The ending of the First World War in 1918 was also a momentous one for many British women, who, after shouldering their portion of the conflict and years of campaigning and protest, were finally granted their right to vote in parliamentary elections. As the centenary of this momentous victory for women’s suffrage approaches, Leonaur is publishing a series of books which highlight the struggle for women’s rights internationally. In Britain, the highest honours must be awarded to the leader of the suffrage movement in the early 20th century, Emmilene Pankhurst. This first book includes Emmilene Pankhurst’s story told in her own words, and is supplemented here by the text of one of her most notable speeches. Also included, to give modern readers a clearer perspective of the sacrifices women protestors made to establish their rightful place in society, is a description of the ‘force feeding’ of women prisoners, incarcerated for breaches of the law following suffrage protests. The text of a pamphlet by one of ‘the opposition’ is also included, it shows the ludicrous perspectives and claims some of the male population used during this period to foil the aims of women political activists.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
It was a five days’ hunger strike this time, because the extreme weakness of my condition made it impossible for me to endure a longer term. I was released on May 30th on a seven days’ licence, and in a half-alive state was again carried to a nursing home. Less than a week later, while I was still bed-ridden, a terrible event occurred, one that should have shaken the stolid British public into a realisation of the seriousness of the situation precipitated by the Government. Emily Wilding Davison, who had been associated with the militant movement since 1906, gave up her life for the women’s cause by throwing herself in the path of the thing, next to property, held most sacred to Englishmen—sport.
Miss Davison went to the races at Epsom, and breaking through the barriers which separated the vast crowds from the race course, rushed in the path of the galloping horses and caught the bridle of the king’s horse, which was leading all the others. The horse fell, throwing his jockey and crushing Miss Davison in such shocking fashion that she was carried from the course in a dying condition. Everything possible was done to save her life. The great surgeon, Mr. Mansell Moullin, put everything aside and devoted himself to her case, but though he operated most skilfully, the injuries she had received were so frightful that she died four days later without once having recovered consciousness. Members of the Union were beside her when she breathed her last, on June 8th, and on June 14th they gave her a great public funeral in London. Crowds lined the streets as the funeral car, followed by thousands of women, passed slowly and sadly to St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury, where the memorial services were held.
Emily Wilding Davison was a character almost inevitably developed by a struggle such as ours. She was a B. A. of London University, and had taken first class honours at Oxford in English Language and Literature. Yet the women’s cause made such an appeal to her reason and her sympathies that she put every intellectual and social appeal aside and devoted herself untiringly and fearlessly to the work of the Union. She had suffered many imprisonments, had been forcibly fed and most brutally treated. On one occasion when she had barricaded her cell against the prison doctors, a hose pipe was turned on her from the window and she was drenched and all but drowned in the icy water while workmen were breaking down her cell door.
Miss Davison, after this experience, expressed to several of her friends the deep conviction that now, as in days called uncivilised, the conscience of the people would awaken only to the sacrifice of a human life. At one time in prison she tried to kill herself by throwing herself head-long from one of the upper galleries, but she succeeded only in sustaining cruel injuries. Ever after that time she clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women. And so she threw herself at the king’s horse, in full view of the king and queen and a great multitude of their Majesties’ subjects, offering up her life as a petition to the king, praying for the release of suffering women throughout England and the world. No one can possibly doubt that that prayer can forever remain unanswered, for she took it straight to the Throne of the King of all the worlds.
The death of Miss Davison was a great shock to me and a very great grief as well, and although I was scarcely able to leave my bed I determined to risk everything to attend her funeral. This was not to be, however, for as I left the house I was again arrested by detectives who lay in waiting. Again the farce of trying to make me serve a three years’ sentence was undertaken. But now the militant women had discovered a new and more terrible weapon with which to defy the unjust laws of England, and this weapon—the thirst strike—I turned against my gaolers with such effect that they were forced within three days to release me.
The hunger strike I have described as a dreadful ordeal, but it is a mild experience compared with the thirst strike, which is from beginning to end simple and unmitigated torture. Hunger striking reduces a prisoner’s weight very quickly, but thirst striking reduces weight so alarmingly fast that prison doctors were at first thrown into absolute panic of fright. Later they became somewhat hardened, but even now they regard the thirst strike with terror. I am not sure that I can convey to the reader the effect of days spent without a single drop of water taken into the system. The body cannot endure loss of moisture. It cries out in protest with every nerve. The muscles waste, the skin becomes shrunken and flabby, the facial appearance alters horribly, all these outward symptoms being eloquent of the acute suffering of the entire physical being. Every natural function is, of course, suspended, and the poisons which are unable to pass out of the body are retained and absorbed. The body becomes cold and shivery, there is constant headache and nausea, and sometimes there is fever. The mouth and tongue become coated and swollen, the throat thickens and the voice sinks to a thready whisper.
When, at the end of the third day of my first thirst strike, I was sent home I was in a condition of jaundice from which I have never completely recovered. So badly was I affected that the prison authorities made no attempt to arrest me for nearly a month after my release. On July 13th I felt strong enough once more to protest against the odious Cat and Mouse Act, and, with Miss Annie Kenney, who was also at liberty “on medical grounds,” I went to a meeting at the London Pavilion. At the close of the meeting, during which Miss Kenney’s prison licence was auctioned off for £12, we attempted for the first time the open escape which we have so frequently since effected. Miss Kenney, from the platform, announced that we should openly leave the hall, and she forthwith walked coolly down into the audience. The police rushed in in overwhelming numbers, and after a desperate fight, succeeded in capturing her. Other detectives and policemen hurried to the side door of the hall to intercept me, but I disappointed them by leaving by the front door and escaping to a friend’s house in a cab.
The police soon traced me to the house of my friend, the distinguished scientist, Mrs. Hertha Ayrton, and the place straightway became a besieged fortress. Day and night the house was surrounded, not only by police, but by crowds of women sympathisers.
On the Saturday following my appearance at the Pavilion we gave the police a bit of excitement of a kind they do not relish. A cab drove up to Mrs. Ayrton’s door, and several well-known members of the Union alighted and hurried indoors. At once the word was circulated that a rescue was being attempted, and the police drew resolutely around the cab. Soon a veiled woman appeared in the doorway, surrounded by Suffragettes, who, when the veiled lady attempted to get into the cab, resisted with all their strength the efforts of the police to lay hands upon her. The cry went up from all sides: “They are arresting Mrs. Pankhurst!” Something very like a free fight ensued, occupying all the attention of the police who were not in the immediate vicinity of the cab. The men surrounding that rocking vehicle succeeded in tearing the veiled figure from the arms of the other women and piling into the cab ordered the chauffeur to drive full speed to Bow Street. Before they reached their destination, however, the veiled lady raised her veil—alas, it was not Mrs. Pankhurst, who by that time was speeding away in another taxicab in quite another direction.