Who Was Emmeline Pankhurst?

A photo of the Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst

Our new production Emmeline tells the story of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters’ journey in the Suffragette movement as they fought for the vote with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Emmeline founded the union with her eldest daughter Christabel, and it soon became controversial as they started using militant strategies. This included smashing windows, assaulting police officers, and even arson. But who was Emmeline before the WSPU?



Born Emmeline Goulden on Bastille Day (14th July) 1858, Emmeline felt a kinship with the female revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille in 1789, stating “the fact that I was born on that day had some kind of influence over my life.” She was one of 10 children in her family, and grew up in Manchester. Her father was a businessman who also had an active love of the arts, even owning a theatre for years where he would star in productions of Shakespeare plays. This is said to be where Emmeline learnt how to be captivating when addressing crowds.

Her parents were both politically active, with her mother collecting money for recently freed slaves in the USA and reading Emmeline ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ as a bedtime story. It was through her mother that Emmeline first attended a public meeting on women’s rights at 14, which is where she became a firm suffragist. 

Marriage and Family

After almost marrying a French man in her teen years, Emmeline met Richard Pankhurst when she was 20 years old – a man who was as politically determined as she was. Richard was a barrister who had long advocated for women to get the vote, as well as other causes including freedom of speech. He had vowed to remain unmarried so that he could serve the public with no distractions. Yet their connection was so powerful, they soon decided to spend their lives together. At first they pondered never marrying and instead entering into a free union, but Richard worried Emmeline would be exiled from political life if she were an unmarried woman. 

The two married in 1879, and had their eldest child Christabel the following year. Emmeline went on to have five children in ten years, and the family soon moved to London. 

Political Life

Over the following years, Emmeline’s passionate activism outgrew the Liberal Party. In 1888 her friend Kier Hardie, a Scottish socialist, helped create the new Independent Labour Party. Emmeline saw the party as a way to “be the means of righting every political and social wrong”, and was spurred on by the terrible conditions she saw in workhouses while volunteering. 

Yet in 1898, Emmeline’s life was forever changed when Richard died of stomach issues. The loss meant Emmeline had to take on a lot more responsibilities and find a paying job, which allowed her even more insight into the working world. It was around this time that her daughters became similarly outspoken on politics. Five years later Emmeline founded the WSPU with Christabel. 

Our production Emmeline follows the rest of the journey that Emmeline and her daughters faced during their fight for the vote. To see the rest of the story, buy tickets here: https://tickets.thecockpit.org.uk/sales/shows/emmeline



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *