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LOOKING BACK: Emmeline Pankhurst, United Kingdom

Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the British suffragette movement, believed the power of persuasion did not always reside in polite debate. Unlike other women who have taken the reins of power through diplomacy, Pankhurst brought a more militant attitude to bustled Victorian women — along with protests, vandalism, arson and hunger strikes. She was jailed more than a dozen times.

"Deeds, not words," she wrote, "was to be our permanent motto." Driving Pankhurst was the unwavering belief that societies would be better off if women had an equal hand in choosing leaders and serving in those roles themselves. Although her leadership style was controversial, there is no doubt that she was able to rally the forces and promote her cause with the same fervor of any man. As the Daily Mail reported, her funeral procession was "like a dead general in the midst of a mourning army."

Pankhurst married lawyer Richard Pankhurst, who had authored laws allowing women to keep their earnings and property acquired before and after marriage. Tragically, he died of a perforated ulcer in 1889, leaving Emmeline Pankhurst to rear her children alone.

By then, Pankhurst had started the Women's Franchise League, which fought to allow married women to vote in local elections. She followed, in October 1903, with the radical Women's Social and Political Union — bringing along her two daughters, Christabel and Sylvia. Together the three became known as a "versatile tactical machine." They took their furious and passionate protests to the street, capturing worldwide attention.

Her efforts were rewarded in 1918. The Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. And a decade later, just weeks before her death, Pankhurst was able to witness a life's work come to fruition — women were granted full voting


We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.

- Emmeline Pankhurst

SOURCES: 1 Pankhurst, Emmeline, My Own Story, 1914. 2 Purvis, June. Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography. London: Routledge, 2002. 3 Warner, Marina, "The Agitator: Emmeline Pankhurst," Back In Time, Time Magazine. 4 "Perceptions of Female Leaders in India," MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, 2010. Lori Beaman, Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo, Rohini Pande, and Petia Topalova. "Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?" The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2009) 124(4): 1497-1540. Photo Credit: Edward Gooch/Getty Images.     

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