Together with her mother, Emmeline, Christabel Pankhurst co-led the single-sex Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in 1903 and soon regarded as the most notorious of the groupings campaigning for the parliamentary vote for women. A First Class Honours Graduate in Law, the determined and charismatic Christabel, a captivating orator, revitalised the women’s suffrage campaign by rousing thousands of women to become suffragettes, as WSPU members were called, and to demand rather than ask politely for their democratic citizenship rights. A supreme tactician, her advocacy of ‘militant’, unladylike tactics shocked many people, and the political establishment.
When an end to militancy was called on the outbreak of war in 1914, she encouraged women to engage in war work as a way to win their enfranchisement. Four years later, when enfranchisement was granted to certain categories of women aged thirty and over, she stood unsuccessfully for election to parliament, as a member of the Women’s Party.
In 1940 she moved to the USA with her adopted daughter, and had a successful career there as a Second Adventist preacher and writer. However, she is mainly remembered for being the driving force behind the militant wing of the women’s suffrage movement.
This full-length biography, the first for forty years, draws upon feminist approaches to biography writing to place her within a network of supportive female friendships. It is based upon an unrivalled range of previously untapped primary sources.
Table of Contents
1 ‘Every struggling cause shall be ours …’: 1880–8
2 Growing up in an atmosphere of politics: 1889–91
3 Sisterly rivalry: 1892–6
4 Young womanhood: 1897–1902
5 Foundation and early years of the WSPU: 1903–4
6 Christabel and Annie go to prison: 1905
7 To London as strategist of the WSPU: 1906
8 Rapid growth of WSPU and splits: 1907
9 Greatest living speaker of her day: 1908
10 ‘Remember the dignity of your womanhood’: 1909
11 Personal sorrow and a truce: 1910
12 ‘Rise up women!’: 1911
13 Escape to France: January 1912–end of June 1912
14 Break with the Lawrences: July 1912–end of December 1912
15 The arson campaign and moral crusade: January 1913–end of September 1913
16 Troublesome sisters: ousting of Sylvia and a fresh start for Adela: October 1913–end of August 1914
17 War years abroad: October 1914–end of April 1917
18 Co-leader of the Women’s Party: May 1917–end of October 1918
19 Parliamentary candidate and single parent: November 1918–end of July 1921
20 Second Adventist Ministry: August 1921–end of June 1928
21 Elizabeth/Betty/Aurea: July 1928–end of June 1940
22 Resident in the United States: July 1940–December 1956
23 Final years: 1957–8
June Purvis is Emeritus Professor of Women’s and Gender History, University of Portsmouth, UK. She has published extensively on the suffragette movement in Edwardian Britain, her Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography (Routledge, 2002) receiving critical acclaim. She is the Founding and Managing Editor of Women’s History Review, the Editor for a Women’s and Gender Book Series with Routledge, the Chair of Women’s History Network and the Secretary and Treasurer of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History.
"Purvis’s biography is also a drama. Her presentation of Christabel’s life as a sibling rivalry within a celebrity family drama, whose protagonists' voices call to each other across the archives, makes this work of academic significance a compelling read..."
- Emelyne Godfrey, Times Literacy Supplement
"Purvis has provided an exemplary and detailed study within the context of the wider Pankhurst family, in which some attention is devoted to Christabel's life after suffrage. (...) This immensely detailed biography asks us (...) to think about the ways in which we judge women who take part in radical politics (from all sides of the political spectrum)."
- Mary Evans, Times Higher Education