With the release of the film Suffragette there has been criticism of Emmeline Pankhurst, but while she may indeed have been flawed that doesn’t mean we should discount her role in winning women the vote, writes Jane Caro.
Emmeline Pankhurst was born Emmeline Goulden in 1858. She was born in Manchester to a politically radical family who were both active abolitionists (the term used to describe those who wanted to abolish slavery) and active suffragists (the term used to describe those who wanted to extend the vote to women).
Her birth date is important not just because it reminds us that she was a product of her time. It is also because only three years after her birth the American Civil War, triggered by a dispute over states rights and the abolition of slavery, began.
Her birthplace is important because Manchester was directly – and negatively – affected by the American Civil War even though slavery had been abolished throughout the British Empire in 1838. (Interestingly, if Britain had won the War of Independence black Americans would have been freed almost three decades earlier than they were.)
Manchester was the centre of cotton manufacturing and when the south went to war with the north the mills lost one of their most important sources of supply. Many in Manchester were sympathetic to the south for that reason but not – to their credit – the Gouldens.