This unassuming middle-aged woman became one of Britain’s most notorious terrorists in her unyielding quest to win women the right to vote.
Cut Content: the US Suffrage Movement
Any coverage of the women’s suffrage movement would be incomplete without a mention of the virulent racism that was a hallmark of the US women’s suffrage movement. Leaders of that movement, notably Frances Willard, advocated for a separation of women’s voting rights along racial lines. They routinely lumped black women in the back of their parades and excluded even visionaries like Ida B Wells (also covered in this book) from active participation.
However, racism did not appear to be as big a factor in the UK suffragette movement, or the work of Emmeline Pankhurst. Notably, in 1913 Pankhurst traveled to Chicago (where she met Alice B. Clement) to give a talk to a mostly-black female audience, despite that being anathema to virtually all US suffragette groups at the time. In it she urged the audience to advocate for their own rights using the same tactics that other groups had.
Pankhurst also had a long history of torpedoing support for bills when it became clear that not every woman would get the vote – often splintering the party in the process. Granted, the “not every woman” clauses in question made distinctions along the lines of class and marital status as opposed to race, but given her support of black women, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine her yanking support if such a clause had been introduced. In the end, the 1918 UK bill that granted women the right to vote made no distinctions on racial lines (but did on class ones).
Emmeline Pankhurst was an incredibly divisive person, there’s no doubt. It is not without basis to call her a tyrant, a terrorist, a prude, a hypocrite, or a jerk. But there is not much evidence that she, specifically, was racist – and even some evidence to the opposite.