Our November yarn is named for Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of women’s suffrage movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst and radical socialist Richard Pankhurst, and the sister of Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst. Her father was a barrister and her mother owned a small shop. But despite financial struggles, her family had always been encouraged by their firm belief in their devotion to causes rather than comforts.
Christabel enjoyed a special relationship with both her mother and father, who had named her after “Christabel”, the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“The lovely lady Christabel / Whom her father loves so well”). Her mother’s death in 1928 had a devastating impact on Christabel.
Pankhurst learned to read at her home on her own before she went to school. She and her two sisters attended Manchester High School for Girls. She obtained a law degree from the University of Manchester, and received honours on her LLB. exam but because she was a woman she was not allowed to practice law.
In 1905 Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a Liberal Party meeting by shouting demands for voting rights for women. She was arrested and, along with fellow suffragist Annie Kenney, went to prison rather than pay a fine as punishment for their outburst. Their case gained much media interest and the ranks of the WSPU expanded ollowing their trial. Emmeline Pankhurst began to take more militant action for the women’s suffrage cause after her daughter’s arrest and was herself imprisoned on many occasions for her principles.
After obtaining her law degree in 1906, Christabel moved to the London headquarters of the WSPU, where she was appointed its organising secretary. Nicknamed “Queen of the Mob”, she was jailed again in 1907 in Parliament Square and in 1909 after the “Rush Trial” at Bow Street. Between 1913 and 1914 she lived in Paris, France, to escape imprisonment under the terms of the Prisoner’s (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, better known as the “Cat and Mouse Act”. The start of World War I compelled her to return to England in 1914, where she was again arrested. Pankhurst engaged in a hunger strike, ultimately serving only 30 days of a three-year sentence.
Christabel and her sister Sylvia did not get along. Sylvia was against turning the WSPU towards solely upper- and middle-class women and using militant tactics, while Christabel thought this was essential. Christabel felt that suffrage was a cause that should not be tied to any causes trying to help working-class women with other issues. She felt that this would only drag the suffrage movement down and that the other issues could be solved once women had the right to vote.
After returning to the UK in 1914, she toured the country making recruiting speeches, her supporters handing the white feather to every young man they encountered wearing civilian dress, effectively calling them cowards and hoping to shame them to enlist.
Pankhurst called for the military conscription of men and the industrial conscription of women into national service. She called also for the internment of all people of enemy nationality, men and women, young and old, found on in the UK.
She also championed a more complete and thorough enforcement of the blockade of enemy and neutral nations, arguing that this must be “a war of attrition”. She demanded the resignation of Sir Edward Grey, Lord Robert Cecil, General Sir William Robertson and Sir Eyre Crowe, whom she considered too mild.
After some British women were granted the right to vote at the end of World War I, Pankhurst stood in the 1918 general election as a Women’s Party candidate, in alliance with the Lloyd George/Conservative Coalition in the Smethwick constituency. She was narrowly defeated by the Labour Party candidate John Davison.
In 1921 she moved to the United States where she eventually became an evangelist with the Plymouth Brethren and a prominent member of Second Adventist movement.
For as Christabel saw it, in her book The Lord Cometh! Christ was now the ‘only hope of the world, for , by no human instrumentality can the world be cleansed and healed of its terrible ills.’ She returned to Britain for a period in the 1930s and was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire as a tribute to her contribution to the women’s movement. At the onset of World War II she again however left for California where she lived out the remainder of her life.