal government figures, suffrage bills being passed at second reading in the Commons, only to be dropped or have further progress frustrated by filibustering. This led to frustration and adoption of more militant tactics including window breaking, letter bombs and arson of (empty) buildings: "We had exhausted argument. Therefore either we had to give up our agitation altogether, as the suffragists of the eighties virtually had done, or else we must act, and go on acting, until the selfishness and the obstinacy of the Government was broken down, or the Government themselves destroyed". Pankhurst justifies these tactics by comparing them to the violence in earlier campaigns for democracy through the 19th century and earlier: "The militancy of men, through all the centuries, has drenched the world with blood, and for these deeds of horror and destruction men have been rewarded with monuments, with great songs and epics. The militancy of women has harmed no human life save the lives of those who fought the battle of righteousness". This bitter period was also marked by shocking violence of the police towards the suffragettes, the horrible force feeding of suffragettes and the hunger strikes, which provoked further acts of militancy.

Looking back from the perspective of 2018, a century after women first won the vote (albeit only those over 30 until 1928), it is easy to see Pankhurst as a great pioneer in achieving a simple and obvious measure of basic justice, for which she is rightly lauded. Yet some of the militant tactics increasingly adopted by the WSPU alienated some of the most prominent suffragettes and other supporters, and few would defend the use of such tactics by campaigning groups today. Pankhurst's philosophy was total dedication to the cause of women's suffrage, avoiding all distractions of getting involved in other social issues and causes ("No member of the W.S.P.U. divides her attention between suffrage and other social reforms. We hold that both reason and justice dictate that women shall have a share in reforming the evils that afflict society, especially those evils bearing directly on women themselves. Therefore, we demand, before any other legislation whatever, the elementary justice of votes for women". This tactic can be justified against the illiberalism on this issue of the leaders of the Liberal Party, which many early suffragettes supported ("our long alliance with the great parties, our devotion to party programmes, our faithful work at elections, never advanced the suffrage cause one step. The men accepted the services of the women, but they never offered any kind of payment".); nevertheless, it does seem to have become very narrow and Pankhurst's leadership of the organisation stifling and autocratic to the extent of her viewing it as more akin to a paramilitary organisation ("we have no annual meeting, no business sessions, no elections of officers. The W.S.P.U. is simply a suffrage army in the field. It is purely a volunteer army, and no one is obliged to remain in it. Indeed we don’t want anybody to remain in it who does not ardently believe in the policy of the army"). In some ways, despite her arguably fanatical determination, she was pessimistic about her ultimate chances of success: "Universal suffrage in a country where women are in a majority of one million is not likely to happen in the lifetime of any reader of this volume". She died in 1928 just before true universal suffrage was achieved, and women and men over 21 could both vote. ( )
  john257hopper | Nov 22, 2018 |
Careful account of the defiant campaign for extending the vote to women, written whilst the issue was still live. As this memoir was written largely for an American readership, Mrs Pankhurst takes the trouble to explain some of the parliamentary and political nuances, and this proves useful for us too, coming to this a century later. It still seems baffling why Lloyd George and Asquith were so opposed to the suffragettes’ demands, and so deviously too. They were Liberals, weren’t they? But such is often the case with a big change once conceded - in retrospect, its hard to see why there was such resistance to it, and to reimagine the world before. This book takes us back to that world before, making us marvel at the determination of Mrs Pankhurst and her followers, and at the suffering they endured in the brutal forced feeding of prisoners, shockingly described here. ( )
  eglinton | Jan 13, 2018 |
As the title suggests, this is the autobiography of leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. It was written part way through the fight, before women won the vote. It also seems to have been written primarily for an American audience, which confused me a little. It is a fascinating story, totally partial and biassed but none-the-less fascinating. It is such a shame that so little of this history is taught in schools. ( )
  eclecticdodo | Mar 18, 2017 |
Emmeline Pankhurst's memoir of her experiences in the suffrage movement in Britain is a fascinating window into the experiences of women who fought for their right to vote. Pankhurst briefly recounts her upbringing and her family's encouragement of her involvement in social issues but the majority of the book focuses on her work in the suffrage movement in the early 20th century, and predominantly on the more militant phase of the suffrage movement within the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). While I had cursory knowledge of what women in the suffrage movement had suffered during their struggle to get the vote, reading a firsthand account from one of the leaders of the movement was enlightening. My only complaint is that the edition I read provided no contemporary views on this historical retelling or other historical context for the suffrage movement, a serious fault as the book was written at the beginning of WWI and published before any suffrage bill for women was passed. ( )
  MickyFine | Mar 23, 2016 |
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Book description
Emmeline Pankhurst, née Goulden was born in Manchester, the daughter of a calico printer. In 1879, she married radical lawyer Richard Marsden Pankhurst and had three daughters, all of whom became famous in the suffrage movement: Dame Christabel, Sylvia, and Adela Pankhurst. During her married life, Emmeline Pankhurst supported her husband in various radical causes, but after his death in 1898 she began to concentrate more exclusively on political rights for women -- and the suffrage movement in particular. With her daughter Christabel she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903. With the full assistance of her daughters, Emmeline Pankhurst resorted to dramatic and sometimes dangerous methods to gain media and public interest for their determined campaign to win the vote for women. Later Mrs. Pankhurst joined the Conservative Party and lectured on social matters and child welfare. She published this autobiography in 1914.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860680576, Paperback)

"She was born a suffragist, but influences that came into her life--her husband, Susan B. Anthony, her experience as a Poor Law guardian and school board member, the treatment of the first women who ventured to question political candidates--helped fire her determination and fix her policy." This fire impressed, but did not convince a contemporary reviewer, who wrote, "Her whole argument is characterized by a quiet ignoring of obvious considerations and by a cat-like agility in shifting ground."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:38 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Emmeline Pankhurst was raised in a world that valued men over women. At fourteen she attended her first suffrage meeting and returned home a confirmed suffragist. Throughout her career she endured humiliation, prison, hunger strikes and the repeated frustration of her aims by men in power but she rose to become the guiding light of the Suffragette movement. This is Pankhurst's story, in her own words, of her struggle for equality.

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