First published in the UK by Eveleigh Nash in 1914.
One of my Essential General Election Reads 2017.
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How I got this book:
Won a copy from Penguin Think Smarter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
With insight and great wit, Emmeline's autobiography chronicles the beginnings of her interest in feminism through to her militant and controversial fight for women's right to vote. While Emmeline received a good education, attending an all-girls school and being, she rebelled against conventional women's roles. At the age of fourteen a meeting of women's rights activists sparked a lifelong passion in her to fight for women's freedom and she would later claim that it was on that day she became a suffragist.
As one after another of the proposed feminist bills were defeated in parliament, Pankhurst was inspired to turn to extreme actions. While she was the figurehead of the suffragette movement, it advocated some controversial tactics such as arson, violent protest and hunger strikes. Even today there is still debate about the effectiveness of her extreme strategies, but her work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain. Her mantle was taken up by her daughters and granddaughter with her legacy still very much alive today.
I saw the Carey Mulligan film, Suffragette, which includes story elements based on this memoir so I already had an idea of the treachery of the Edwardian era Liberal Government in addressing women's suffrage and of the state-sanctioned torture meted out to the women who fought for their - and consequently our - political rights. What the film struggles to put across though is the decades of peaceful and legal struggle that pre-dated the famous militancy of the immediate pre-war years. Explanations of that and why it was always doomed to fail forms the greatest part of Pankhurst's memoir.
Pankhurst describes her involvement in the suffrage cause from 1889 until 1914 when the outbreak of the Great War caused a truce to be called. She speaks directly to the reader in a calm matter-of-fact style which effectively contrasts with many of the horrors described. I was appalled at the condescension and open misogyny of the time. Everyday Sexism is still prevalent today, over a century later, but being faced with the ingrained attitudes experienced by Edwardian women showed me just how much has been achieved. I was surprised that this memoir was written with an American audience in mind, but found this helpful as Pankhurst does not assume her readers will be completely au fait with British political systems. Instead she clearly explains arguments and quotes speeches so I could easily appreciate her anger and frustration at being deceived and lied to year after year after year. Indeed, according to Pankhurst it was Establishment men who first explained to the WSPU that they would need to become violent in order to be taken seriously. Historically in Britain men achieve great social and political advances through violent means, so women who stuck rigidly to peaceful and legal methods could not possibly be as serious!
Reading Emmeline Pankhurst's memoir was saddening, but also incredibly inspirational. Her rhetoric and speeches stirred up some of the excitement in me that the original suffragettes must have felt as well as anger at realising this nation's Conservative political elite has much the same disconnection from the vast majority of Britain today as Asquith's Liberals did back then - but at least a few of them are female! My Own Story is a rallying cry to stand up for our heartfelt beliefs and remains just as relevant. Irresistible historic movements grow from tiny roots - theirs was suffrage, ours is environmental destruction - and we must use our votes wisely and at every opportunity.
There's still time to Register To Vote in the General Election on June 8th. Visit http://gov.uk/register-to-vote before May 22nd.
And now for the giveaway!
The prize is my paperback copy of My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst, carefully read once and with a BookCrossing label in the front. All entries must be made through the Gleam widget below. The Giveaway is open worldwide until midnight (UK time) on the 26th May and I will draw a winner on the 27th. The winner must respond to my email within 7 days or the prize will be forfeit.
Emmeline Pankhurst biography giveaway
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Books by Emmeline Pankhurst / Biographies / Books from England