Women's Social & Political Union

Emmeline Pankhurst was a member of the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage but become frustrated at the NUWSS lack of success. With the help of her three daughters, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst, on 10th October 1903, she formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). The main objective was to gain, not universal suffrage, the vote for all women and men over a certain age, but votes for women, “on the same basis as men.” This meant winning the vote not for all women but for only the small stratum of women who could meet the property qualification. As one critic pointed out, it was "not votes for women", but “votes for ladies.” As an early member of the WSPU, Dora Montefiore, pointed out: "The work of the Women’s Social and Political Union was begun by Mrs. Pankhurst in Manchester, and by a group of women in London who had revolted against the inertia and conventionalism which seemed to have fastened upon... the NUWSS".

Keir Hardie gave his support to the WSPU but this brought him into conflict with other members of the Labour Party. As they pointed out, the WSPU wanted votes for women on the same terms as men, and specifically not votes for all women. They considered this unfair as in 1903 only a third of men had the vote in parliamentary elections. Hardie's friend, John Bruce Glasier, recorded in his diary after a meeting with Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst, that they were guilty of "miserable individualist sexism" and that he was strongly against supporting the organisation.

On the 16th December 1904 The Clarion published a letter from Ada Nield Chew, a leading figure in the Independent Labour Party, attacking WSPU policy: "The entire class of wealthy women would be enfranchised, that the great body of working women, married or single, would be voteless still, and that to give wealthy women a vote would mean that they, voting naturally in their own interests, would help to swamp the vote of the enlightened working man, who is trying to get Labour men into Parliament."

The following month Christabel Pankhurst replied to the points that Ada Nield Chew made: "Some of us are not at all so confident as is Mrs Chew of the average middle class man's anxiety to confer votes upon his female relatives." A week later Ada Nield Chew retorted that she still rejected the policies in favour of "the abolition of all existing anomalies... which would enable a man or woman to vote simply because they are man or woman, not because they are more fortunate financially than their fellow men and women". As the authors of One Hand Tied Behind Us (1978) pointed out: "The fiery exchange ran on through the spring and into March. The two women both relished confrontation, and neither was prepared to concede an inch. They had no sympathy for the other's views, and shared no common experiences that might help to bridge the chasm."

The WSPU was often accused of being an organisation that existed to serve the middle and upper classes. As Annie Kenney was one of the organizations few working class members, when the WSPU decided to open a branch in the East End of London, she was asked to leave the mill and become a full-time worker for the organisation. Annie joined Sylvia Pankhurst in London and they gradually began to persuade working-class women to join the WSPU.

By 1905 the media had lost interest in the struggle for women's rights. Newspapers rarely reported meetings and usually refused to publish articles and letters written by supporters of women's suffrage. In 1905 the WSPU decided to use different methods to obtain the publicity they thought would be needed in order to obtain the vote.

On 13th October 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney attended a meeting in London to hear Sir Edward Grey, a minister in the British government. When Grey was talking, the two women constantly shouted out, "Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?" When the women refused to stop shouting the police were called to evict them from the meeting. Pankhurst and Kenney refused to leave and during the struggle a policeman claimed the two women kicked and spat at him. Pankhurst and Kenney were arrested and charged with assault.

Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were found guilty of assault and fined five shillings each. When the women refused to pay the fine they were sent to prison. The case shocked the nation. For the first time in Britain women had used violence in an attempt to win the vote. In her autobiography, Memories of a Militant (1924) she described what it was like to be in prison with Christabel: "Being my first visit to jail, the newness of the life numbed me. I do remember the plank bed, the skilly, the prison clothes. I also remember going to church and sitting next to Christabel, who looked very coy and pretty in her prison cap ... I scarcely ate anything all the time I was in prison, and Christabel told me later that she was glad when she saw the back of me, it worried her to see me looking pale and vacant.

As a result of this action, The Daily Mail coined the term "suffragette" to distinguish the militants from the constitutional suffragists and according to Lisa Tickner "it came into general currency in the months following its first appearance in print on 10th January 1906. Tickner goes on to argue: "The WSPU embraced it, despite the disparaging diminutive Their motto was Deeds not Words, and they were dismissive of the missionary methods of the established societies and of the constitutional movement generally."

The WSPU established their headquarters at Clement's Inn and Flora Drummond, Annie Kenney, Mary Gawthorpe, Nellie Martel, Helen Fraser, Adela Pankhurst and Minnie Baldock were appointed as full-time organizers. Christabel Pankhurst pointed out: "Clement's Inn, our headquarters, was a hive seething with activity... General Flora Drummond's office was full of movement. As department was added to department, Clement's Inn seemed always to have one more room to offer.

A meeting of the WSPU (left to right) Christabel Pankhurst, Jessie Kenney, Nellie Martel, Emmeline Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard.
A meeting of the WSPU (left to right) Christabel Pankhurst, Jessie Kenney,
Nellie Martel, Emmeline Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence argued that Annie Kenney was a devoted follower of Christabel Pankhurst. "Annie's... devotion took the form of unquestioning faith and absolute obedience ... Just as no ordinary Christian can find that perfect freedom in complete surrender, so no ordinary individual could have given what Annie gave - the surrender of her whole personality to Christabel." Annie admitted that: "For the first few years the militant movement was more like a religious revival than a political movement. It stirred the emotions, it aroused passions, it awakened the human chord which responds to the battle-call of freedom ... the one thing demanded was loyalty to policy and unselfish devotion to the cause."

Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003), has argued that Annie Kenney had a series of romantic attachments with other suffragettes: "The relationship (with Christabel Pankhurst) would be mirrored, though never matched in its intensity, by a number of later relationships between Annie and other suffragettes. The extent of their physical nature has never been revealed, but it is certain that in some sense these were romantic attachments. One historian who argues that Annie must have had sexual feelings for other women adds that lesbianism was barely recognised at the time. Such relationships, even when they involved sharing beds, excited little comment Already, Christabel had formed a close friendship with Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, suffrage campaigners who lived together in Manchester. Her relationship with Eva, in particular, had become intense enough to excite a great deal of comment from her family - according to Sylvia."

The case shocked the nation. For the first time in Britain women had used violence in an attempt to win the vote. Members of the WSPU now became known as suffragettes. Members of the WSPU included Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Marion Wallace-Dunlop, Elizabeth Robins, May Billinghurst, Mary Allen, Winifred Batho, Mary Leigh, Mary Richardson, Elsie Duval, Gladice Keevil, Louisa Garrett Anderson, Ethel Smyth, Teresa Billington-Greig, Helen Crawfurd, Emily Davison, Jane Brailsford, Vera Wentworth, Elsie Howey, Charlotte Despard, Mary Clarke, Mary Gawthorpe, Margaret Haig Thomas, Cicely Hamilton, Eveline Haverfield, Edith How-Martyn, Annie Kenney, Constance Lytton, Kitty Marion, Nellie Martel, Victoria Lidiard, Dora Marsden, Winnie Mason, Hannah Mitchell, Margaret Nevinson, Evelyn Sharp, Ethel Smyth, Sybil Thorndike, Helen Watts, Alice Wheeldon, Hettie Wheeldon and Octavia Wilberforce.

On 29th January 1906, Minnie Baldock, a member of the Independent Labour Party and a trade union activist, was asked to establish a Canning Town branch of the WSPU. It was an attempt to recruit working-class women to the cause. Over the next few months Baldock arranged for Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Annie Kenney, Flora Drummond, Dora Montefiore, Selina Cooper, Teresa Billington-Greig and Marie Naylor to address the members of the group.

Emmeline Pankhurst now organised a huge rally in Caxton Hall, and a deputation went to the House of Commons to demand the vote: She later wrote about this in her autobiography, My Own Story (1914): "Those women had followed me to the House of Commons. They had defied the police. They were awake at last thev were prepared to do something that women had never done before - fight for themselves. Women had always fought for men, and for their children. Now they were ready to light for their own human rights. Our militant movement was established.''

On 9th March, 1906, Flora Drummond and Annie Kenney, led a demonstration to Downing Street, repeatedly knocking on the door of the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Drummond and Kenney were arrested but Campbell-Bannerman refused to press charges and they were released.

For several years Anne Cobden Sanderson was a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. However, frustrated by its lack of success, she joined the Women Social & Political Union. She was the first prominent constitutional suffragist to defect to the militants. In October 1906 Anne, along with members of the WSPU, Mary Gawthorpe, Charlotte Despard and Emmeline Pankhurst, was arrested in a large demonstration outside the House of Commons. Her friend, George Bernard Shaw wrote in The Times, that "one of nicest women in England suffering from the coarsest indignity" of being in Holloway Prison.

In court Anne Cobden Sanderson said: "We have talked so much for the Cause now let us suffer for it... I am a law breaker because I want to be a law maker." She was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Millicent Fawcett wrote to The Times on 27th October 1906 to complain about the press reports of her behaviour in court: "I have known Mrs Cobden Sanderson for 30 years. I was not in the police-court on Wednesday when she was before the magistrate, but I find it absolutely impossible to believe that she bit, or scratched, or screamed, or behaved otherwise than like the refined lady she is." After Sanderson's release the NUWSS organized a banquet at the Savoy Hotel on 11th December.

Flora Drummond and Annie Kenney being arrested on 9th March, 1906
Flora Drummond and Annie Kenney being arrested on 9th March, 1906

On 13th February 1907 Lilias Ashworth Hallett joined the march from the Women's Parliament in Caxton Hall to the House of Commons. The following day The Times published her letter which gave an account of her first WSPU demonstration: "My astonishment was great when I found we were suddenly encompassed by police on foot and horse-back, and our courage rose in proportion to the indignation we felt. Police blocked the footway. They laughed and jeered... I was twice arrested." Hallett admitted that she was released when she told the policeman who held her that she would report them to her friends in Parliament. She added: "They were not sure who I might be. If I had seemed more like a Lancashire mill-hand, I should doubtless be in Holloway this morning."

Christabel Pankhurst obtained her degree in 1907 but her gender prevented her from developing a career as a barrister. Christabel decided to leave Manchester and join the suffragette campaign in London where she lived in the home of Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. Christabel was appointed as the WSPU's chief organizer on a salary of £2 10s. per week.

Christabel disagreed with the way the campaign was being run. The initial strategy of the WSPU had been to recruit the support of working class women. Christabel advocated a campaign that would appeal to the more prosperous members of society. Whereas Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard argued for the vote for all adults, Christabel favoured limited suffrage, a system that would only give the vote to women with money and property. Christabel pointed out that the WSPU relied heavily on the money supplied by wealthy women.

Emmeline Pankhurst supported her daughter in this stance but it was opposed by Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst. In September 1907 both Christabel and Emmeline resigned their membership of the Independent Labour Party, who had been arguing that votes for women on the same terms as men would only enfranchise middle-class women who would probably vote for the Conservative Party.

In 1907 some leading members of the Women's Social and Political Union began to question the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst. These women objected to the way that the Pankhursts were making decisions without consulting members. Teresa Billington-Greig pointed out the absurdity of women fighting for votes in an organisation that refused them a voice in their own campaign.

They also felt that a small group of wealthy women like Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Clare Mordan and Mary Blathwayt were having too much influence over the organisation. In the autumn of 1907, Teresa Billington-Greig, Elizabeth How-Martyn, Dora Marsden, Helena Normanton, Anne Cobden Sanderson, Sime Seruya, Margaret Nevinson and Charlotte Despard and seventy other members of the WSPU left to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL).

During the summer of 1908 the WSPU introduced the tactic of breaking the windows of government buildings. On 30th June suffragettes marched into Downing Street and began throwing small stones through the windows of the Prime Minister's house. As a result of this demonstration, twenty-seven women were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison.

On the 13th October, 1908 the WSPU held a large demonstration in London and then tried to enter the House of Commons. There were violent clashes with the police and 24 women were arrested, including Emmeline Pankhurst, who was sentenced to three months in prison.

On 25th June 1909 Marion Wallace-Dunlop was charged "with wilfully damaging the stone work of St. Stephen's Hall, House of Commons, by stamping it with an indelible rubber stamp, doing damage to the value of 10s." According to a report in The Times Wallace-Dunlop printed a notice that read: "Women's Deputation. June 29. Bill of Rights. It is the right of the subjects to petition the King, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitionings are illegal."

Wallace-Dunlop was found guilty of wilful damage and when she refused to pay a fine she was sent to prison for a month. On 5th July, 1909 she petitioned the governor of Holloway Prison: “I claim the right recognized by all civilized nations that a person imprisoned for a political offence should have first-division treatment; and as a matter of principle, not only for my own sake but for the sake of others who may come after me, I am now refusing all food until this matter is settled to my satisfaction.”

In her book, Unshackled (1959) Christabel Pankhurst claimed: "Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded."

Marion Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, it was decided to release her after fasting for 91 hours. Soon afterwards a group of suffragettes in Holloway Prison who had been convicted of breaking windows, adopted the same strategy. After six days they were also released.

On 22nd September 1909 Charlotte Marsh, Rona Robinson, Laura Ainsworth and Mary Leigh were arrested while disrupting a public meeting being held by Herbert Asquith. As Michelle Myall has pointed out: "The police attempted to move the two women by, among other methods, turning a hosepipe on them and throwing stones. However, Charlotte Marsh and Mary Leigh proved to be formidable opponents and were only brought down from the roof when three policeman dragged them down."

Marsh, Robinson, Ainsworth and Leigh were all sentenced to two weeks' imprisonment. They immediately decided to go on hunger-strike, a strategy developed by Marion Wallace-Dunlop a few weeks earlier. Wallace-Dunlop had been immediately released when she had tried this in Holloway Prison, but the governor of Winson Green Prison, was willing to feed the women by force.

C.P. Scott wrote to Asquith complaining of the "substantial injustice of punishing a girl like Miss Marsh with two months hard labour plus forcible feeding." According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "The Prison Visiting Committee reported that at first she had to be fed by placing food in the mouth and holding the nostrils, but that she later took food from a feeding cup." Votes for Women, on her release, reported that Charlotte Marsh had been fed by tube 139 times.

Mary Leigh, one of the three women in Winson Green Prison, described what it was like to be force-fed: "On Saturday afternoon the wardress forced me onto the bed and two doctors came in. While I was held down a nasal tube was inserted. It is two yards long, with a funnel at the end; there is a glass junction in the middle to see if the liquid is passing. The end is put up the right and left nostril on alternative days. The sensation is most painful - the drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and the breast. The tube is pushed down 20 inches. I am on the bed pinned down by wardresses, one doctor holds the funnel end, and the other doctor forces the other end up the nostrils. The one holding the funnel end pours the liquid down - about a pint of milk... egg and milk is sometimes used." Leigh's graphic account of the horrors of forcible feeding was published while she was still in prison. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, it was decided to release her.

In October 1909, Rona Robinson, Dora Marsden and Emily Wilding Davison attended a meeting at the ballroom, White City, Manchester, where they received the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) Hunger Strike Medal from Emmeline Pankhurst.

The WSPU Hunger Strike Medal
The WSPU Hunger Strike Medal

A few days after leaving prison, Mary Leigh, along with Emily Davison and Constance Lytton were caught throwing stones at a car taking David Lloyd George to a meeting in Newcastle. The stones were wrapped in Emily's favourite words: "Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God." The women were found guilty and sentenced to one month's hard labour at Strangeways Prison. The women went on hunger strike but once again the prison authorities decided to force-feed the women. The WSPU initiated legal proceedings against the home secretary, prison governor, and prison doctor on Mary Leigh's behalf, opening a defence fund in her name. The case was brought to trial in December 1909, and the jury found for the defence, upholding the defence's claim that forcible feeding had been necessary to preserve life and that minimum force had been used.

Linley Blathwayt and Emily Blathwayt were major contributors to the funds of the WSPU and their daughter, Mary Blathwayt, was an active member in the West of England. Colonel Blathwayt also built a summer-house in the grounds of the estate in Batheaston that was called the "Suffragette Rest". Members of the WSPU who endured hunger strikes went to stay at Eagle House and the summer-house. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence wrote an article in Votes for Women in February 1909, they acknowledged the help given by the Blathwayt family to the cause of women's suffrage: "I say to you young women who have private means or whose parents are able and willing to support you while they give you freedom to choose your vocation. Come and give one year of your life to bringing the message of deliverance to thousands of your sisters... Put yourself through a short course of training under one of our chief officers or at headquarters in London, and then become one of our honorary staff organisers. Miss Annie Kenney, in the West of England, has two such honorary organisers. Miss Blathwayt is the only daughter of Colonel Lindley Blathwayt, of Bath. Yet her parents have set her free with their fullest approbation and sympathy, and with a generous allowance, to devote her whole time to the work."

Colonel Linley Blathwayt decided to create a suffragette arboretum in a field adjacent to the house. The idea was for women to be invited to plant a tree to commemorate their prison sentences and hunger strikes. On 23rd April 1909 Emily Blathwayt recorded in her diary that Annie Kenney, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Constance Lytton and Clara Codd all planted trees. "Beautiful day for the tree planting and Linley photographed the three in a group at each tree. Annie put the West one, Mrs. P. Lawrence, South, and Lady Constance the East. Miss Codd came to the field."

Annie Kenney, Mary Blathwayt and Emmeline Pankhurst planting trees at Eagle House.
Annie Kenney, Mary Blathwayt and Emmeline Pankhurst planting trees at Eagle House.

Over the next few months Emmeline Pankhurst, Adela Pankhurst, Mary Phillips, Vera Holme, Jessie Kenney, Georgina Brackenbury, Marie Brackenbury, Aeta Lamb, Theresa Garnett, Lilian Dove-Wilcox, Adela Pankhurst, Marion Wallace-Dunlop, Vera Wentworth and Elsie Howey also took part in this ceremony. After the visit of Christabel Pankhurst Emily Blathwayt wrote in her diary: "Christabel has planted her cedar of Lebanon by the pond; it was raining all the time. There is a wonderful charm about Christabel; she looks sweet and not like her photo. She is quiet and retiring." Eventually, even women who had not been to prison, such as Millicent Fawcett and Lilias Ashworth Hallett planted trees in the arboretum.

Jessie Kenney developed a "lung condition" also spent time recovering at Eagle House. Others who visited during this period included Annie Kenney, Constance Lytton, Elsie Howey, Mary Phillips, Charlotte Despard, Mary Allen, Charlotte Marsh, Lilias Ashworth Hallett, Aeta Lamb, Georgina Brackenbury, Marie Brackenbury, Marie Naylor, Laura Ainsworth, Lilian Dove-Wilcox, Theresa Garnett, Gladice Keevil, Maud Joachim, Vida Goldstein, Minnie Baldock, Margaret Haig Thomas,, Vera Wentworth, Clare Mordan and Helen Watts. Colonel Blathwayt photographed the women. These were then signed and sold at WSPU bazaars.

On 5th September, 1909, Elsie Howey, Vera Wentworth and Jessie Kenney assaulted Herbert Asquith and Herbert Gladstone while they were playing golf. Asquith was also attacked as he left Lympne Church that Sunday. Emily Blathwayt was horrified by this increase in violence. On 7th September she wrote in her diary: "We hear of terrible things by the two Hooligans we know, Vera and Elsie and there is a Kenney in it. They made a regular raid on Mr. Asquith breaking a window and using personal violence. Then missiles have been thrown lately through windows during Cabinet Members meetings which might injure or kill innocent persons."

Vera Wentworth and Jessie Kenney attacking Herbert Asquith in September 1909
Vera Wentworth and Jessie Kenney attacking Herbert Asquith in September 1909

The following day Emily Blathwayt sent a letter to the WSPU headquarters: "Dear Madam, with great reluctance I am writing to ask that my name may be taken off the list as a Member of the W.S.P.U. Society. When I signed the membership paper, I thoroughly approved of the methods then used. Since then there has been personal violence and stone throwing which might injure innocent people. When asked by acquaintances what I think of these things I am unable to say that I approve, and people of my village who have hitherto been full of admiration for the Suffragettes are now feeling very differently. Linley Blathwayt wrote to Christabel Pankhurst complaining about the behaviour of Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth and suggested that they would no longer be welcome at Eagle House. He also wrote to Annie Kenney and appealed to her to do nothing violent.

Colonel Blathwayt also wrote letters to Wentworth and Howley about their behaviour. He said that "an attack on one undefended man by three women was an act I did not expect from the Society". According to Emily Blathwayt, they received a "long letter from Vera Wentworth who is very sorry we are grieved but if Mr. Asquith will not receive deputation they will pummel him again." She also claimed that Herbert Gladstone gave Jessie Kenney "a nasty blow in the chest".

A wealthy supporter of the WSPU donated money to buy Emmeline Pankhurst a motor car so that she could travel the country in comfort. In August 1909, Vera Holme was appointed as Pankhurst's chauffeur. The author of The Pankhursts (2001): "It is probable that Vera Holme had learnt to drive as a result of touring the provinces with a theatrical company; since driving tests had not been invented the chief requirement was a capacity to cope with the frequent mechanical breakdowns and to deal with horse traffic."

Vera Holme driving Emmeline Pankhurst in 1909
Vera Holme driving Emmeline Pankhurst in 1909

Constance Lytton joined a group of suffragettes, including Jane Brailsford and Emily Wilding Davison, who resolved to undertake acts of violence in order to protest against forcible feeding. On 9th November 1909, they were arrested in Newcastle. She was sent to prison for 30 days. "Mrs. Brailsford, who had struck at the barricade with an axe, was also given the option of being bound over, which she, of course, refused, with the alternative of a month's imprisonment in the second division. We were put again into a van, but had only a short way to drive. We were shown into a passage of the prison where the Governor came and spoke to us. He was very civil, and begged us not to go on the hunger-strike." She did but as she pointed out in Prisons and Prisoners (1914) after a couple of days "the wardress came in and announced that I was released, because of the state of my heart!" Lytton was angry that she should be given special treatment and decided to adopt a false identity. After another demonstration Constance was arrested but this time she gave her name as Jane Wharton, a London seamstress. Constance was sentenced to fourteen days and when she refused to eat, she was forced fed eight times. When the authorities discovered Jane Wharton's true identity she was immediately released.

In November 1909, Theresa Garnett accosted Winston Churchill with a whip. She shouted "take that you brute", however, she later admitted she missed him. She was arrested for assault but was found guilty of disturbing the peace. Garnett was found guilty and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment in Horfield Prison. Her friend, Mary Blathwayt, wrote in her diary on 15th November: "Miss Garnett got one month for whipping Mr. Churchill across the face and not hurting him." The following day, her mother, Emily Blathwayt, wrote: The papers were full of Saint Theresa as we call her." Emily went onto say that the movement was "not altogether displeased" that the newspapers had headlines that were not true such as "Winston whipped" and "Churchill flogged".

Theresa Garnett went on hunger-strike while in Horfield Prison. This time, instead of being released, she was forcibly fed. As a protest against this treatment, she set fire to her cell and was then placed in solitary confinement for 11 of the 15 remaining days of her sentence. After being found unconcious, she spent the rest of her sentence in a hospital ward.

The WSPU still had a group of wealthy women who helped pay for their campaigns. The most important of these was Hertha Ayrton. She had been left a considerable amount of money by Barbara Bodichon, the 1909-1910 WSPU accounts show that she gave £1,060 in that year. In a letter she wrote to Maud Arncliffe Sennett, Ayrton admitted: "I made up my mind some time ago that as I am unable to be militant myself, from reasons of health, and as I believe most fully in the necessity for militancy, I was bound to give every penny I can afford to the militant union that is bearing the brunt of the battle, namely the WSPU."

During the 1910 General Election the NUWSS organised the signing petitions in 290 constituencies. They managed to obtain 280,000 signatures and this was presented to the House of Commons in March 1910. With the support of 36 MPs a new suffrage bill was discussed in Parliament. The WSPU suspended all militant activities and on 23rd July they joined forces with the NUWSS to hold a grand rally in London. When the House of Commons refused to pass the new suffrage bill, the WSPU broke its truce on what became known as Black Friday on 18th November, 1910, when its members clashed with the police in Parliament Square.

Mary Clarke, was arrested for breaking windows and sent to Holloway Prison, where she endured a hunger-strike and forced-feeding. She was released on 22nd December, 1910 but two days later Emmeline Pankhurst found her unconcious and she died soon afterwards as a result of a burst blood vessel on the brain. It has been argued that Clarke probably died as a result of being forced fed in prison.

Fran Abrams the author of Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003) argues that during this period May Billinghurst became an important figure in the WSPU campaign: "May Billinghurst was no fool. She knew full well, and so did the leaders of the WSPU, that her hand-propelled invalid tricycle gave her a special advantage in the propaganda battle they were waging. It made it difficult, if not impossible, for the media to portray May as a howling harridan with little care for the safety of others. At its least effective the sight of her at a demonstration was a picturesque one, commented on lightly along with other aspects of the pageantry of the day. At best, it served to underline in bold the brutal tactics of the police and the vulnerability of the suffragette demonstrators." In November 1911, Henry Nevinson saw Billinghurst being arrested: "Just at that time as I was returning to Whitehall I met Miss Billinghurst, that indomitable cripple, being carried shoulder high by four policemen in her little tricycle or wheel-cart that she propels with her arms. Amid immense cheering from the crowd she followed the rest into the police station."

Some members of the WSPU, including Adela Pankhurst became concerned about the increase in the violence as a strategy . She later told fellow member, Helen Fraser: "I knew all too well that after 1910 we were rapidly losing ground. I even tried to tell Christabel this was the case, but unfortunately she took it amiss." After arguing with Emmeline Pankhurst about this issue she left the WSPU in October 1911. Sylvia Pankhurst was also critical of this new militancy. Christabel Pankhurst replied that "I would not care if you were multiplied by a hundred, but one of Adela is too many."

May Billinghurst
May Billinghurst

Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, one of WSPU leading members, complained about the increasing use of violence. She wrote to the Manchester Guardian: "Now that our cause is on the verge of success, I wish to add my protest against the madness which seems to have seized a few persons whose anti-social and criminal actions would seem designed to wreck the whole movement ... I appeal to our friends in the ministry and in Parliament not to be deterred from setting right a great wrong by the folly or criminality of a few persons."

Christabel Pankhurst decided that the WSPU needed to intensify its window-breaking campaign. On 1st March, 1912, a group of suffragettes volunteered to take action in the West End of London. The Daily Graphic reported the following day: "The West End of London last night was the scene of an unexampled outrage on the part of militant suffragists.... Bands of women paraded Regent Street, Piccadilly, the Strand, Oxford Street and Bond Street, smashing windows with stones and hammers."

Hilda Brackenbury, aged 79, was accused of breaking two windows in the United Service Institution in Whitehall. She served eight days on remand before being sentenced to 14 days in Holloway Prison. Her two daughters, Georgina Brackenbury and Marie Brackenbury, were also both arrested during the demonstration. In court Marie claimed that she was "a soldier in this great cause".

On 4th March, the WSPU organised another window-breaking demonstration. This time the target was government offices in Whitehall. The severely disabled, May Billinghurst, agreed to hide some of the stones underneath the rug covering her knees. According to Votes for Women: "From in front, behind, from every side it came - a hammering, crashing, splintering sound unheard in the annals of shopping... At the windows excited crowds collected, shouting, gesticulating. At the centre of each crowd stood a woman, pale, calm and silent."

Over 200 suffragettes were arrested and jailed for taking part in the demonstration. This included Victoria Lidiard, who broke a window at the War Office. She later recalled: "He just looked at me. Meantime another policeman rushed up towards me and then an inspector on horseback came. So I was escorted to Bow Street, a policeman each side of me, clutching my arm. and one behind. Well, I had eight stones, but I'd only used one so on the way to the police station I dropped them one by one and to my amazement when I was taken down at Bow Street, this policeman that had followed put the seven stones on the table and said, She dropped these on the way."

Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence both disagreed with this strategy but Christabel Pankhurst ignored their objections. As soon as this wholesale smashing of shop windows began, the government ordered the arrest of the leaders of the WSPU. Christabel escaped to France but Frederick and Emmeline were arrested, tried and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. They were also successfully sued for the cost of the damage caused by the WSPU. They both went on hunger strike and had to face the full rigours of forcible feeding twice a day for several days. He later recalled the experience in his memoirs, Fate Has Been Kind (1943): "The head doctor, a most sensitive man, was visibly distressed by what he had to do. It certainly was an unpleasant and painful process and a sufficient number of warders had to be called in to prevent my moving while a rubber tube was pushed up my nostril and down into my throat and liquid was poured through it into my stomach. Twice a day thereafter one of the doctors fed me in this way. I was not allowed to leave my cell in the hospital and for the most part I had to stay in bed. There was nothing to do but to read; and the days were very long and went very slowly."

Emmeline Pankhurst was one of those arrested. Once again she went on hunger strike: "I generally suffer most on the second day. After that there is no very desperate craving for food. weakness and mental depression take its place. Great disturbances of digestion divert the desire for food to a longing for relief from pain. Often there is intense headache, with fits of dizziness, or slight delirium. Complete exhaustion and a feeling of isolation from earth mark the final stages of the ordeal. Recovery is often protracted, and entire recovery of normal health is sometimes discouragingly slow."

After the violent demonstrations in 1912 the British government made it clear that they intended to seize the assets of the WSPU. Evelyn Sharp has argued that Hertha Ayrton helped to "launder" through her bank account the funds of the WSPU. The WSPU bank manager was subpoenaed to appear at the conspiracy trial and revealed that £7,000 had been paid to "someone named Ayrton".

Christabel Pankhurst now ran operations in France in order to avoid arrest. Annie Kenney was put in charge of the WSPU in London. She apointed Rachel Barrett as her assistant. Every week Annie travelled to Paris to receive Christabel's latest orders. Fran Abrams has pointed out: "It was the start of a cloak-and-dagger existence that lasted for more than two years. Each Friday, heavily disguised, Annie would take the boat-train via La Havre. Sundays were devoted to work but on Saturdays the two would walk along the Seine or visit the Bois de Boulogne. Annie took instructions from Christabel on every little point - which organiser should be placed where, circular letters, fund-raising, lobbying MPs... During the week Annie worked all day at the union's Clement's Inn headquarters, then met militants at her flat at midnight to discuss illegal actions. Christabel had ordered an escalation of militancy, including the burning of empty houses, and it fell to Annie to organise these raids. She did not enjoy this work, nor did she agree with it. She did it because Christabel asked her to, she said later."

In October, 1912, George Lansbury decided to draw attention to the plight of WSPU prisoners by resigning his seat in the House of Commons and fighting a by-election in favour of votes for women. Lansbury discovered that a large number of males were still opposed to equal rights for women and he was defeated by 731 votes. The following year he was imprisoned for making speeches in favour of suffragettes who were involved in illegal activities. While in Pentonville he went on hunger strike and was eventually released under the Cat and Mouse Act.

In 1912 the WSPU began a campaign to destroy the contents of pillar-boxes. By December, the government claimed that over 5,000 letters had been damaged by the WSPU. The main figure in this campaign was May Billinghurst. A fellow suffragette, Lilian Lenton, argued: "She (May Billinghurst) would set out in her chair with many little packages from which, when they were turned upside down, there flowed a dark brown sticky fluid, concealed under the rug which covered her legs. She went undeviatingly from one pillar box to another, sometimes alone, sometimes with another suffragette to do the actual job, dropping a package into each one."

Billinghurst was eventually arrested at Blackheath preparing for a pillar-box raid. She seemed pleased about being caught as she told the police officer: "With all the pillar boxes we've done, there has been nothing in the papers about it - perhaps now there has been an arrest there will be something." Billinghurst appeared at the Old Bailey in January 1913. During the trial Billinghurst argued: "The government authorities may further maim my body by the torture of forcible feeding as they are torturing weak women in prison at the present time. They may even kill me in the process for I am not strong, but they cannot take away my freedom of spirit or my determination to fight this good fight to the end."

May Billinghurst was found guilty and sentenced to eight months in Holloway Prison. The judge remarked: "No one could, I think, doubt for a moment - as mistaken as I think you to be - that you were animated by the highest and purest motives in what you did... you do not belong to the class of hysterical women, many of whom are associated with this movement, who appear to be animated mainly or at any rate in some measure by a desire for notoriety." Emmeline Pankhurst wrote from Paris: "I cannot tell you how deeply I feel your splendid courage and endurance. All my heart will be with you during the ordeal that lies before you."

Billinghurst immediately went on hunger-strike: "I just laid on my back and endured it all - on Sunday I was very weak and on Sunday night I tried to get out to the bell because my head was swimming round so I fell on the floor and fainted... My head was forced back and a tube jammed down my nose. It was the most awful torture. I groaned with pain and I coughed and gulped the tube up and would not let it pass down my throat. Then they tried the other nostril and they found that was smaller still and slightly deformed, l suppose from constant hay-fever. The new doctor said it was impossible to get the tube down that one so they jammed it down again through the other and I wondered if the pain was as bad as child-birth. I just had strength and will enough to vomit it up again and I could see tears in the wardresses' eyes." After protests about her treatment by George Lansbury and Keir Hardie in the House of Commons, and comments from the prison doctor, who feared she would die of a heart-attack, she was released on 18th January, 1913.

Another long-term victim of force-feeding was Elsie Duval. In July 1912 she was sentenced to a month's imprisonment for breaking a window in Clapham. While in prison she was forcibly fed nine times. Duval was arrested for "loitering with intent" on 3rd April 1913 and was sentenced to one month's imprisonment and once again went on hunger-strike. When she died of heart failure on 1st January 1919, it was claimed that her heart had been weakened by the treatment she received in prison.

Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party, had argued for many years that women's suffrage that was a necessary part of a socialist programme. He was therefore able to negotiate an agreement with the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies for joint action in by-elections. In October, 1912, it was claimed that £800 of suffragist money had been spent on Labour candidatures. However, MacDonald rejected the WSPU use of violence: "I have no objection to revolution, if it is necessary but I have the very strongest objection to childishness masquerading as revolution, and all that one can say of these window-breaking expeditions is that they are simply silly and provocative. I wish the working women of the country who really care for the vote ... would come to London and tell these pettifogging middle-class damsels who are going out with little hammers in their muffs that if they do not go home they will get their heads broken."

Sylvia Pankhurst recovering from hunger strike in July 1913.
Sylvia Pankhurst recovering from hunger strike in July 1913.

Dr. Charles Mansell-Moullin joined forces with Sir Victor Horsley and Dr. Agnes Savill to write a report on the impact of the forced-feeding of suffragettes. In a speech on 13th March, 1913 he argued that Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, had been making misleading statements to the House of Commons: "Now Mr. McKenna has said time after time that forcible feeding, as carried out in His Majesty's prisons, is neither dangerous nor painful. Only the other day he said, in answer to an obviously inspired question as to the possibility of a lady suffering injury from the treatment she received in prison, "I must wait until a case arises in which any person has suffered any injury from her treatment in prison."... He relies entirely upon reports that are made to him - reports that must come from the prison officials, and go through the Home Office to him, and his statements are entirely founded upon those reports. I have no hesitation in saying that these reports, if they justify the statements that Mr. McKenna has made, are absolutely untrue. They not only deceive the public, but from the persistence with which they are got up in the same sense, they must be intended to deceive the public."

The summer of 1913 saw a further escalation of WSPU violence. In July attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes. This was followed by cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses being set on fire.

Some leaders of the WSPU such as Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, disagreed with this arson campaign. When Pethick-Lawrence objected, she was expelled from the organisation. Others like Elizabeth Robins, Jane Brailsford, Laura Ainsworth, Jessie Stephen, Eveline Haverfield and Louisa Garrett Anderson showed their disapproval by ceasing to be active in the WSPU and Hertha Ayrton, Lilias Ashworth Hallett , Janie Allan and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson stopped providing much needed funds for the organization.

Colonel Linley Blathwayt and Emily Blathwayt also cut off funds to the WSPU. In June 1913 a house had been burned down close to Eagle House. Under pressure from her parents, Mary Blathwayt resigned from the WSPU. In her diary she wrote: "I have written to Grace Tollemache (secretary for Bath) and to the secretary of the Women's Social and Political Union to say that I want to give up being a member of the W.S.P.U. and not giving any reason. Her mother wrote in her diary: "I am glad to say Mary is writing to resign membership with the W.S.P.U. Now they have begun burning houses in the neighbourhood I feel more than ever ashamed to be connected with them."

In 1913 the WSPU increased its campaign to destroy public and private property. The women responsible were often caught and once in prison they went on hunger-strike. Determined to avoid these women becoming martyrs, the government introduced the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act. Suffragettes were now allowed to go on hunger strike but as soon as they became ill they were released. Once the women had recovered, the police re-arrested them and returned them to prison where they completed their sentences. This successful means of dealing with hunger strikes became known as the Cat and Mouse Act.

Sylvia Pankhurst was also very unhappy that the WSPU had abandoned its earlier commitment to socialism and disagreed with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst's attempts to gain middle class support by arguing in favour of a limited franchise. She made the final break with the WSPU when the movement adopted a policy of widespread arson. Sylvia now concentrated her efforts on helping the Labour Party build up its support in London. Flora Drummond remained loyal to the idea of militant action and she was put in charge of all the WSPU branches in the country on a wage of £3 10s a week.

The Suffrage (17th October, 1913)
The Suffrage (17th October, 1913)

Kitty Marion was a leading figure in the WSPU arson campaign and she was responsible for setting fire to Levetleigh House in St Leonards in April 1913. Two months later she and 26 year old Clara Giveen were told that the Grand Stand at the Hurst Park racecourse "would make a most appropriate beacon". Marion later recalled: "We both regretted that there was no movie camera to immortalise the comedy of it."

The women returned to a house in Kew. A police constable who had been detailed to watch the house, saw the two women return and during the course of the next morning they were arrested. Their trial began at Guildford on 3rd July. She was found guilty and sentenced to three years' penal servitude. She went on hunger strike and was released under the Cat & Mouse Act. She was taken to the WSPU nursing home, into the care of Dr. Flora Murray and Catherine Pine.

As soon as Kitty Marion recovered she went out and broke a window of the Home Office. She was arrested and taken back to Holloway Prison. After going on hunger strike for five days she was again released to a WSPU nursing home. According to her own account, she now set fire to various houses in Liverpool (August, 1913) and Manchester (November, 1913). These incidents resulted in a series of further terms of imprisonment during which force-feeding occurred. It has been calculated that Kitty Marion endured 232 force-feedings in prison while on hunger strike.

Although Elizabeth Robins and Octavia Wilberforce disapproved of Kitty Marion's arson campaign they used their 15th century farmhouse at Backsettown, near Henfield, as a hospital and helped her recover from her various spells in prison and the physical effects of going on hunger strike. On 31st May 1914, with the help of Mary Leigh, escaped to Paris.

Lilian Lenton was another member of the WSPU who played an important role in the arson campaign. Along with Olive Wharry she embarked on a series of terrorist acts. They were arrested on 19th February 1913, soon after setting fire to the tea pavilion in Kew Gardens. In court it was reported: "The constables gave chase, and just before they caught them each of the women who had separated was seen to throw away a portmanteau. At the station the women gave the names of Lilian Lenton and Olive Wharry. In one of the bags which the women threw away were found a hammer, a saw, a bundle to tow, strongly redolent of paraffin and some paper smelling strongly of tar. The other bag was empty, but it had evidently contained inflammables." While in custody, Lenton went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed. She was quickly released from prison when she became seriously ill after food entered her lungs.

On 7th March 1913 Olive Wharry was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months. Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "She was released on 8th April after having been on hunger strike for 32 days, apparently without the prison authorities noticing. His usual weight was 7st 11lbs; when released she weighed 5st 9lbs."

After Lilian Lenton recovered she managed to evade recapture until arrested in June 1913 in Doncaster and charged with setting fire to an unoccupied house at Balby. She was held in custody at Armley Prison in Leeds. She immediately went on hunger-strike and was released after a few days under the Cat & Mouse Act. The following month she escaped to France in a private yacht.

According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999): "Lilian Lenton has stated that her aim was to burn two buildings a week, in order to create such a condition in the country that it would prove impossible to govern without the consent of the governed." Lenton was soon back in England setting fire to buildings but in October 1913 she was arrested at Paddington Station. Once again she went on hunger-strike and was forcibly fed, but once again she was released when she became seriously ill.

Lilian Lenton was released on licence on 15th October. She escaped from the nursing home and was arrested on 22nd December 1913 and charged with setting fire to a house in Cheltenham. After another hunger-and-thirst strike, she was released on 25th December to the care of Mrs Impey in King's Norton. Once again she escaped and evaded the police until early May 1914 when she was arrested in Birkenhead. She was only in prison for a few days before she was released under the Cat & Mouse Act.

In June, 1913, at the most important race of the year, the Derby, Emily Davison ran out on the course and attempted to grab the bridle of Anmer, a horse owned by King George V. The horse hit Emily and the impact fractured her skull and she died without regaining consciousness.

Will Dyson, Miss Davison (Daily Herald, 1914)
Will Dyson, Miss Davison (Daily Herald, 1914)

Although many suffragettes endangered their lives by hunger strikes, Emily Davison was the only one who deliberately risked death. However, her actions did not have the desired impact on the general public. They appeared to be more concerned with the health of the horse and jockey and Davison was condemned as a mentally ill fanatic.

Annie Kenney was charged with "incitement to riot" in April 1913. She was found guilty at the Old Bailey and was sentenced to eighteen months in Maidstone Prison. She decided that Grace Roe should now became head of operations in London. Kenney immediately went on hunger strike and became the first suffragette to be released under the provisions of the Cat and Mouse Act. Kenney went into hiding until she was caught once again and returned to prison. That summer she escaped to France during a respite and went to live with Christabel Pankhurst in Deauville.

On 30th April 1913, Rachel Barrett and other members of staff were arrested while printing The Suffragette newspaper. Found guilty of conspiracy she was sentenced to nine months imprisonment. She immediately began a hunger strike in Holloway Prison. After five days she was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. Barrett was re-arrested and this time went on a hunger and thirst strike. When she was released she escaped to Edinburgh. After a meeting with Christabel Pankhurst in Paris, it was decided to publish the newspaper in Scotland. Barrett, returned to Edinburgh and using the name Rachel Ashworth, published the newspaper until August 1914.

It has been argued by the authors of Mosley's Old Suffragette (2010) that the remarkable rhetorical skill of Norah Dacre Fox allowed her to rise quickly through the WSPU ranks to become, by early 1913, its General Secretary. She was involved in the production of The Suffragette, the WSPU newspaper. Emmeline Pankhurst later recalled: "The Government made several last, desperate efforts to crush the WSPU to remove all the leaders and to destroy our paper, The Suffragette. They issued summonses against Mrs. Drummond, Mrs. Dacre Fox, and Miss Grace Roe; they raided our headquarters at Lincoln's Inn House; twice they raided other headquarters temporarily in use; not to speak of raids made upon private dwellings where the new leaders, who had risen to take the places of those arrested, were at their work for the organisation."

On 10 March 1914 Mary Richardson attacked a painting, Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez at the National Gallery. She later described what happened: "I dashed up to the painting. My first blow with the axe merely broke the protective glass. But, Of course, it did more than that, for the detective rose with his newspaper still in his hand and walked round the red plush seat, staring up at the skylight which was being repaired. The sound of the glass breaking also attracted the attention of the attendant at the door who, in his frantic efforts to reach me, slipped on the highly polished floor and fell face downward. And so I was given time to get in a further four blows with my axe before I was, in turn, attacked."

The Manchester Guardian reported the following day: "At the National Gallery, yesterday morning, the famous Rokeby Venus, the Velasquez picture which eight years ago was bought for the nation by public subscription for £45,000, was seriously damaged by a militant suffragist connected with the Women's Social and Political Union... The woman, producing a meat chopper from her muff or cloak, smashed the glass of the picture, and rained blows upon the back of the Venus. A police officer was at the door of the room, and a gallery attendant also heard the smashing of the glass. They rushed towards the woman, but before they could seize her she had made seven cuts in the canvas.

In 1913 Christabel Pankhurst published The Great Scourge and How to End It. She argued that most men had venereal disease and that the prime reason for opposition to women's suffrage came from men concerned that enfranchised women would stop their promiscuity. Until they had the vote, she suggested that women should be wary of any sexual contact with men. Dora Marsden criticised Pankhurst for upholding the values of chastity, marriage and monogamy. She also pointed out in The Egoist on 2nd February 1914 that Pankhurst's statistics on venereal disease were so exaggerated that they made nonsense of her argument. Marsden concluded the article with the claim: "If Miss Pankhurst desires to exploit human boredom and the ravages of dirt she will require to call in the aid of a more subtle intelligence than she herself appears to possess." Other contributors to the journal joined in the attack on Pankhurst. The Canadian feminist, R. B. Kerr argued that "her obvious ignorance of life is a great handicap to Miss Pankhurst" (16th March, 1914) whereas Ezra Pound suggested that she "has as much intellect as a guinea pig" (1st July, 1914).

By the summer of 1914 over 1,000 suffragettes had been imprisoned for destroying public property. All the leading members of the WSPU were in prison, in very poor health or were living in exile. The number of active members of the organisation in a position to commit acts of violence was now very small.

On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two days later the NUWSS announced that it was suspending all political activity until the war was over. The leadership of the WSPU began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.

Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." Ethel Smyth pointed out in her autobiography, Female Pipings for Eden (1933): "Mrs Pankhurst declared that it was now a question of Votes for Women, but of having any country left to vote in. The Suffrage ship was put out of commission for the duration of the war, and the militants began to tackle the common task."

Annie Kenney reported that orders came from Christabel Pankhurst: "The Militants, when the prisoners are released, will fight for their country as they have fought for the Vote." Kenney later wrote: "Mrs. Pankhurst, who was in Paris with Christabel, returned and started a recruiting campaign among the men in the country. This autocratic move was not understood or appreciated by many of our members. They were quite prepared to receive instructions about the Vote, but they were not going to be told what they were to do in a world war."

After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men.

Ada Nield Chew was completely against this policy: "The militant section of the movement... would without doubt place itself in the trenches quite cheerfully, if allowed. It is now ... demanding, with all its usual pomp and circumstance of banner and procession, its share in the war. This is an entirely logical attitude and strictly in line with its attitude before the war. It always glorified the power of the primitive knock on the nose in preference to the more humane appeal to reason.... What of the others? The non-militants - so-called - though bitterly repudiating militancy for women, are as ardent in their support of militancy for men as their more consistent and logical militant sisters."

In October 1915, the WSPU changed its newspaper's name from The Suffragette to Britannia. Emmeline's patriotic view of the war was reflected in the paper's new slogan: "For King, For Country, for Freedom'. In the newspaper anti-war activists such as Ramsay MacDonald were attacked as being "more German than the Germans". Another article on the Union of Democratic Control and Norman Angell carried the headline: "Norman Angell: Is He Working for Germany?" Mary Macarthur and Margaret Bondfield were described as "Bolshevik women trade union leaders" and Arthur Henderson, who was in favour of a negotiated peace with Germany, was accused of being in the pay of the Central Powers.

The Britannia also attacked politicians and military leaders for not doing enough to win the war. In one article, Christabel Pankhurst accused Sir William Robertson, Chief of Imperial General Staff, of being "the tool and accomplice of the traitors, Grey, Asquith and Cecil".

Jessie Kenney was an important WSPU figure during the First World War. In July 1916 she helped to organize the War-Work Procession. The following year she accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst to Russia where they held meetings with Alexander Kerensky and other leading figures in his Provisional Government in an attempt to keep the country in the war. It seems that Kenney became disillusioned by the way David Lloyd George and his government treated women after the war. She wrote in her diary: We gained nothing by our patriotism. No money, no lasting position. By Armistice we were tired out, no homes, no jobs, no money, no cause. Forgotten."

On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities.

Soon afterwards Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst established the The Women's Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (1) A fight to the finish with Germany. (2) More vigorous war measures to include drastic food rationing, more communal kitchens to reduce waste, and the closing down of nonessential industries to release labour for work on the land and in the factories. (3) A clean sweep of all officials of enemy blood or connections from Government departments. Stringent peace terms to include the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire." The party also supported: "equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits." Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions.

After the passing of the Qualification of Women Act the first opportunity for women to vote was in the General Election in December, 1918. Seventeen women candidates that stood in the post-war election. Christabel Pankhurst represented the The Women's Party in Smethwick. Despite the fact that the Conservative Party candidate agreed to stand down, she lost a straight fight with the representative of the Labour Party by 775 votes. Only one woman, Constance Markiewicz, standing for Sinn Fein, was elected. However, as a member of Sinn Fein, she refused to take her seat in the House of Commons.

Lilian Lenton, who had played an important role in the militant campaign later recalled: "Personally, I didn't vote for a long time, because I hadn't either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Emmeline Pankhurst described the formation of the Women's Social and Political Union in her book My Own Story.

It was on October 10, 1903 that I invited a number of women to my house in Nelson Street, Manchester, for purposes of organisation. We voted to call our new society the Women's Social and Political Union, partly to emphasize its democracy, and partly to define its object as political rather than propagandist. We resolved to limit our membership exclusively to women, to keep ourselves absolutely free from party affiliation, and to be satisfied with nothing but action on our question. "Deeds, not Words" was to be our permanent motto.

(2) Margaret Haig Thomas, This Was My World (1933)

I was determined to join the Pankhursts' organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union, but was held up in this resolve for three months by the fact that my father, who had considerable foresight and realised pretty well what joining that body was likely to mean, was inclined to be opposed to the idea. However, I finally decided that he could be no judge of a matter which concerned one primarily as a woman. Prid meanwhile had, travelling by a slightly different road, arrived at the same conclusion. She and I met one autumn day in London, and, full of excitement, went off together to Clement's Inn and joined.

(3) In her book My Own Story, Emmeline Pankhurst explained why the WSPU changed their strategy in October 1905.

The Women's Social and Political Union had been in existence two years before any opportunity was presented to work on a national scale. The autumn of 1905 brought a political situation, which seemed to us to promise bright hopes for women's enfranchisement. The life of the old Parliament was coming to an end, and the country was on the eve of a general election in which the liberals hoped to be returned to power… The only object worth trying for was pledges from responsible leaders that the new Government would make women's suffrage a part of the official programme.

(4) William Stead, The Review of Reviews (November, 1906)

A deputation from the Woman's Social and Political Union waited upon the Prime Minister to urge upon him the importance of conceding the vote to women. As Sir Henry refused to do anything, a few of the more determined leaders of the movement made a demonstration in the outer Lobby. It was a very harmless affair. A few sentences of indignant protest, promptly cut short by the police, fell from the lips of the first speaker. Mrs. Despard, sister of General French, a grey-haired matron who has devoted herself to charitable works in South West London, promptly took the place of the silenced speaker, only to be as promptly silenced. The police then removed the protesting ladies, and there the incident ought to have ended. But no sooner were the women removed from the precincts of Parliament than several of them were arrested, including at least one bystander, Miss Annie Kenney, who had never been in the Lobby at all, and who had refrained from taking any part in the demonstration. Mrs. Despard, who was one of the chief offenders, protested against Miss Kenney's arrest, declaring that if any one deserved arrest it was herself. The police, however, refrained from arresting General French's sister, saying that they had their instructions. So Miss Kenney, the factory girl was marched off to prison, while Mrs. Despard was left at liberty, in order apparently to demonstrate that even in dealing with women there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Next day the ladies were brought before the Westminster police magistrate. They were not represented by counsel, and they one and all declared that they ignored the jurisdiction of the Court. They regarded themselves as outlaws, shut out from the pale of the Constitution. Several persons who had witnessed the proceedings tendered themselves as voluntary witnesses, but they were not allowed to give their evidence. The police, therefore, had everything their own way, and the magistrate convicted the whole batch, ordering them to enter into recognizances and bind themselves over to keep the peace for six months. As they refused to do anything of the kind they were ordered to be imprisoned as ordinary criminal convicts for two months. One of the Misses Pankhurst, who was accused of attempting to make a disturbance outside the Court, was sentenced to a fortnight's imprisonment on the evidence of the police, which was flatly contradicted by three independent respectable witnesses. The prisoners were then removed from Court and conveyed in Black Maria to Holloway Gaol. The most disreputable feature of the proceedings was the deliberate and malignant misrepresentation of the conduct of the accused by the hooligans of some of the daily papers. The cowardly brutality of some of the scoundrels who lend their pens to this campaign of calumny is a melancholy illustration of the extent to which some newspapers are staffed by Yahoos.

The ladies, on arriving at Holloway Gaol, were treated exactly as if they had been the drabs of the street convicted for drunkenness. They were stripped, deprived of their own raiment, made to wear the clothes, none too clean, of previous prisoners, and shut up in verminous cells in solitary confinement. Two of their number, Mrs. Pethwick-Lawrence, the wife of the last proprietor of the Echo, and Mrs. Montefiore, broke down in health. To avert fatal consequences their medical advisers insisted that they should enter into recognizances for good behaviour and regain their liberty. One of the others who was ill was sent into the hospital. The others, among them Mrs. Cobden-Saunderson, a daughter Richard Cobden, stood firm and took their gruel without complaint. They were prepared to "stick it through" to the end. Neither they nor any of their representatives made any appeal to the Government for any amelioration of their condition. They protested vigorously to the Governor against the filthy state of their cells. Tardy measures were taken to extirpate the bugs from which less distinguished prisoners have long suffered, but they were less successful in their protests against the rats and mice. When I was at Holloway as a first-class misdemeanant twenty years ago, one of my liveliest recollections is that of mice running over my head as I lay in bed. Things do not appear to have improved much since then.

(5) William Stead, The Review of Reviews (June, 1910)

Saturday, June 18th, promises to be a memorable day in the history of Woman's Suffrage. Since the General Election the militants have postponed the threatened resumption of warlike tactics in order to give a fair opportunity to the tactics of ordinary peaceful, law-abiding demonstration. They are as keen as ever for admission within the pale of the Constitution, but they have been told that after 480 of their number have proved the sincerity of their enthusiasm by going to gaol there is no need now for anything more sensational than a great procession through the streets of London and a united demonstration in Albert Hall. Although the older, not to say the ancient, Union which bore the burden and heat of the day before the advent of the Suffragettes is not to be officially represented in the procession - much to our regret - most of their members will probably be in the ranks. This is emphatically an occasion on which all advocates for woman's emancipation should sink their differences and present a united front to the enemy. I sincerely hope that all my Helpers and Associates who may be in town will not fail to fall into line and spare no effort to make the procession of June 18th one of those memorable demonstrations of political earnestness which leave an indelible impression on the public mind. That the Women will obtain enfranchisement in this Parliament I do not venture to hope. But the days of the present Parliament are numbered, and the prospects of success in the next will largely depend on the impression of orderly, well-disciplined enthusiasm which London will receive from this midsummer procession.

(6) Christabel Pankhurst, Unshackled (1959)

Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded. Mr. Gladstone did not reply, but after she had fasted ninety-one hours, Miss Wallace Dunlop was set free. She was in an exhausted state, having refused every threat and appeal to induce her to break her fast.

(7) In her book, The Militant Suffrage Movement, published in 1911, Teresa Billington Greig described the decision of the WSPU to become a militant organisation.

The first militant protest was decided upon by Miss Christabel Pankhurst, and announced by mother or daughter to a small number of the more active members of the Union. The body of members knew nothing of the plans until they heard with the public that it had been carried out… It was at this point that the sense of difference of outlook, of which I had always been conscious in my association with Mrs. Pankhurst and her daughter, became acute. I did not approve the line of protest determined upon. It seemed to me to provide a very inadequate outlet for the expression of our rebellion.

(8) In her book Unshackled, Christabel Pankhurst described the situation in March 1912.

Eighty-one women were still in prison, some for terms of six months… Mother and Mr. and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence went on hunger-strike. The Government retaliated by forcible feeding. This was actually carried out in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence. The doctors and wardresses came to Mother's cell armed with forcible-feeding apparatus. Forewarned by the cries of Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence… Mother received them with all her majestic indignation. They fell back and left her. Neither then nor at any time in her log and dreadful conflict with the government was she forcibly fed.

(9) Dora Montefiore, From a Victorian to a Modern (1927)

The next episode in this eventful year of unavoidable publicity in the women’s cause was the occasion in October, 1906, of our meeting as militant suffragists in the Lobby of the Houses of Parliament with the object of asking the Prime Minister to receive a deputation. It was agreed that if this request was refused several of us should get up on seats and make speeches for “Votes for Women.” Our request was refused, and we began to carry out our subsequent programme. Naturally after the first horror-struck moments of surprise at women daring to voice their wrongs in the very sanctuary of male exclusiveness, the uniformed guardians of the shrine rushed forward to cleanse the sacred spot from such pollution. The women speakers were dragged from their extemporised rostrums and were pushed down the galleries leading from the Lobby towards the Abbey entrance, and with little consideration were spurned down the steps on to the pavement. I was one of those thus ejected. My arm was twisted up against my back by a very strong-muscled policeman, and when I was released at the bottom of the steps of Westminster Hall, and had recovered from the pain of the operation, I turned round and watched the unwilling exit of crowds of other women. At a certain moment in the proceedings I saw Mrs. Despard standing at the top of the steps with a policeman just behind her, and fearing that a woman of her age might be injured by the rough-and-tumble methods which the police, under orders, were executing, I called out to some of the Members and onlookers who were mixed with us women at the foot of the stairs: “Can you men stand by and see a venerable woman handled in the way in which we have just been handled?” I was not allowed to say more, for Inspector Jarvis (who, however. I cannot fail to recall was on many occasions an excellent friend of mine, and who I know was in many respects in sympathy with much of our militant action), remarked to two constables standing near: “Take Mrs. Montefiore in; she is one of the ringleaders.” This “taking me in” meant marching me between two stalwart policemen to Cannon Row police station, where I was placed in a fairly large room and was soon joined by groups of excited and dishevelled militants. This was the beginning, in London, of a form of militancy which I always deprecated, the resistance to the police when being arrested, and struggles with police in the streets. I held that our demonstrations were necessary, and of great use in educating an apathetic public, but for women who are physically weaker than men to pit their strength against police who are trained in the use of physical violence, was derogatory to our sex and useless, if not a hindrance; to the cause for which we stood. When, therefore, some of my younger friends and fellow-workers were pushed into the waiting-room at Cannon Row, with their hair down and often with their clothing torn, I did my best to make them once more presentable, so that we should not appear in the streets as a dishevelled and very excited group of women. I held then, and have never ceased to hold the opinion, that even when demonstrating in the streets or when committing unconventional actions such as speaking in the Lobby of the House, we should always be able to control our voices and our actions and behave as ladies, and that we should gain much more support from the general public by carrying out this line of action. I should like to state here that I personally, except during the Lobby incident, never had to complain of the attitude of the police towards myself. In fact, I often found them helpful and sympathetic, as I shall have occasion later to relate.

After we had all been charged, and while stared at by special police, who were called in to identify us in case of future trouble, we were released on the understanding that we were to appear at the Westminster Court on the following morning. There we found that the charge against us was that of using “violent and abusive language.” Of course, every prisoner must be charged for some definite offence, and as the authorities could not discover that we had committed any of the definite offences in the criminal code, but had only begun to make speeches asking for votes for women, they put down the charge at random as that of “using violent and abusive language.” Each of us was asked in turn what we had to say in answer to the charge, and as I had with me the banner that had hung in front of my house during the “income tax siege,” I held it up first to the Magistrate and then for the Court to see. On it was inscribed: “Women should vote for the laws they obey and the taxes they pay.” A constable snatched the banner from me and the proceedings continued. When the police, being asked for evidence of the breach of the laws which we had committed, were questioned definitely as to what they had heard, they each repeated that we had “asked for votes for women.” Their intellectual equipment was not equal to the task of repeating any of the arguments we had begun to unfold in the Lobby, but “Votes for Women” having by this time become a slogan, they were able to repeat that one sentence, though none of them looked particularly smart or happy as they did so. The proceedings were entirely farcical. The Magistrate consulted with others around him and tried to look very solemn and we were told that we were each to be bound over in the sum of £10 to keep the peace in future. This we all of us refused to do, as we did not consider we had broken the peace, or committed any offence for which we should be bound over. It was then explained to us that the alternative was two months’ imprisonment, and this alternative we accepted. We were once more taken from the Court and shut into a fair-sized room, where we were to be allowed to see friends and relatives, before being taken off to Holloway. As I, with the others, was leaving the Court, I said to the constable who was shepherding us, “I’m sorry to have lost that banner; it hung outside my house during the whole of the Hammersmith siege.” He grinned, but did not appear to be unfriendly, and as we filed into the room within the precincts of the Court, where we had to await “Black Maria,” he pushed the banner into my hands, and said: “It’s all right; here’s your banner.” As my daughter was married and not at the moment in very good health, I did not wish to add to her sufferings on my behalf by sending a summons asking her to come and see me at the Court. My son was working in an engineering business at Rochester and I also wished to save him from more trouble than I realised he was bound to have on my behalf. My brothers and sisters were mostly apathetic about, or hostile to my militant work, so I determined to send for no one of my own relatives, but I was surrounded by many good friends and fellow-workers who had come to give us a word of cheer. Towards evening “Black Maria” arrived at the Court and we were driven off to Holloway. “Black Maria” is a somewhat springless vehicle divided into compartments, so each prisoner is separated, though it is possible to speak to the prisoners immediately around one. It is used for conveying night after night the sweepings of the streets in the shape of drunkards and prostitutes from the Courts where they have been convicted, to Holloway Gaol. It can therefore be understood that it is neither a desirable nor a wholesome vehicle in which to travel. On arrival at Holloway we were each placed in some sort of sentry boxes with seats, and the woman who acted as receiving wardress opened one door after another and took down the details connected with the charge, and the status of the prisoner. She was of decided Irish extraction and the questions she put to us each in succession were to this effect: “Now then, gurrl, stand up! What’s your name, what’s your age, how do you get your livin’?” etc. etc. When all these questions had been answered to the satisfaction of this lady, we were told to leave our compartments and stand in a passage, where we were ordered to strip to our chemises or combinations and then to await further orders. The next scene was taking down our hair and searching rather perfunctorily our heads for possible undesirable inhabitants, after which a prison chemise, made of a sort of sacking, and generously stamped with the broad arrow, was handed to each of us, and I found myself exchanging my warm wool and silk combinations for this decidedly chilly and ungainly garment. The bath ordeal was not serious; we had only to stand in a few inches of doubtful-looking warm water and then put on the various articles of prison clothing provided for us. Each of us had a flannel petticoat made with enormous pleats round the waist, a dress of green serge made on the same ample lines and an apron, a check duster, which we were told was the handkerchief supplied, and a small green cape made with a hood, for out-door exercise, and a white linen cap tied under the chin. Thus arrayed our little party consisting of Mrs. How Martyn, Miss Irene Miller, Miss Billington, Miss Gauthorp, Mrs. Baldock, Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, Miss Annie Kenney, Miss Adela Pankhurst, Mrs. Cobden Saunderson and myself, met in one of the passages where our yellow badges bearing the numbers under which we were each to be known while in prison were handed out to us. We then underwent another and more detailed interrogatory, in which came the question: “What religion?” When I replied “Freethinker,” the wardress remarked “Free-what?” “That is no religion, you will be Protestant as long as you remain here”; and part of my description card fastened outside my cell contained the word “Prot.” We were then shut up in our respective cells with a cup of cocoa and a piece of bread and left for the night.

Much was written at the time about Holloway and the conditions under which prisoners lived during the time they were working out their sentences, and as I believe that something has been done to improve conditions since we militants made our protest by allowing ourselves to be imprisoned there, I want to put on record quite dispassionately and as of historical interest the sort of cells and the sort of surroundings accorded to women prisoners in October, 1906.

The cells had a cement floor, whitewashed walls and a window high up so that one could not see out of it. It was barred outside and the glass was corrugated so that one could not even get a glimpse of the sky; and the only sign of outside life was the occasional flicker of the shadow of a bird as it flew outside across the window. The furnishing of the cell consisted of a wooden plank bed stood up against the wall, a mattress rolled up in one corner, two or three tin vessels, a cloth for cleaning and polishing and some bath brick. On the shelf were a Bible, a wooden spoon, a salt cellar, and one other book whose name I forget, but I remember glancing into it and thinking it would appeal to the intelligence of a child of eight. There was also a stool without a back, and inside the mattress when unrolled for the night and placed on the wooden stretcher were two thin blankets, a pillow and some rather soiled-looking sheets. One tin utensil was for holding water, the second for sanitary purposes, and the third was a small tin mug for holding cocoa. A bell was rung early in the morning for us to get up, when our cell doors were unlocked and were left open while we emptied slops and cleaned out our cells. I may mention in passing that only one cloth was provided for cleaning the sanitary tin pail, the water container and the tin mug, and these all had to be polished with bath-brick, and placed in certain positions in readiness for cell inspection. Breakfast consisted of cocoa and a good-sized hunk of brown bread (excellent in quality), but what was called cocoa turned black in the tin mug and I could not drink it, so I breakfasted every day on brown bread and cold water. After breakfast came cell inspection, attendance at Church, exercise in the prison yard and visits from the schoolmistress, padre or parson. The service in the Protestant Church which I had to attend was rather a pitiful function, for one then could see the faces of the hundreds of derelict women with whom one was hounded. The majority were women who passed more of their life in prison, than outside it; they had evidently lost what little will-power they may once have had, but uncontrolled emotion still remained and when a hymn that appeal to them was sung, their poor faces would twitch spontaneously, the tears would roll down their cheeks and they would rock back and forth in their seats. A few young women were there, looking mostly hard and brazen and one could not help speculating if, under present social conditions, they would not in thirty or forty years’ time become hardened criminals such as the elder women I saw around. In the course of the first morning the door of my cell was flung open by the wardress who announced: “Roman Catholic Chaplain, stand up!” I looked round from my seat to see a pleasant-faced young Catholic priest, who held in his hand some newspaper cuttings. “This is only an informal visit,” he announced with a smile, “I thought you might like to see some of the newspaper cuttings and pictures about yourself, so I am visiting you and your friends to show them and to have a chat. This was the first intimation I had had that anybody in Holloway recognised the particular conditions under which we had been arrested and brought here. We were treated by all the wardresses as if we were ordinary prisoners such as the thieves and prostitutes with whom we were surrounded. But this Roman Catholic Padre had a very human streak in his composition and he not only understood, but he wished us to realise that he understood that we were fighting for an ideal, and that this acceptance of the conditions of ordinary imprisonment was part of the unpleasantness of the fight in which we were engaged. The Protestant parson I found much less understanding, and as he really bored me, I let him understand that his visits were not altogether acceptable. On the second morning of prison life the wardress flung open the door of the cell announcing: “Schoolmistress, stand up!” I never took any notice of this last injunction, but used to peep round the corner to see who was coming in. A pleasant-faced woman appeared who stood in the doorway and asked: “Can you read and write?” A devil of mischief took hold of me and I replied almost shamefacedly and in a low voice: “A little.” “Because if not,” she went on briskly, “you can attend the school classes every day for an hour.” “Oh,” I replied with rather more interest, “should I be allowed to teach in the school? I can do that much better than sewing these sacks which I do not know how to do and which are making my hands quite sore.” “No,” she replied, “during the first month of a prisoner’s time she is not allowed to work outside her cell at anything.” This crushed my hopes in the schoolroom direction and I had to return to the making of mail bags, which I believe are made with jute and are certainly sewn with very large needles and with wax thread. I got through my tasks in this direction very slowly and often had to work at night, when otherwise I might have had a chance of reading.

The prison clothing granted by King Edward VII for the use of prisoners during their sojourn at Holloway was, I found, lacking in half sizes, or perhaps, also in outsizes. The skirt of my dress, though it would be quite fashionable nowadays, was unfashionable in 1906, because it reached barely below my knees, and the stockings provided were of the quality worn by schoolboys and boy scouts, and they reached barely to my knees also. As no garters or suspenders were allowed, the problem I found for me and for other imprisoned suffragists was how to keep these stockings up while we marched in single file round and round the prison yard. I used to make continual vicious grabs at these detestable stockings, but unfortunately these stoppages to give a grab broke up the regularity of the march and the wardress in charge would shout: “Now, then, number …. keep up with the rest.” On a wet morning the yard would have little pools and puddles all over it, and as my stockings slipped down over my ankles they would become wet and muddy and even more difficult to control; so at last I gave the whole matter up as a bad job and marched round the yard “under bare poles.” Irene Miller, who saw and sympathised with my difficulties, whispered to me as we passed in from the prison yard returning to our cells: “Cheer up, I am knitting in my cell and I will knit you a pair of garters.” This she did, and passed them to me the next morning whilst we were cleaning our cells.

(10) In her book My Part in a Changing World, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence described why she left the WSPU.

Mrs. Pankhurst met us with the announcement that she and Christabel had determined upon a new kind of campaign. Henceforward she said there was to be a widespread attack upon public and private property… This project came as a shock to us both. We considered it sheer madness to throw away the immense publicity and propaganda value of our present policy… They were wrong in supposing that a more revolutionary form of militancy, which attacks directed more and more on the property of individuals, would strengthen the movement and bring it to more speedy victory.

Emmeline Pankhurst agreed with Christabel… Excitement, drama and danger were the conditions in which her temperament found full scope. She had the qualities of a leader on the battlefield… The idea of a 'civil war' which Mrs. Pankhurst outlined in Boulogne and declared a few months later was repellent to me.

(11) In her book Memories of a Militant, Annie Kenney explained the use of the hunger strike.

In 1909 Wallace Dunlop went to prison and defied the long sentences that were being given by adopting the hunger-strike. 'Release or Death' was her motto. From that day, July 5th, 1909, the hunger-strike was the greatest weapon we possessed against the Government… before long all Suffragette prisoners were on hunger-strike, so the threat to pass long sentences on us had failed. Sentences grew shorter.

(12) William Stead, The Review of Reviews (June, 1910)

Saturday, June 18th, promises to be a memorable day in the history of Woman's Suffrage. Since the General Election the militants have postponed the threatened resumption of warlike tactics in order to give a fair opportunity to the tactics of ordinary peaceful, law-abiding demonstration. They are as keen as ever for admission within the pale of the Constitution, but they have been told that after 480 of their number have proved the sincerity of their enthusiasm by going to gaol there is no need now for anything more sensational than a great procession through the streets of London and a united demonstration in Albert Hall. Although the older, not to say the ancient, Union which bore the burden and heat of the day before the advent of the Suffragettes is not to be officially represented in the procession - much to our regret - most of their members will probably be in the ranks. This is emphatically an occasion on which all advocates for woman's emancipation should sink their differences and present a united front to the enemy. I sincerely hope that all my Helpers and Associates who may be in town will not fail to fall into line and spare no effort to make the procession of June 18th one of those memorable demonstrations of political earnestness which leave an indelible impression on the public mind. That the Women will obtain enfranchisement in this Parliament I do not venture to hope. But the days of the present Parliament are numbered, and the prospects of success in the next will largely depend on the impression of orderly, well-disciplined enthusiasm which London will receive from this midsummer procession.

(13) Charles Mansell-Moullin, The Daily Mirror (22nd November, 1910)

I notice in your account of the reception given to the deputation from the W.S.P.U. to the Prime Minister on Friday last it is stated that the police behaved with great good temper, tact, and restraint.

This may have been the case on previous occasions on which deputations have been sent; on the present one it is absolutely untrue.

The women were treated with the greatest brutality. They were pushed about in all directions and thrown down by the police. Their arms were twisted until they were almost broken. Their thumbs were forcibly bent back, and they were tortured in other nameless ways that made one feel sick at the sight.

I was there myself and saw many of these things done. The photographs that were published in your issue of November 19 prove it. And I have since seen the fearful bruises, showing the marks of the fingers, caused by the violence with which these women were treated.

These things were done by the police. There were in addition organised bands of well-dressed roughs who charged backwards and forwards through the deputation like a football team without any attempt being made to stop them by the police; but they contented themselves with throwing the women down and trampling upon them.

As this behaviour on the part of the police is an entirely new departure, it would be interesting to know who issued the instructions that they were to act with such brutality, and who organised the bands of roughs who suddenly sprang up on all sides from nowhere.

The Home Secretary, who does not want women arrested, is credited with the statement that he had devised a new method of putting a stop to deputations. Is this the method?

The women were discharged without a trial by the Secretary of State on the grounds of public policy. Is it public policy that there should be no trial and that the evidence which might otherwise have some out should be suppressed in this way?

(14) In his book An Autobiography, Philip Snowden criticised the WSPU.

So long as these women confined their activities to such ingenuous performances as tying themselves to street lamps and park railings, throwing leaflets from the Gallery of the House on the heads of members, or getting themselves arrested for causing obstruction, the public were more amused than angry, though the opponents of women suffrage never failed to point to these antics as proof of the unfitness of women to vote. When they began to destroy property and risk the lives of others than themselves the public began to turn against them. The National Union of Woman's Suffrage Societies, whose gallant educational and constitutional work for women's freedom had been carried on for more than fifty years, publicly dissociated themselves from these terrorist activities.

(15) Bruce Glasier, diary entry (April, 1912)

The window smashing has roused great hostility against the women. No greater blunder could be conceived. Everything was looking favourably for the women's amendment to the Government Bill being carried. The last outbreak has however endangered all. It seems as if devised purposely to show that women are incapable of political restraint. My conviction is now and always has been that the Pankhursts have been the bane of the women's movement.

(16) Jane Sharp, letter to her daughter Evelyn Sharp (November, 1911)

Although I hope you will never go to prison, still, I feel I cannot any longer be so prejudiced, and must leave it to your better judgment. I have really been very unhappy about it and feel I have no right to thwart you, much as I should regret feeling that you were undergoing those terrible hardships. It has caused you as much pain as it has me, and I feel I can no longer think of my own feelings. I cannot write more, but you will be happy now, won't you.

(17) Evelyn Sharp, Unfinished Adventure (1933)

My opportunity came with a militant demonstration in Parliament Square on the evening of November 11, provoked by a more than usually cynical postponement of the Women's Bill, which was implied in a Government forecast of manhood suffrage. I was one of the many selected to carry out our new policy of breaking Government office windows, which marked a departure from the attitude of passive resistance that for five years had permitted all the violence to be used against us.

(18) Fran Abrams, Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003)

May Billinghurst does not feature prominently in the histories of the suffragette movement. She is not mentioned among its leaders, nor is she celebrated as one of its most notorious militants. Yet her image will be familiar to those who have studied the many photographs taken at suffragette parades and demonstrations. Partially paralysed since childhood, she is often placed at the forefront of the picture with the purple, white and green colours flying proudly from her wheelchair.

May Billinghurst played two important roles within the movement to which she devoted her life for seven years. First, she was one of the many workers who kept the local branches of the Women's Social and Political Union running from day to day. Her duties ranged from organising bazaars and acting as assistant in the local WSPU shop to ensuring a good turn-out for all-important national demonstrations. In later years they even extended to pouring noxious substances into letter-boxes. But her second and perhaps more intriguing function was the one for which she was known to her comrades, in the parlance of the times, as "The Cripple Suffragette". May Billinghurst was no fool. She knew full well, and so did the leaders of the WSPU, that her hand-propelled invalid tricycle gave her a special advantage in the propaganda battle they were waging. It made it difficult, if not impossible, for the media to portray May as a howling harridan with little care for the safety of others. At its least effective the sight of her at a demonstration was a picturesque one, commented on lightly along with other aspects of the pageantry of the day. At best, it served to underline in bold the brutal tactics of the police and the vulnerability of the suffragette demonstrators.

A close look at the way May Billinghurst's disability was used by the WSPU, with her full and informed acquiescence, can tell us much about the movement's skill with spin. For although her appearance of physical frailty was accentuated by her wheelchair, the message she carried was essentially the same as those of other suffragette demonstrators: "Look at us. We are compromising both our delicate physiques and our ladylike demeanour for our cause. We are doing this because we have been left with no alternative." In committing acts which were socially unacceptable the suffragettes asked the public to recognise their desperation, their vulnerability.

(19) Charles Mansell-Moullin, speech at Kingway Hall (18th March, 1913)

Last summer there were 102 Suffragettes in prison; 90 of those were being forcibly fed. All sorts of reports were being spread about what was being done to them. We got up a petition to the Home Secretary, we wrote him letters, we interviewed him so far as we could. We got absolutely no information of any kind that was satisfactory; nothing but evasion. So three of us formed ourselves into a committee - Sir Victor Horsley, Dr. Agnes Savill, and myself, and we determined that we would investigate these cases as thoroughly as we could. I don't want to be conceited, but we had the idea that we had sufficient experience in public and hospital practice and in private practice to be able to examine those persons, to take their evidence, to weigh it fully, and to consider it. And we drew up a report, and that report was published in The Lancet and in the British Medical, at the end of August last year.

We stand by that report. There is not a single thing in that report that we wish to withdraw. There are some few things that we might put more strongly now than we did then. Everything that has happened since has merely strengthened what we said, and has confirmed what we predicted would happen.

Now Mr. McKenna has said time after time that forcible feeding, as carried out in His Majesty's prisons, is neither dangerous nor painful. Only the other day he said, in answer to an obviously inspired question as to the possibility of a lady suffering injury from the treatment she received in prison, "I must wait until a case arises in which any person has suffered any injury from her treatment in prison." I got those words from The Times - of course, they may not be correctly reported. Well, of course, Mr. McKenna has no personal knowledge. Mr. McKenna has never, as far as I know, made any enquiry for himself, nor do I think if he did it would have had any effect one way or the other. He relies entirely upon reports that are made to him - reports that must come from the prison officials, and go through the Home Office to him, and his statements are entirely founded upon those reports. I have no hesitation in saying that these reports, if they justify the statements that Mr. McKenna has made, are absolutely untrue. They not only deceive the public, but from the persistence with which they are got up in the same sense, they must be intended to deceive the public.

I don't wish to exonerate Mr. McKenna in the least. He has had abundant opportunity - in fact, it has been forced upon his notice - of ascertaining the falsehood of these statements, and if he goes on repeating them after having been told time after time by all sorts of people that they are not correct, he makes himself responsible for them whether they are true or not. And in his own statements in the House of Commons he has given sufficient evidence of his frame of mind with regard to this subject. Time after time has he told the Members of the House that there was no pain or injury, and almost in the same breath - certainly in the same evening - he has told how one of these prisoners has had to be turned out at a moment's notice, carried away in some vehicle or other, and attended by a prison doctor, to save her life. One or other of these statements must be absolutely untrue.

Now I come to the question of pain. Mr. McKenna says that there is none. Let me read you an account of how they manage. Of course, the prison cells are ranged down either side of a corridor. All the doors are opened when this business is going to begin, so that nothing may be lost. "From 4:30 until 8:30 I heard the most dreadful screams and yells coming from the cells." This is the statement of a prisoner whom I know and who I know does not exaggerate: "I had never heard human beings being tortured before... I sat on my chair with my fingers in my ears for the greater part of that endless four hours. My heart was thumping against my ribs, as I sat listening to the procession of the doctors and wardresses as they came to and fro, and passed from cell to cell, and the groans and cries of those who were being fed, until at last the procession paused at my door. My turn had come."

That is a statement. I hope none of you has ever been so unfortunate as to be compelled to listen to the screams of a person when you are yourself in perfect health - the screams of a person in agony, screams gradually getting worse and worse, and then, at last, when the person's strength is becoming exhausted, dying down and ending in a groan. That is bad enough when you are strong and well, but if you come to think that these prisoners hear those screams in prison, that they are the screams of their friends, that they are helpless, that they know those screams are being caused by pain inflicted without the slightest necessity - I am not exaggerating in the least, I am giving you a plain statement of what goes on in His Majesty's prisons at the present time - then it becomes a matter upon which it is exceedingly difficult to speak temperately.

Then they say there is no danger. In one instance - that of an unresisting prisoner in Winson Gaol, Birmingham - there is no question but that the food was driven down into the lungs. The operation was

stopped by severe choking and persistent coughing. All night the prisoner could not sleep or lie down on account of great pain in her chest. She was hastily released next day, so ill that the authorities when discharging her obliged her to sign a statement that she left the prison at her own risk. On reaching home she was found to be suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy, caused from fluid being poured into her lungs. The same thing happened only the other day in the case of Miss Lenton. Fortunately, she is steadily recovering, and the Home Secretary may congratulate himself that these two cases - there have been others - are recovering, and that there will not have to be an inquest.

Then with regard to Miss Lenton. The Home Secretary wrote that she was reported by the medical officer of Holloway Prison to be in a state of collapse, and in imminent danger of death consequent upon her refusal to take food. This statement is not true. "Three courses were open - to leave her to die; to attempt to feed her forcibly, which the medical officer advised would probably entail death; and to release her on her undertaking to surrender herself at the further hearing of her case." That implied that she was not forcibly fed. She had been, but that fact was suppressed - suppressed by the Home Secretary in the statement he published in the newspapers, suppressed because the cause of her illness was forcible feeding. That has been proved absolutely.

As regards the moral and mental deterioration that has been already alluded to by Mr. Forbes Robertson and Mr. Bernard Shaw, I will only say this one thing. It shows itself everywhere where forcible feeding is practised. It shows itself in the prisons, where the medical officers, I am sorry to say, have on more than one occasion laughed and made stupid jokes about "stuffing turkeys at Christmas." It shows itself in the prison officials, in the reports they have drawn up. It shows itself in the Home Secretary in the untrue statements that he has published and the evasions that he has made; and it shows itself, too, in the ribald laughter and obscene jokes with which the so-called gentlemen of the House of Commons received the accounts of these tortures.

(20) Manchester Guardian (11th March, 1914)

At the National Gallery, yesterday morning, the famous Rokeby Venus, the Velasquez picture which eight years ago was bought for the nation by public subscription for £45,000, was seriously damaged by a militant suffragist connected with the Women's Social and Political Union. The immediate occasion of the outrage was the rearrest of Mrs Pankhurst at Glasgow on Monday.

Yesterday was a public day at the National Gallery. The woman, producing a meat chopper from her muff or cloak, smashed the glass of the picture, and rained blows upon the back of the Venus. A police officer was at the door of the room, and a gallery attendant also heard the smashing of the glass. They rushed towards the woman, but before they could seize her she had made seven cuts in the canvas.

(21) The Daily Mirror (25th May, 1914)

There is no longer any need for the militants to wear their colours or their badges. Fanaticism has set its seal upon their faces and left a peculiar expression which cannot be mistaken. Nowadays, indeed, any observant person can pick out a suffragette in a crowd of other women. They have nursed a grievance for so long that they seem resentful of anyone who is happy and contented and appear to be exceptionally bitter against the members of their own sex who do not support their policy of outrage.

(22) Fran Abrams, Freedom's Cause: Lives of the Suffragettes (2003)

It was the start of a cloak-and-dagger existence that lasted for more than two years. Each Friday, heavily disguised, Annie would take the boat-train via La Havre. Sundays were devoted to work but on Saturdays the two would walk along the Seine or visit the Bois de Boulogne. Annie took instructions from Christabel on every little point - which organiser should be placed where, circular letters, fund-raising, lobbying MPs. When she arrived back in London a bulky letter would already be on its way to her with yet more instructions. There was such resentment within the union about Annie's new position that she earned herself the nickname "Christabel's Blotting Paper". Annie found this amusing, and took to signing her letters to Christabel, "The Blotter".

During the week Annie worked all day at the union's Clement's Inn headquarters, then met militants at her flat at midnight to discuss illegal actions. Christabel had ordered an escalation of militancy, including the burning of empty houses, and it fell to Annie to organise these raids. She did not enjoy this work, nor did she agree with it. She did it because Christabel asked her to, she said later. None the less, it fell to her to ensure that each arsonist left home with the proper equipment - cotton wool, a small bottle of paraffin, wood shavings and matches. "Combustibles" were stored by Annie in hiding places from where they could be retrieved when needed, and a sympathetic analytical chemist, Edwy Clayton, was engaged to advise on suitable places for attack. In addition to supplying a list of government offices, cotton mills and other buildings, he carried out experiments for the women on chemicals suitable for making explosives. Annie was very upset when he was later arrested and convicted of conspiracy on the basis of papers he had sent to her sister Jessie.

The fun was going out of the movement for Annie. Christabel had left a gap in her life, and the departure of the Pethick-Lawrences soon afterwards in a dispute over the direction of the union was a further blow. Annie was forced to choose between two people she loved more than any others - Christabel and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. She followed Christabel, as she always had.

(23) Rebecca Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (2007)

The WSPU attracted a high proportion of single women, with almost all the full-time organisers and 63 per cent of those making donations in 1913-1914 being unmarried. For some single women who were attracted to other women, such as the suffragette Micky Jacob, the movement encouraged them to consider new options: "Looking back, I think that the Suffragettes helped me to - get free. I met women who worked, women who had ambitions, and some who had gratified those ambitions. I looked at my own position, and began to think and think hard." (Me: A Chronicle About Other People, 1933)

Others met partners and lovers through the movement. The composer Ethel Smyth, who contributed the suffrage anthem, The March of the Women, was well known for her attraction to other women and may have had an affair with Emmeline Pankhurst. Edy Craig and Christopher St John (Christabel Marshall), who lived together for forty-eight years from 1899 until Edy's death, were also active in the WSPU.

(24) In her book Unshackled, Christabel Pankhurst explained how she responded to the news in 1914 that Britain and Germany were at war.

War was the only course for our country to take. This was national militancy. As Suffragettes we could not be pacifists at any price. Mother and I declared support of our country. We declared an armistice with the Government and suspended militancy for the duration of the war. We offered our service to the country and called upon all members to do likewise. As Mother said, 'What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!'. Mother seemed for the time to dismiss her ill-health in her ardour for the national cause. She spoke to Servicemen on the war front and to Servicewomen on the home front. She called for wartime military conscription for men, believing that this was democratic and equitable, and that it would enable a more ordered and effective use of the nation's man power.