Thousands gathered to celebrate the work done by the pioneering suffragette in achieving voting rights for British women.
Not even the bitter Manchester cold could stop the crowds who gathered in the city to celebrate the unveiling of a bronze statue of Emmeline Pankhurst.
They came in their thousands, wearing sashes bearing suffragette slogans and the purple and green colours of the movement Pankhurst spearheaded. The bronze figure of the suffragette standing on top of a chair and delivering one of her trademark rousing speeches was designed by artist Hazel Reeves. And it was Reeves and Pankhurst’s great-granddaughter Helen Pankhurst, who led the 6,000 people – including a thousand schoolchildren – who turned out in support in a march through the city.
The choice of date was significant: 100 years ago today the first women received the right to vote in the UK. Full voting rights for all women were not extended in the UK until 1928.
The statue was funded with £200,000 from the Government Equalities Office. Pankhurst was chosen three years ago after a public vote to decide which woman would receive the honour.
Novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and Labour cabinet minister Ellen Wilkinson were considered, but ultimately Pankhurst won out. Her statue is only the second to feature a woman in the entirety of Manchester city. (The other female statue features Queen Victoria.)
“I’m proud of Manchester’s role in the history of women’s suffrage,” Minister for Equalities Baroness Susan Williams said in a statement. “While it’s taken 100 years, I can’t think of a better choice than to honour Emmeline Pankhurst in this way.”
Pankhurst was born into a middle-class family in Manchester in 1858. Her parents Sophia and Robert were politically active, and Sophia in particular has been widely credited with introducing her daughter to the women’s suffrage movement. Aged 14, Pankhurst accompanied her mother to a talk by the suffragist Lydia Becker. Pankhurst would later write: “I left the meeting a conscious and confirmed suffragist.”
By the early 20th century, Pankhurst had grown frustrated with the suffragist groups that had coalesced under the banner of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1867. Their tactics, she believed, were too moderate, too slow-moving and too concerned with ‘respectability’.
Supported by several other women who had become disillusioned with the NUWSS, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in October 1903. Her elder daughters Christabel and Sylvia, then aged 23 and 21, also joined the group. From the beginning, the WSPU prioritised direct action. “Deeds,” Pankhurst later wrote, “not words, was to be our permanent motto.”
Some of her other iconic quotes include: “Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it.”
And this: “We women, in trying to make our case clear, always have to make as part of our argument, and urge upon men in our audience the fact – a very simple fact – that women are human beings.”