Pankhurst and Women’s Suffrage

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the socially “ideal” woman was reserved, obedient, and dependent on her husband. Her roles were to manage the household and engage in charitable work. It was frowned upon for her to speak for herself, disagree with her spouse, and have a career.

Emmeline Pankhurst, a British political activist, challenged these social values in 1913. She targeted middle class men with the document “Militant Suffrage”, in which she explained why they should treat women differently. She advocated women’s suffrage, and explained that women were “in pursuit of liberty and the power to do useful public service”. She referred to the social struggle for women as “our civil war”.

Emmeline Pankhurst on Women’s Suffrage

The predominant middle class value system of the 19th and early 20th centuries articulated an image of the “ideal woman.” This ideal woman was to be quiet and reserved, obedient and dependent on her husband, and the manager of the domestic sphere (the household). While much of the middle class, women included, aspired to exhibit these ideals, there were many who were dissatisfied with the prevailing notions of women’s role in society.   One critic in particular, Emmeline Pankhurst, in the document titled Militant Suffragist, 1913, rejected many of society’s conceptions concerning women. She was a staunch advocate of women’s suffrage. She tried to accomplish her goals by any means possible, including the use of violence. She argued that women were disserving of this inalienable right because, similarly to men, they have lived “useful lives,” and are “animated with the highest motives.” Pankhurst was radical because of her implementation of militant tactics, but she was also radical for the mere fact that she was active in the public sphere. She was not afraid to voice her opinions publicly, and rejected the notion that women’s only place in society was within the domestic sphere.

Challenging the Traditional Roles of Women

The role of middle-class women existed solely in the home, which is seen easily in both Sanford and Beeton’s writings. Both women stress the importance of maintaining the role of a domestic housewife. In fact, alternative roles are not presented in either writings. Beeton managed to craft an entire novel dedicated to teach women how to properly execute their duties as a housewife.However, Emmeline Pankhurst, a militant suffragist, challenged these notions, demanding women gain the right to vote, which opposed the traditional roles placed on women. Those who fought against women’s suffrage argued that women did not participate in life outside the home, so they did not need the right to vote. The world of politics was an old boys club, and women were expected to stay out of the political fray. However, Pankhurst herself was a dramatic challenge to this traditional ideal. She was a politically active militant suffragist, as well as a mother, defying the traditional roles placed upon women. The ideal middle class family she and other feminists challenged contained a well paid, hard working father, happy and healthy children, and a wife in charge of all household operations. However, feminists and suffragists challenged this ideal in the hopes of breaking down the strict gender roles.