THE LIZ LIBRARY: Women's Movement Documents Section

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"You can kill that woman,
but she escapes you then; you cannot govern her."

Emmeline Pankhurst
Speech on Women's Suffrage

[Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters spearheaded the militant branch of the woman's suffrage movement in England.
        At the time of this speech, 11-13-1913, women over 30 in England had been franchised.

        [thelizlibrary ed. note 150308: This is incorrect. Women householders over age 30 got the franchise in 1918. Thank you, Josh.]
        Although many very lazy historians write about suffrage in England (and the U.S.) In terms of the militants who grabbed headlines, much of the necessary and effective lobbying of legislators and heads of government were accomplished by the much larger groups headed by Millicent Fawcett (b. 06-11-1847) in Great Britain and Carrie Chapman Catt in the U.S.
        The leaders of the U.S. suffrage militants were trained in England.]

"I do not come here as an advocate, because whatever position the suffrage movement may occupy in the United States of America, in England it has passed beyond the realm of advocacy and it has entered into the sphere of practical politics.

"It has become the subject of revolution and civil war, and so to-night I am not here to advocate woman suffrage.
        American suffragists can do that very well for themselves. I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain it seems strange it should have to be explained what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women.

"I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field of battle; I am here and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all; and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison.
        So you see there is some special interest in hearing so unusual a person address you. I dare say, in the minds of many of you you will perphaps forgive me this personal touch that I do not look either very like a soldier or very like a convict, and yet I am both.

"It would take too long to trace the course of militant methods as adopted by women, because it is about eight years since the word militant was first used to describe what we were doing; it is about eight years since the first militant action was taken by women.
        It was not militant at all, except that it provoked militancy on the part of those who were opposed to it.

"When women asked questions in political meetings, and failed to get answers, they were not doing anything militant. to ask questions at political meetings is an acknowledged right of all people who attend public meetings; certainly in my country, men have always done it, and I hope they do it in America, because it seems to me that if you allow people to enter your legislatures without asking them any questions as to what they are going to do when they get there you are not exercising your citizen rights and your citizen's duties as you ought.

"At any rate in Great Britain it is a custom, a time-honored one, to ask questions of candidates for Parliament and ask questions of members of the government.
        No man was ever put out of a public meeting for asking a question until Votes for Women came onto the political horizon.
        The first people who were put out of a political meeting for asking questions, were women; they were brutally ill-used; they found themselves in jail before twenty-four hours had expired.

      Emmeline Pankhurst is shown, above (center), being released from a English jail after yet another arrest. The suffragists who were arrested went on hunger strikes and were force-fed by the police - usually through a funnel thrust down their throats and food dumped into it.
              The damage to the women's health was astounding.
              The Brit police (and later the police in the U.S.) would arrest the women, keep them for up to 30 days, release them until they got healthy again and then arrested them yet again and again.
              It was called the "cat and mouse game."
              Some game.
              Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely could have been written about men attempting to retain all the power in government and the economy. -- IS

      [click on image to see full-size version]

"But instead of the newspapers, which are largely inspired by the politicians, putting militancy and the reproach of militancy, if reproach there is, on the people who had assaulted the women, they actually said it was the women who were militant and very much to blame.

"It was not the speakers on the platform who would not answer them, who were to blame, or the ushers at the meeting; it was the poor women who had had their bruises and their knocks and scratches, and who were put into prison for doing precisely nothing but holding a protest meeting in the street after it was all over.

"However, we were called militant for doing that, and we were quite willing to accept the name, because militancy for us is time-honored; you have the church militant and in the sense of spiritual militancy we were very militant indeed.
        We were determined to press this question of the enfranchisement of the women to the point where we were no longer to be ignored by the politicians as had been the case for about fifty years, during which time women had patiently used every means open to them to win their political enfranchisement.

"Experience will show you that if you really want to get anything done, it is not so much a matter of whether you alienate sympathy; sympathy is a very unsatisfactory thing if it is not practical sympathy.
        It does not matter to the practical suffragist whether she alienates sympathy that was never of any use to her.
        What she wants is to get something practical done, and whether it is done out of sympathy or whether it is done out of fear, or whether it is done because you want to be comfortable again and not be worried in this way, doesn't particularly matter so long as you get it.

"We had enough of sympathy for fifty years; it never brought us anything; and we would rather have an angry man going to the government and saying, my business is interfered with and I won't submit to its being interfered with any longer because you won t give women the vote, than to have a gentleman come onto our platforms year in and year out and talk about his ardent sympathy with woman suffrage.

" 'Put them in prison,' they said; 'that will stop it.' But it didn't stop it.

"They put women in prison for long terms of imprisonment, for making a nuisance of themselves that was the expression when they took petitions in their hands to the door of the House of Commons; and they thought that by sending them to prison, giving them a day s imprisonment, would cause them to all settle down again and there would be no further trouble.

"But it didn t happen so at all: instead of the women giving it up, more women did it, and more and more and more women did it until there were three hundred women at a time, who had not broken a single law, only 'made a nuisance of themselves' as the politicians say.

"The whole argument with the anti-suifragists, or even the critical suffragist man, is this: that you can govern human beings without their consent.
        They have said to us, '
Government rests upon force; the women haven't force, so they must submit.'

"Well, we are showing them that government does not rest upon force at all; it rests upon consent.
        As long as women consent to be unjustly governed, they can be; but directly women say: '
We withhold our consent, we will not be governed any longer so long as that government is unjust,' not by the forces of civil war can you govern the very weakest woman.

"You can kill that woman, but she escapes you then; you cannot govern her.
        And that is, I think, a most valuable demonstration we have been making to the world. Now, I want to say to you who think women cannot succeed, we have brought the government of England to this position, that it has to face this alternative; either women are to be killed or women are to have the vote.

"I ask American men in this meeting, what would you say if in your State you were faced with that alternative, that you must either kill them or give them their citizenship, women, many of whom you respect, women whom you know have lived useful lives, women whom you know, even if you do not know them personally, are animated with the highest motives, women who are in pursuit of liberty and the power to do useful public service?

"Well, there is only one answer to that alternative; there is only one way out of it, unless you are prepared to put back civilization two or three generations; you must give those women the vote.

"Now that is the outcome of our civil war.

"You won your freedom in America when you had the Revolution, by bloodshed, by sacrificing human life.

"You won the Civil War by the sacrifice of human life when you decided to emancipate the Negro.

"You have left it to the women in your land, the men of all civilized countries have left it to women, to work out their own salvation.
        That is the way in which we women of England are doing.

"Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won t do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death."

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