Emmeline Pankhurst: 2016


“I am eternally grateful to the women before me who fought for my rights”. I don’t know to whom this quote should be attributed but it is with heart-felt thanks that I concur with this sentiment.  It is this belief which spurs me on to getting up early in the morning to vote, even if I think it will have no effect.  If I don’t vote then I don’t have any right to moan about the results.  The fact is that Emmeline Pankhurst wanted to achieve equal pay for women and equal opportunities; she died in 1928 and these things haven’t been achieved yet.  We have to continue to use our vote otherwise the men of this world will continue to argue that women aren’t interested.  That must never be the case.

How can such political arguments come from the simple tea towel?  ‘You wash, I’ll try……..to change the world’ is the catchphrase of the Radical Tea Towel Company (where this tea towel came from).  There is a lovely story about how the founder wanted to buy a present for a 91 year old friend, the man that had everything, the man with a radical political background.  She wanted to buy him a tea towel, something that would be useful, not clutter up space; she wanted something that reflected his background.  Even with the help of Mr Google, she could only find T-Shirts, loads of T-Shirts, with radical text but not a single tea towel.  You know the end of the story – she set up the Radical Tea Towel Company.

Fee bought me this tea towel for Christmas, and I love it.  I love anything to do with the Suffragette Movement, to do with Women’s Rights, to do with the political struggles of the past.  This is certainly a tea towel for me.  In 1999, Time Magazine included Emmeline Pankhurst as one of the top 100 women of the 20th Century: “She shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there was no going back”.  Emmeline Pankhurst was a truly amazing woman, a woman of contrasts and contradictions.  She was born into a Manchester family with four siblings; her mother was involved in the Women’s Franchise League (WFL) yet spent money on the education of her sons while believing their daughter’s future was ‘making the home attractive’.  Emmeline married a barrister who was 24 years her senior and who fervently supported Emmeline’s political beliefs and actions, unusual at that time.  The WFL campaigned for equal voting rights for married and unmarried women; Emmeline was a great friend of Keir Hardie, a leading member of the newly formed Independent Labour Party, yet when she tried to join the Labour Party, her membership was refused (because she was a woman) so she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) with a philosophy of ‘deeds not words’, their permanent motto.  Using tactics of arson, attacks on policemen, smashed windows, hunger strikes, imprisonment, it took political activism for women to a different level; those tactics were widely frowned upon.  Suddenly all this changed with the start of the First World War; militant suffragette activism was abandoned and the WSPU supported Britain’s military stance and changed towards involving women in industrial production.  This was a significant move because it was rewarded by the 1918 Representation of the People Act which saw women over the age of 30 being allowed to vote for the first time, without having to have property rights.  The age for male franchise was 21; the reason for the age difference was that so many men were killed during the war there was a fear that women might outnumber men in the polls.  You couldn’t have women outnumbering men in the voting stakes, after all!!

However, that wasn’t good enough for Emmeline Pankhurst (thank goodness); she wanted equal marriage laws, equal pay (not yet achieved) and equal job opportunities (not yet achieved). Surprisingly, Emmeline, in later life, stood, and was elected, as a Conservative candidate in Stepney in 1927 because she was concerned by the perceived menace of Bolshevism.  Sadly she died in 1928 before being able to see the enactment of 1928 Representation of the People Act which extended voting rights to women over 21.

There is no doubt that as I use this tea towel, I will reflect on the struggle that women made to secure our rights today and I think about the person who bought this tea towel (Fee) who continues that struggle every day of her working life supporting women who have been abused.  Thank you,  Fee.

PS.  As Emmeline Pankhurst once said “One baby is a patient baby, and waits indefinitely until it’s mother is ready to feed it.  The other baby is an impatient baby and cries lustily, screams and kicks and makes everybody unpleasant until it is fed.  Well, we know perfectly well which baby is attended to first.  This is the whole history of politics”

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