“Deeds, not words”

How and why did Emmeline Pankhurst promote the idea of militancy in her letter to the WSPU in 1913?

Black Panther Party – A Similar Comparison?

Militancy… the effective concept taken up by groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Ulster Young Militants decades later. The idea of using violence to achieve a goal. Emmeline Pankhurst promoted the use of militancy within The Women’s Social and Political Union immediately upon creation in 1903 and it can be further seen in the letter I will examine.

Emmeline writes in a fairly provocative manner within this letter, stating that militancy and violence is a much needed tactic to gain women’s rights. She argues that the Women’s Amendments to the Manhood Suffrage Bill will be rejected by parliament and everybody will realise militancy is the way forward. Unsurprisingly, she was correct. This letter is especially intriguing because not only does she believe militancy is the correct method, she believes that if a woman does not join in with the militant tactics they “share the responsibility for the crime”[1]. She evidently wanted action from the members of the WSPU.

Punch Magazine depicting a militant Suffragette

June Purvis Highlights that Suffragettes wanted to introduce militancy by stating “as the government refused to yield on women’s suffrage, new and more aggressive forms of militancy were adopted, especially from 1912″[2]. Purvis’ argument fits perfectly in line with what the letter stated in 1913, militancy became a pivotal part of the suffrage movement.


An immediate comparison arises when I read Emmeline Pankhurst’s letter, she employs very similar persuasion tactics as propagandists later used in both World Wars, imagery of guilt. She implements phrases such as “a moral obligation“[2], “every woman will owe to her own conscience“[3] and the idea that it is a “duty“[4]. This is strikingly similar to how magazines and posters encouraged men to sign up to the British army and how they portrayed conscientious objectors. Perhaps Emmeline Pankhurst was both ahead of her time in terms of using militancy to achieve equal rights (as can be seen with Black Panthers) and her ability to persuade people to support her (as can be seen in the World Wars).

Punch Magazine “Arrest of a Militant Suffragette”

So why did she believe militancy was more effective than other methods? It is probable that Emmeline Pankhurst promoted the idea of militancy because it is a successful tactic. It provokes the enemy and of course puts the group’s name on the map. I believe Emmeline deliberately chose a militant strategy in reaction to the clear failings of peaceful protests. Women in 1913 could not vote therefore Pankhurst knew there had to be a change of method. She was evidently successful because five years later in 1918, women over the age of 30 could vote.






Emmeline Pankhurst’s letter to members of WSPU, 10th January 1913


[1] Emmeline Pankhurst, “Letter written by Emeline Pankhurst to members of WSPU, 10th January 1913, outlining the case for militancy”, (1913) pg.11, read the entire letter here:  URL – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/education/suffragettes.pdf (Last accessed 02/11/16)

[2] June Purvis, DEEDS, NOT WORDS: The Daily Lives of Militant Suffragettes in Edwardian Britain”, Women’s Studies International Forum, Volume 18, Issue 2, (March-April 1995), pg.92,

[2] Emmeline Pankhurst, “Letter written by Emeline Pankhurst to members of WSPU, 10th January 1913, outlining the case for militancy”,(1913) pg.11, read the entire letter here:  URL – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/education/suffragettes.pdf (Last accessed 02/11/16)

[3] Ibid pg.11

[4] Ibid pg.11


Featured Image – http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article3597772.ece

Black Panther Party – https://blackthen.com/looking-black-on-today-in-1966-the-black-panther-party-was-founded/

Punch Magazine first image (Woman with Spear) – http://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I0000OQcQ_Vds2nE

Punch Magazine second image (Arrest of a Militant Suffragette) – http://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I0000XPk3G7Qz.E0

Image (Letter) – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/g4/cs3/g4cs3s4b.htm


2 thoughts on ““Deeds, not words”

Add yours

  1. I think this blog is eye catching as the quote at the top captures the readers interest. Additionally the use of images lends itself to the blog really well. I thought you made interesting comparisons between the world wars propaganda and Emmeline Pankhurst style of writing. In your conclusion you seem to back the idea that militancy had a positive impact on the women’s suffrage campaign, and thus was the reason women were granted the vote. Perhaps you could consider whether militancy also had a negative impact? As well as proposing other arguments for women suffrage such as the war or the need for an electoral reform? Over all I enjoyed reading the blog and thought you had a really good visual layout!


  2. I agree with the last comment about the visual impact of the blog layout – It is easy to read and the images add interest. I think your decision to focus on a single source – Pankhurst’s letter works well and the part where you discuss the language and draw comparisons with recruitment propaganda is fascinating and by far the most interesting part of the entire blog post.

    Following on from the previous comment, I think there is a lot more you might have said about suffragette militancy, specifically what historians have said about the difference phases of militancy during the Edwardian suffrage campaign in Britain. What this work shows is that the meanings and practice of WSPU militancy changed and developed over time; in 1913, when Pankhurst wrote this letter, militancy had entered what many consider to be a violent, secretive phase. Some former supporters were concerned and this letter was perhaps Pankhurst’s attempt to justify the changes in militant tactics?


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