The unsung hero of votes for women – Richard Pankhurst


Richard Marsden Pankhurst was called to the bar at Lincolns Inn Fields in 1867. He was already 33. He was a crusading barrister who had settled in Manchester in the 1850s when it was a booming industrial city. His parents had become Baptists in response to the grinding poverty they had seen around them.

Richard could not get into university because of his family’s nonconformity but eventually was awarded an external LLB by the new nonconformist University College London. Richard practised in Lancashire but was too impatient and tactless to make a stable career in politics. But by his tireless article writing and speech making he persuaded the powers ruling the Liberal Party to (1) introduce free state education (2) curtail the power of the House of Lords (3) reform the labour laws, all the while advocating women’s suffrage. He argued that all legislation extending the vote employed the word ‘men’ which traditionally meant all humans collectively – so why weren’t women voting?

He was 44 years old and a celebrity radical when he has targeted by a beautiful, vital young 20 year old woman, Emmeline Goulden who was seeking an older successful partner to help springboard her own career in politics.

Brompton CemeteryRichard’s girls were devoted to him. He stood for Parliament three times, and three times lost. He was untidy, with a squeaky voice, a zealot with views that were decades ahead of their time. He didn’t care that he lost maintaining that it was sufficient to raise the issues. That’s not how his wife and daughters saw it. As far as they were concerned Richard had been stitched up by the treacherous Liberal Party because he advocated votes for women.

Emmeline acknowledged her huge debt to her husband on her tombstone, where she made a point of stating she had been the wife of Richard Pankhurst LLB.

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