Emmeline Pankhurst by Central Press

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    Emmeline Pankhurst addressing a crowd in Trafalgar Square,    by Central Press,    October 1908,    NPG x131784,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragettes, invites a crowd of 3000 people to join the ‘votes for women’ campaign.
Emmeline Pankhurst addressing a crowd in Trafalgar Square
by Central Press
bromide press print, October 1908
7 in. x 8 7/8 in. (177 mm x 226 mm) image size
NPG x131784
© National Portrait Gallery, London
On display in Room 24 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) is best remembered as a Suffragettes A group of women who organised a campaign in the early 1900s for the right of women to vote in political elections. and leader of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) A women-only political movement and leading militant organisation campaigning for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom from 1903 to 1918. . With their motto, ‘deeds not words’, the WSPU led the Militant A person who uses, or is willing to use, force or strong pressure to achieve their aims, especially to achieve social or political change. campaign in the struggle to win votes for women.

In the mid 1800s, life in Britain for women was very different to today. There was very little education available to them, they could not work as doctors, lawyers or politicians. And, if they got married, everything belonged to their husband, including any money they earned and any property they owned.    

Women were also not allowed to vote in national elections. This meant they had no say in the important laws and decisions that affected their everyday lives.  

The campaign for Women’s suffrage The right of women to vote in political elections. was one of the most important movements in the long fight for Gender equality When people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. . It is a fight that is still going on today.  

The people who campaigned became known as Suffragist A person who campaigns for a group of people who do not have the right to vote in elections, in order to get this right for them. . More militant campaigners, like Pankhurst, became known as Suffragettes A group of women who organised a campaign in the early 1900s for the right of women to vote in political elections. .

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    Emmeline Pankhurst addressing a crowd in Trafalgar Square,    by Central Press,    October 1908,    NPG x131784,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Emmeline Pankhurst addressing a crowd in Trafalgar Square, by Central Press, October 1908

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?

    • Pankhurst is standing on the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, addressing a crowd of about 3000 people.
    • Her right arm and fist are raised, her mouth is open and her eyes are almost closed. Her Pose A particular position in which somebody stands or sits in order to be painted, drawn or photographed. and the expression on her face look lively and animated. 
    • She is giving a rousing speech to the crowd.
    • The photographer has caught her mid-speech, as she moves around the platform.
    • She is dressed in a long dark skirt, a long white coat with bell sleeves, a high-necked white blouse and a hat. These were conventional clothes for the time.
    • The Suffragettes A group of women who organised a campaign in the early 1900s for the right of women to vote in political elections. often wore long white dresses or coats. This helped them stand out in marches and other public events. They believed it was a symbol of purity and made them look respectable and dignified. 
  • Most of the people in the crowd are wearing hats, which was usual for the time. The hats and clothes give us clues about whether they are men, women or children and their social status:

    • There are men in flat caps who are likely to be working class.
    • There are men in bowler hats, straw hats – even a top hat, and smart suits who are likely to be relatively wealthy.
    • There are also women.
    • The men near the bottom left-hand-corner are wearing sailors’ uniforms.
    • The men at the front of the crowd are dressed in police uniforms.
    • There also appear to be some older children in the crowd.
    • People are listening to Pankhurst. Their eyes are mainly on her rather than each other or elsewhere. She appears to have their attention.
    • There are police officers at the front of the crowd. Perhaps they are worried the event will get out of hand or become violent. 
You have to make more noise than anybody else ... in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realised. 
Emmeline Pankhurst, 1913

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This photograph was taken on 11 October 1908. Photographers followed Pankhurst and her fellow Suffragettes A group of women who organised a campaign in the early 1900s for the right of women to vote in political elections. and photographed protests like this to publish in newspapers.
  • Pankhurst is asking the crowd to join her in a ‘rush’ on the House of Commons The part of Parliament whose members, MPs, are elected by the people of the country. , two days later. The plan was for thousands of people to push their way in and demand votes for women from the Prime Minister. 
  • Pankhurst was arrested before the ‘rush’ could take place and sent to Holloway Prison.
  • Photographs of the suffragettes and their activities were seen in newspapers all over the country. This helped to attract great attention to the ‘votes for women’ campaign.

Who was Emmeline Pankhurst?

  • In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) A women-only political movement and leading militant organisation campaigning for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom from 1903 to 1918. in Manchester, along with her daughters Christabel, Sylvia and Adela.
  • They vowed that the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) A women-only political movement and leading militant organisation campaigning for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom from 1903 to 1918. would do whatever it took to draw attention to the ‘votes for women’ campaign – even if that meant breaking the law. Their motto was ‘deeds not words’. The women involved in this more Militant A person who uses, or is willing to use, force or strong pressure to achieve their aims, especially to achieve social or political change. campaign became known as the ‘ Suffragettes A group of women who organised a campaign in the early 1900s for the right of women to vote in political elections. ’.  
  • The WSPU staged a wide range of protests. This included peaceful activities such as giving out leaflets, organising marches, giving speeches to large crowds, writing letters and signing Petition A written document signed by a large number of people that asks somebody in a position of authority to do or change something. to Parliament The group of people who are elected to make and change the laws of a country. .
  • They also staged disruptive and violent protests, and damaged public property. This included Heckling The act of interrupting a speaker at a public meeting. politicians, breaking windows and slashing paintings – including a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.
  • In 1913, WSPU member Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby as part of a protest.
  • Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes were arrested and sent to prison on many different occasions, where they suffered terrible treatment.
  • When the First World War broke out in 1914 all the imprisoned suffragettes were released. Pankhurst called for a temporary end to militant activities and asked her followers to support the war effort.
  • In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to wealthy women over 30.
  • Pankhurst died on 14 June 1928, shortly after women were granted equal voting rights with men.

Questions

  1. Why do you think people fought so hard to win equal voting rights for men and women?
  1. Do you think Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes wanted to have their photographs in the newspapers? Why?
  1. What do you think people reading the newspapers might have thought of the suffragettes?
  1. Is there a cause today that you believe in strongly?
  1. Would you be prepared to fight for it the way the suffragettes fought for the vote? Why?