No wonder why Emmeline
Pankhurst’s “Freedom or Death”
is considered one of the ten greatest speeches of the 20th century.
She delivered her speech in
Hartford, Connecticut, on a fundraising tour of the United States that took
place in 1913. Hartfort is near
Boston, where the American Revolution
for the independence started (which would explain all the references that Mrs.
Pankhurst makes to the war in her
Women at that time were excluded by the State from citizenship. They
were not considered equal as men,
regarding jobs, pensions, salaries…
She was personally affected by this unfairness during her life, even
though the fact that she belonged to an upper class made 0 more difficult
for the rest of people to understand her violent ways.
Emmeline Pankhurst lived through tragedy and op0ression: personally and historically, she lived during WWI being the oldest of 10 children. Her family
really had an influence on her, they had a really progressive way of thinking
(her mother was a feminist and took Emmeline to meetings since she was a little
child). She had really strong
convictions, and could not accept that her brothers would 0 able to study and she wouldn’ts1 just for the
fact of being a woman, so she convi0ced her
parents to send her to study in Paris, where she learnt french, chemistry and finances. When she was 21 she married a
man who was much older than her, with whom she had 5 children.
Pankhurst f0unded in 1903s2 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), making
the suffrage movement stronger than ever. Even though suffragettes damaged greatlys3 public and private property: smashing windows,
burning churches … they did not hurt anybody. Evenmore,
British suffragettes were beaten up, sexually molested, even tortured when
imprisoned, being force fed with steel
implements to keep their jaws open, and
tubes were inserted through their noses to pour in food.
Even though Emmeline Pankhurst was never force fed, she relates in her
autobiography how she would never forget the cries of the women being tortured
in cells next to her.
The biggest priority for Emmeline
Pankhurst was to get women to vote, she believed that once they archieved votes for women everything
else would come forward. In March 1912 suffragettes threw stones at Downing str. They got plenty criticism about their ways and violence
brought Emmeline to prison. She was sent to jail for 9 months where she took
part in a hunger strike, since she thought that the only way of getting her out of prison, even if it wouldnt be for long. This temporary
freedom was due to the “Cat and Mouse Act” that would allow imprisoned
women that were taking part in a hunger strike to get out until
they became stronger enough to come back to prison, again and again.
She gives this speech in America in
order to get the american support for the british women to vote, she gives it
in a meantime while she’s out of prison. Her audience is mixed: there are both
men and women, and she’s basically trying to recruit them for her cause. (There
are many american women among her audience who are suffrage supporters such as
Katherine Hepburn, leader of the
suffrage movement in America).
In her speech, Mrs. Pankhurst
justifies the violent acts from the suffragettes explaining that, at that
point, they have no other choice.
10th august 1914 , and because of the war, the british
government agrees to release all the sufregettes from prison in order to get
all their support.
In 1917 Emmeline and her daughter
formed the Women’s Party and demanded
equality of rights and oportunity in public service, maternity and marriage
laws, as well as equal pay for equal work (because during war men were out
fighting and women were working the fields, driving the buses, proving that
women were able to do men’s work, equally efficiently).
Emmeline Pankhurst’s speech is considered
one of the seeds that made possible that in
1918, british women over 30 years old were given the permission to vote.
June 1928 she died, and a few weeks later women were granted
equal rights with men in England.