Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958) was one of the organizers of England’s militant suffrage movement, who fought her way to voting rights. Her story often gets lost in the shadow of her activist mother, who we will be talking about tomorrow.
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Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica,
Today we’re talking about one of the organizers of England’s militant suffrage movement, who fought her way to voting rights -- Christabel Pankhurst. Her story often gets lost in the shadow of her activist mother, who we will be talking about tomorrow -- but today, we’re highlighting Christabel’s accomplishments. After all, a movement is made of more than only its figureheads. So let’s talk about the lesser-known Christabel Pankhurst.
Christabel Harriette Pankhurst was born in 1880, in Manchester, England. She was the daughter of suffrage activist Emmeline Pankhurst. Christabel showed a fiery drive to learn early in life. She independently learned to read before attending school. She went to a local high school, then went on to earn a law degree from the University of Manchester. Christabel earned an exceptional grade on her final exam, but faced a big hangup -- as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to practice law.
So Christabel decided to channel her efforts elsewhere. In 1903, she teamed up with her mother and her sister Sylvia, another prominent activist, to found the Women’s Social and Political Union, or WSPU. The organization launched a campaign to obtain women’s suffrage.
The WSPU’s slogan was “Deeds, not words,” and that showed in Christabel’s action-based campaigning. She and Annie Kenney disrupted a Liberal Party meeting in 1905 by unfurling a “Votes for Women” banner, capturing international attention and landing Christabel in jail.
Christabel’s arrest stoked the passion of her mother’s activism and led to the formation of massive rallies. Christabel also directed successful campaigns of her own, including hunger strikes and marches. She ushered in a wave of anti-male sentiment, arguing that votes for women could combat what she considered a scourge of sexually transmitted diseases.
Christabel’s beliefs and tactics were often at odds with her sister Sylvia. Sylvia didn’t want to restrict the movement to the enfranchisement of upper- and middle-class women. Christabel thought that tying suffrage to other issues, like working class struggles, would drag the cause down. Christabel and the WSPU also continued to endorse militant and often violent means for gaining attention, even including arson. Sylvia was a pacifist and continued to grow more distant from her sister and the organization she helped found. In 1914, Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU.
Christabel and her mother were willing to temporarily call off the suffrage campaign for one thing -- World War I. Christabel declared a “truce” and directed energy toward helping the British war effort. This won the movement favor with the British government, but further alienated Sylvia and her pacifist ideals.
In 1921, Christabel decided to shift the focus of her life and move to America. She became an evangelical Christian and wrote books about the Second Coming.
Women finally won suffrage in England through two laws in 1918 and 1928, and in 1936 Christabel was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Christabel spent the end of her life active in the evangelical Christian community. She also often appeared on TV throughout the 1950s. She passed away in 1958.
It was thanks in part to the efforts of people like Christabel, and others on the front lines, that England finally granted suffrage to women. It’s always important to remember the many women fighting behind the scenes that brought us where we are today.
Join us tomorrow to travel back a generation, and learn about Christabel’s trailblazing mother -- Emmeline Pankhurst. We’ll dive even deeper into the story of women’s suffrage in England.
All month we’re talking about feminists. We’ve covered feminists in every theme so far. What differentiates this month is that we will be looking at women who were particularly important to the women’s rights movement, the suffrage movement, and/or modern feminism and feminist theory. On Saturdays, we’re talking about modern feminists brought to you by this month’s sponsor, Fiverr. On Sundays, we’re highlighting favorite feminists from past months chosen by other podcast hosts we love. For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our new Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.
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Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator. Talk to you tomorrow!