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My Own Story (1914)
- The closing paragraphs of this book were written in the late summer of 1914, when the armies of every great power in Europe were being mobilised for savage, unsparing, barbarous warfare—against one another, against small and unaggressive nations, against helpless women and children, against civilisation itself. How mild, by comparison with the despatches in the daily newspapers, will seem this chronicle of women's militant struggle against political and social injustice in one small corner of Europe. Yet let it stand as it was written, with peace—so-called, and civilisation, and orderly government as the background for heroism such as the world has seldom witnessed. The militancy of men, through all the centuries, has drenched the world with blood, and for these deeds of horror and destruction men have been rewarded with monuments, with great songs and epics. The militancy of women has harmed no human life save the lives of those who fought the battle of righteousness. Time alone will reveal what reward will be allotted to the women. (Foreword)
- Those men and women are fortunate who are born at a time when a great struggle for human freedom is in progress. It is an added good fortune to have parents who take a personal part in the great movements of their time. I am glad and thankful that this was my case. (Ch 1)
- One of my earliest recollections is of a great bazaar which was held in my native city of Manchester, the object of the bazaar being to raise money to relieve the poverty of the newly emancipated negro slaves in the United States.... Young as I was—I could not have been older than five years—I knew perfectly well the meaning of the words slavery and emancipation. From infancy I had been accustomed to hear pro and con discussions of slavery and the American Civil War. Although the British government finally decided not to recognise the Confederacy, public opinion in England was sharply divided on the questions both of slavery and of secession. Broadly speaking, the propertied classes were pro-slavery, but there were many exceptions to the rule. Most of those who formed the circle of our family friends were opposed to slavery, and my father... was always a most ardent abolitionist. (Ch. 1)
- Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," was so great a favourite with my mother that she used it continually as a source of bedtime stories for our fascinated ears. Those stories, told almost fifty years ago, are as fresh in my mind to-day as events detailed in the morning's papers. Indeed they are more vivid, because they made a much deeper impression on my consciousness. I can still definitely recall the thrill I experienced every time my mother related the tale of Eliza's race for freedom over the broken ice of the Ohio River, the agonizing pursuit, and the final rescue at the hands of the determined old Quaker. Another thrilling tale was the story of a negro boy's flight from the plantation of his cruel master... throughout my childhood, whenever I rode in a train, I thought of that poor runaway slave escaping from the pursuing monster.
These stories, with the bazaars and the relief funds and subscriptions of which I heard so much talk, I am sure made a permanent impression on my brain and my character. They awakened in me the two sets of sensations to which all my life I have most readily responded: first, admiration for that spirit of fighting and heroic sacrifice by which alone the soul of civilisation is saved; and next after that, appreciation of the gentler spirit which is moved to mend and repair the ravages of war. (Ch. 1)
- The rest of the story reveals one of those ghastly blunders which justice not infrequently makes. Although the shooting was done without any intent to kill, the men were tried for murder and three of them were found guilty and hanged.... I was transfixed with horror, and over me there swept the sudden conviction that that hanging was a mistake—worse, a crime. It was my awakening to one of the most terrible facts of life—that justice and judgment lie often a world apart. I relate this incident of my formative years to illustrate the fact that the impressions of childhood often have more to do with character and future conduct than heredity or education. I tell it also to show that my development into an advocate of militancy was largely a sympathetic process. I have not personally suffered from the deprivations, the bitterness and sorrow which bring so many men and women to a realisation of social injustice. My childhood was protected by love and a comfortable home. Yet, while still a very young child, I began instinctively to feel that there was something lacking, even in my own home, some false conception of family relations, some incomplete ideal.
- The education of the English boy, then as now, was considered a much more serious matter than the education of the English boy's sister. My parents, especially my father, discussed the question of my brothers' education as a matter of real importance. My education and that of my sister were scarcely discussed at all. Of course we went to a carefully selected girls' school, but beyond the facts that the head mistress was a gentlewoman and that all the pupils were girls of my own class, nobody seemed concerned. A girl's education at that time seemed to have for its prime object the art of "making home attractive"—presumably to migratory male relatives. It used to puzzle me to understand why I was under such a particular obligation to make home attractive to my brothers.
- ... one night when I lay in my little bed waiting for sleep to overtake me. It was a custom of my father and mother to make the round of our bedrooms every night before going themselves to bed. When they entered my room that night I was still awake, but for some reason I chose to feign slumber. My father bent over me, shielding the candle flame with his big hand. I cannot know exactly what thought was in his mind as he gazed down at me, but I heard him say, somewhat sadly, "What a pity she wasn't born a lad."
My first hot impulse was to sit up in bed and protest that I didn't want to be a boy, but I lay still and heard my parents' footsteps pass on toward the next child's bed. I thought about my father's remark for many days afterward, but I think I never decided that I regretted my sex. However, it was made quite clear that men considered themselves superior to women, and that women apparently acquiesced in that belief. (Ch. 1)
- The following year (1886) found us living in London, and, as usual, interesting ourselves with labour matters and other social movements. This year was memorable for a great strike of women working in the Bryant and May match factories. I threw myself into this strike with enthusiasm, working with the girls and with some women of prominence, among these the celebrated Mrs. Annie Besant. The strike was a successful one, the girls winning substantial improvements in their working conditions. (Ch. 2)
- It was a time of tremendous unrest, of labour agitations, of strikes and lockouts. It was a time also when a most stupid reactionary spirit seemed to take possession of the Government and the authorities. The Salvation Army, the Socialists, the trade-unionists—in fact, all bodies holding outdoor meetings—were made special objects of attack. As a protest against this policy a Law and Liberty League was formed in London, and an immense Free Speech meeting was held in Trafalgar Square... I was present at this meeting, which resulted in a bloody riot between the police and the populace. The Trafalgar Square Riot is historic, and to it Mr. John Burns owes, in large part, his subsequent rise to political eminence. Both John Burns and Cunningham Graham served prison sentences for the part they played in the riot, but they gained fame, and they did much to establish the right of free speech for English men. English women are still contending for that right.
- The first time I went into the place I was horrified to see little girls seven and eight years old on their knees scrubbing the cold stones of the long corridors ... bronchitis was epidemic among them most of the time ... I found that there were pregnant women in that workhouse, scrubbing floors, doing the hardest kind of work, almost until their babies came into the world ... Of course the babies are very badly protected ... These poor, unprotected mothers and their babies I am sure were potent factors in my education as a militant. (Book I, Ch. 2)
- The campaign of 1907 began with a Women's Parliament, called together on February 13th in Caxton Hall, to consider the provisions of the King's speech, which had been read in the national Parliament on the opening day of the session, February 12th. The King's speech, as I have explained, is the official announcement of the Government's programme for the session. When our Women's Parliament met at three o'clock on the afternoon of the thirteenth we knew that the Government meant to do nothing for women during the session ahead.... I presided over the women's meeting, which was marked with a fervency and a determination of spirit at that time altogether unprecedented. A resolution expressing indignation that woman suffrage should have been omitted from the King's speech, and calling upon the House of Commons to give immediate facilities to such a measure, was moved and carried. A motion to send the resolution from the hall to the Prime Minister was also carried. The slogan, "Rise up, women," was cried from the platform, the answering shout coming back as from one woman, "Now!" With copies of the resolution in their hands, the chosen deputation hurried forth into the February dusk, ready for Parliament or prison, as the fates decreed. (Book II, Ch. 1)
- Fate did not leave them very long in doubt. The Government, it appeared, had decided that not again should their sacred halls of Parliament be desecrated by women asking for the vote, and orders had been given that would henceforth prevent women from reaching even the outer precincts of the House of Commons. So when our deputation of women arrived in the neighbourhood of Westminster Abbey they found themselves opposed by a solid line of police, who, at a sharp order from their chief, began to stride through and through the ranks of the procession, trying to turn the women back. Bravely the women rallied and pressed forward a little farther. Suddenly a body of mounted police came riding up at a smart trot, and for the next five hours or more, a struggle, quite indescribable for brutality and ruthlessness, went on. (Book II, Ch. 1)
- The horsemen rode directly into the procession, scattering the women right and left. But still the women would not turn back. Again and again they returned, only to fly again and again from the merciless hoofs. Some of the women left the streets for the pavements, but even there the horsemen pursued them, pressing them so close to walls and railings that they were obliged to retreat temporarily to avoid being crushed. Other strategists took refuge in doorways, but they were dragged out by the foot police and were thrown directly in front of the horses. Still the women fought to reach the House of Commons with their resolution. They fought until their clothes were torn, their bodies bruised, and the last ounce of their strength exhausted. Fifteen of them did actually fight their way through those hundreds on hundreds of police, foot and mounted, as far as the Strangers' Lobby of the House. Here they attempted to hold a meeting, and were arrested. Outside, many more women were taken into custody. It was ten o'clock before the last arrest was made, and the square cleared of the crowds. After that the mounted men continued to guard the approaches to the House of Commons until the House rose at midnight. (Book II, Ch. 1)
- We women have presented larger petitions in support of our enfranchisement than were ever presented for any other reform; we have succeeded in holding greater public meetings than men have ever held for any reform, in spite of the difficulty which women have in throwing off their natural diffidence, that desire to escape publicity which we have inherited from generations of our foremothers. We have broken through that. We have faced hostile mobs at street corners, because we were told that we could not have that representation for our taxes that men have won unless we converted the whole of the country to our side. Because we have done this, we have been misrepresented, we have been ridiculed, we have had contempt poured upon us, and the ignorant mob have been incited to offer us violence, which we have faced unarmed and unprotected by the safeguards which Cabinet Ministers enjoy. We have been driven to do this; we are determined to go on with this agitation because we feel in honour bound. Just as it was the duty of your forefathers, it is our duty to make the world a better place for women than it is to-day. (Book II, Ch. 3)
- I want to call attention to the self-restraint which was shown by our followers on the night of the 13th, after we had been arrested. Our rule has always been to be patient, exercise self-restraint, show our so-called superiors that we are not hysterical; to use no violence, but rather to offer ourselves to the violence of others. (Book II, Ch. 3)
- That is all I have to say to you, sir. We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers. (Book II, Ch. 3)
- My first act on reaching Holloway was to demand that the Governor be sent for. When he came I told him that the Suffragettes had resolved that they would no longer submit to being treated as ordinary law-breakers. In the course of our trial two Cabinet Ministers had admitted that we were political offenders, and therefore we should henceforth refuse to be searched or to undress in the presence of the wardresses. For myself I claimed the right, and I hoped the others would do likewise, to speak to my friends during exercise, or whenever I came in contact with them. The Governor, after reflection, yielded to the first two demands, but said that he would have to consult the Home Office before permitting us to break the rule of silence. We were accordingly allowed to change our clothing privately, and, as a further concession, were placed in adjoining cells. This was little advantage to me, however, since within a few days I was removed to a hospital cell, suffering from the illness which prison life always inflicts on me. (Book II, Ch. 4)
- I soon had the joy of seeing my daughter and the other brave comrades, and walking with them in the dismal courtyard of the prison. Single file we walked, at a distance of three or four feet from one another, back and forth under the stony eyes of the wardresses. The rough flags of the pavement hurt our feet, shod in heavy, shapeless prison boots. The autumn days were cold and cheerless, and we shivered violently under our scanty cloaks. But of all our hardships the ceaseless silence of our lives was worst. (Book II, Ch. 4)
- At the end of the second week I decided I would no longer endure it. That afternoon at exercise I suddenly called my daughter by name and bade her stand still until I came up to her. Of course she stopped, and when I reached her side we linked arms and began to talk in low tones. A wardress ran up to us, saying: "I shall listen to everything you say." I replied: "You are welcome to do that, but I shall insist on my right to speak to my daughter." Another wardress had hastily left the yard, and now she returned with a large number of wardresses. They seized me and quickly removed me to my cell, while the other suffrage prisoners cheered my action at the top of their voices. For their "mutiny" they got three days' solitary confinement, and I, for mine, a much more severe punishment. Unrepentant, I told the Governor that, in spite of any punishment he might impose on me, I would never again submit to the silence rule. To forbid a mother to speak to her daughter was infamous. For this I was characterised as a "dangerous criminal" and was sent into solitary confinement, without exercise or chapel, while a wardress was stationed constantly at my cell door to see that I communicated with no one. (Book II, Ch. 4)
- It was two weeks before I saw any of my friends again, and meantime the health of Mrs. Drummond had been so seriously impaired that she was released for hospital treatment. My daughter also, I learned, was ill, and in desperation I made application to the Board of Visiting Magistrates to be allowed to see her. After a long conference, during which I was made to wait outside in the corridor, the magistrates returned a refusal, saying that I might renew my application in a month... My anxiety sent me to bed ill again, but, although I did not know it, relief was already on its way. I had told the visiting magistrates that I would wait until public opinion got within those walls, and this happened sooner than I had dared to hope. Mrs. Drummond, as soon as she was able to appear in public, and the other suffrage prisoners, as they were released, spread broadcast the story of our mutiny, and of a subsequent one led by Miss Wallace Dunlop, which sent a large number of women into solitary confinement. The Suffragettes marched by thousands to Holloway, thronging the approaches to the prison street. Round and round the prison they marched, singing the Women's Marseillaise and cheering. Faintly the sound came to our ears, infinitely lightening our burden of pain and loneliness. The following week they came again, so we afterwards learned, but this time the police turned them back long before they reached the confines of the prison. (Book II, Ch. 4)
- I called upon the women of the meeting to join me in this new militancy, and I reminded them anew that the women who were fighting in the Suffragette army had a great mission, the greatest mission the world has ever known—the freeing of one-half the human race, and through that freedom the saving of the other half. I said to them: "Be militant each in your own way. Those of you who can express your militancy by going to the House of Commons and refusing to leave without satisfaction, as we did in the early days—do so. Those of you who can express militancy by facing party mobs at Cabinet Ministers' meetings, when you remind them of their[ falseness to principle—do so. Those of you who can express your militancy by joining us in our anti-Government by-election policy—do so. Those of you who can break windows—break them. Those of you who can still further attack the secret idol of property, so as to make the Government realise that property is as greatly endangered by women's suffrage as it was by the Chartists of old—do so. And my last word is to the Government: I incite this meeting to rebellion. (Book III, Ch. 3)
- I say to the Government: You have not dared to take the leaders of Ulster for their incitement to rebellion. Take me if you dare, but if you dare I tell you this, that so long as those who incited to armed rebellion and the destruction of human life in Ulster are at liberty, you will not keep me in prison. So long as men rebels—and voters—are at liberty, we will not remain in prison, first division or no first division." (Book III, Ch. 3)
- I ask my readers, some of whom no doubt will be shocked and displeased at these words of mine that I have so frankly set down, to put themselves in the place of those women who for years had given their lives entirely and unstintingly to the work of securing political freedom for women; who had converted so great a proportion of the electorate that, had the House of Commons been a free body, we should have won that freedom years before; who had seen their freedom withheld from them through treachery and misuse of power. I ask you to consider that we had used, in our agitation, only peaceful means until we saw clearly that peaceful means were absolutely of no avail, and then for years we had used only the mildest militancy, until we were taunted by Cabinet Ministers, and told that we should never get the vote until we employed the same violence that men had used in their agitation for suffrage. After that we had used stronger militancy, but even that, by comparison with the militancy of men in labour disputes, could not possibly be counted as violent. (Book III, Ch. 3)
- Our battles are practically over, we confidently believe. For the present at least our arms are grounded, for directly the threat of foreign war descended on our nation we declared a complete truce from militancy. What will come out of this European war—so terrible in its effects on the women who had no voice in averting it—so baneful in the suffering it must necessarily bring on innocent children—no human being can calculate. But one thing is reasonably certain, and that is that the Cabinet changes which will necessarily result from warfare will make future militancy on the part of women unnecessary. No future Government will repeat the mistakes and the brutality of the Asquith Ministry. None will be willing to undertake the impossible task of crushing or even delaying the march of women towards their rightful heritage of political liberty and social and industrial freedom. (Book III, Ch. 9)
Quotes about Pankhurst
- There has been no other woman like Emmeline Pankhurst. She was beautiful; her pale face, with its delicate square jaw and rounded temples, recalled the pansy by its shape and a kind of velvety bloom on the expression. She dressed her taut little body with a cross between the elegance of a Frenchwoman and the neatness of a nun. She was courageous; small and fragile and no longer young, she put herself in the way of horses' hooves, she stood up on platforms under a rain of missiles, she sat in the darkness of underground jails and hunger-struck, and when they let her out because she had starved herself within touching distance of death, she rested only for a day or two and then clambered back on to the platforms, she staggered back under the horses' hooves.
- Rebecca West, 'A Reed of Steel', The Post-Victorians (1933), p. 479
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