Speeches by members of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU)

Scope and Content

Volume containing manuscript transcripts of the speeches of Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney at the Royal Albert Hall meeting of 19 Mar 1908. The back of the exercise book contains approximately 5 pages of a marked script of a skit entitled 'The Woman Wins'.


Miss Christabel Pankhurst:

Ladies & Gentlemen: The resolution has reference to the Bill which is now before Parliament, for the Enfranchisement of Women, and it is our intention during the whole of the present session to press for the enactment of that Bill, in order that, when the General Election comes - and I think that General Election is not now far distant - ('hear hear') women may have the opportunity as well as men of recording their opinions at the polling booth. Friends, every attempt has been made to make the second reading of that measure as spiritless and an ineffective thing, but I think it is within our power to rescue the Bill from the difficult position in which it stands, and compel the Government to carry this measure into law.

When the Bill was before the House, we had from Mr Herbert Gladstone a long speech of advice. What he said was that men had to struggle for centuries for their rights, since the days of Cromwell the fight had been going on - and still it was not completely won. Then he said experience shows that predominance of argument alone - and he believed that had been obtained - is not enough to win the political day. The time comes says Mr Gladstone, when political dynamics are ?far those numbers (great applause) so that for all this the cry has been silenced that women do not want the vote.

The third and final announcement is with regard to tomorrow's arrangements. We shall not have a procession ?from Holloway Prison, we shall go straight to the Great Central Hotel in order to attend the Welcolm [sic] Breakfast to our released prisoners. When the breakfast is over, there will be a procession in which I hope as many as possible will join, to the Peckham Division, where a By-Election is in progress (great applause). Now, for some unknown reason - well, it may be a reason not unconnected with the Peckham contest - the Government have decided to release unexpectedly Mrs Pankhurst, and the other prisoners who were with her (applause) and therefore she is able to occupy the chair at tonight's meeting (tremendous applause, and pause for two or three minutes).

Mrs Pankhurst:

Friends, this morning I was in Prison! (laughter) And I was thinking of this meeting here tonight, how in the solitude of my prison cell, while you women here were demanding your political freedom, my thoughts would be with you.

At two o'clock, the chief wardress came into my cell. She said 'You are to go out', and I said 'My time is not up until tomorrow morning. By whose authority am I to leave the prison?' She said 'There is an order for your release, and I suppose your friends procured it for you' (laughter) 'Not my friends', I said. Well we had to come out. Was it because the Government [knew?] that we and you would be disappointed if we could not [be?] here tonight, was it out of kindness that they did it? Well, one can hardly think so, because if they had felt that it wasn't fair to put political prisoners, who have broken no law, in the second division in solitary confinement ('shame') to deprive them of paper and pen and pencil, to deprive them even from speaking to one another, I think the order for our release would have come earlier than the day before the law entitled us to have it. No, I suppose they chose the lesser of two evils, they thought they preferred one Demonstration to two (laughter and applause). So I think we may conclude that is the reason why my friends and I, who should have been sleeping in Holloway tonight, are at this meeting with you. Well, while we have been in prison, you outside have been doing magnificent work. The Bill - because these things filter even into prison - the Bill has passed, after many years, its second reading. Well that is something, but you women have not studied Parliamentary procedure any more than some of the young Liberal MPs, [you] must not think too much of the second reading of the Women's Suffrage Bill. We know, who understand Parliamentary procedure, that that means little or nothing, that if we ever get beyond that state we women must do ten times more than we have done in the past to secure that the Bill shall successfully come to a third reading. While we have been in prison, I learn you have had two by-elections. One is over, and a great defeat to the Liberal Government, the second is not concluded, so we women who proverbially are pushing will be pushing still until we know the result, but I understand that tomorrow we are to go along there, we women who have been in solitude so long, and do what we can to inflict upon the Government another defeat ('hear hear'). I understand that members of the Government have been saying that we must demonstrate as men did before they got the vote. Well, the night before I came to London, we had a demonstration in Yorkshire, on the historic site of the great Franchise Demonstration in the sixties. On Hunstead Moor in Leeds thousands of men demonstrated when they were agitating for the Franchise. The night before I came up to London for the Women's Parliament, we women had a procession in Leeds. Well, I think the whole of Leeds joined in the procession ('hear hear'). ?After the procession, with torches, we met on Hunstead Moor where Mr Herbert Gladstone had advised us to meet, and old men in Leeds who remembered that agitation said that never in the history of any agitation for reform had so many people congregated together on Hunstead Moor as met there that night (applause). But we women, because we are women, must do far more than the men ever did, to show that we are determined to gain their citizen rights. So I am glad to think that this programme for the summer months has been made, which if carried out successfully will prove to the satisfaction even of members of the Government that women indeed want the Vote, and mean to have it (great applause). And we may well be ready to spare no effort in our determination to get the Vote.

For more than fifty years, women have been demanding that common elementary right. We have always needed the Vote, we have always wanted it, but never so much as we need it today. Today we have the new kind of politics, very different from the old fashioned politics - because today politics means, as it never has meant before, interference with us all in our daily lives ('hear hear'). ?You have proposals out of Parliament, and in Parliament, for the regulation of our lives as we have never had before. No doubt with the best intentions - every body intends well - but we women need new representation in order to see that this new kind of legislation is not to be worse tyranny and a greater oppression than any kind of legislation that has gone before ('hear hear'). They say women have no sense of humour (laughter) but if it were not too [?so] serious, what is being done by men would create a sense of humour in women (applause and laughter). I am sorry if some of the gentlemen in the audience may feel their susceptibilities wounded by what I am going to say now (a man: 'No!') but to a woman it is humorous to see how men seem to think they are fitted to deal with questions which ever since the human race existed have been left to women to manage, and which women understand (great applause). How children, even, are to be brought into the world men in Parliament think they can decide now! The rearing and bearing of children, the care of the sick, the care of the old, the making of our homes, and the keeping of our homes, men are going to make laws to decide, without even giving us the elementary right of deciding who the men are to be who are to make these momentous decisions! (Applause) I need only give you one instance. This bill which the Government is introducing to decide the question of the ?controls of that splendid body of women who nurse the sick in our hospitals, rules and regulations are to be made for them, without even thinking it necessary to ask experienced women what these rules and regulations are to be (cries of ?'unfair'). Well, I for one friends, looking round at the muddles men have made ('hear hear' - from men) looking round now at the starving children, looking round now at the sweated and decrepit members of my sex, I say men have had the control of these things long enough ('hear hear') and no woman with any spark of womanliness in her will consent to let this state of things go on any longer ('hear hear'). So this year we are going to settle the business ('hear hear'). We are tired and we want to be of use, we want to have this power in order that we may try to make this world a much better place for men and women than it is today. So I appeal to you women in this magnificent auditorium, every one of you to do your part. You need not go to prison. Yet I believe if you all did, as we have done - and it doesn't need much courage as some of you think - if you all made up your minds to do it, we would only have to do it once ('hear hear' and applause). Well we have got this programme planned out. You are going to hear more about it from other speakers because I have been shut away so I don't understand the details as fully, I cannot tell you as much about it as they can, but I know this, that we cannot carry out this programme, which means the bringing together of 150,000 determined women in June, unless we have the wherewithal to do it. Now politicians know better than women, because we are new to practical politics many of us, how much it costs in time and energy and money to carry out an agitation like this, but let me tell you this, that we want you all, we want your services, we want your energy, we want your time, we want your help, we want your money (laughter) and after all that is the least part of it ('hear hear' and applause). So in conclusion, I want to say I am very glad to be here tonight ('hear hear' and great applause). It makes me very happy to see what a few years ago I thought I should never live to see. They said 'You will never rouse women'. Well, we have done what they thought, and what they hoped ('hear hear') impossible - we women are roused ('hear hear' and great applause). Perhaps it is difficult to rouse women, and they are longsuffering and patient, now that we are roused, we will never be quiet again (great applause). There is a resolution to be put to the meeting later on, and it is my duty to move it from the chair. It is as follows:

'This meeting of women assembled in the Royal Albert Hall demand that constitutional rights be granted to women, and calls upon the government to adopt and carry into law the Women's Enfranchisement Bill now before Parliament.'

('hear hear' and applause) I move that resolution and call upon Miss Annie Kenney, who at the opening of the London campaign, at a great Liberal Demonstration, from that box yonder, had the courage to put out a banner and say 'Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?'.

I call upon Miss Annie Kenney to second the resolution (great applause).

Miss Annie Kenney:

Mrs Pankhurst, women of Great Britain, who are here to demand the ?just liberties of a nation, and who have a great consciousness of right at heart, I want to tell [?thank] you on behalf of Mrs Pankhurst and of those women who have been away, for your grand support, and for your true loyalty to this Union while we women were in prison. You do not know, you cannot understand what it means to we women workers and organisers of this Union, how full our hearts feel of joy, full of hope, full of confidence, and our souls full of inspiration, to see you support our great Women's Movement. I cannot help but feel glad to be once again in the Albert Hall. Almost two years ago when the Liberals of the country had decided to hold the meeting of the century in the Royal Albert Hall, we women of Manchester agreed with Mrs Pankhurst that one of we women [sic] ought to come to London, get tickets if humanly possible, come to the meeting, and see if Women's Franchise was included in the great reform. I was the one who was sent to be delegate from the Manchester branch. We were very fortunate - we always are - ('hear hear', and laughter) we got 4 tickets; two for Mr John Burns' private Box - unknown to Mr Burns (laughter), and two for the orchestra. It was decided that one of the London women and I should occupy the box. The night came for the meeting, so I sent a letter to the leading Liberal man, saying that I was inside the Hall, that I hoped that Women's Suffrage would be treated in the manner that it well deserved and would be included in the great Liberal programme. I also said that, if it was not included in the programme, I should feel bound to get up and make a protest against its exclusion ('bravo' and applause). We women were like the Barons in the Saga of King John, we had sworn that the women of this country should have their political liberty, and that we as women would declare war against any Government that was run on unconstitutional lines (applause). We have done it (laughter). Now, you all know that women's suffrage was not included in the programme. So, when I saw the speakers were getting to the end of their speeches I got up in the box, when they were telling of the great reforms that the Liberals were going to do, and I said to them 'Are you going to give women the Vote?' The whole hall seemed to rise and much to the dismay of Mr John Burns and his friends I pulled our my banner from under my cloak and hung it over the box (great applause). I shall never forget the scene. There seemed to be thousands of people against me, but I didn't mind, because I knew that we had done the right thing, and I knew that our action that night was like summer rain on a drooping flower, it would give new life new spirit to the women's movement in London, and is not this meeting one of the many proofs that we women were right ('yes' and 'hear hear').

One cannot help but wonder all about the old reformers who have gone by, and I often wonder what they must have felt about their reforms, what they must have felt about their movements, and knowing that every reform that strove for liberty, that worked against oppression and slavery, that worked for the up-lifting of the human race, was won more through pressure than from a sense of justice - was won at a price of human sacrifice and human life. Think how the men won their first Franchise Reform; think how the Merchants Shipping Bill was won to save thousands of honest seamen from death; think how the first Factory Acts were won, to protect lives of our little children against the greed of employers, and save their little bodies from this cruel machine; think of all the strife and loss of life before the government of that day would recognise the need of combination between the workers to protect their interests. The strife of those days won for us the liberties we now enjoy, the strife of today will win liberty and freedom for the generations that are to come ('hear hear' and applause). I do not think when the battle is won we shall ever have cause to regret all the uphill work that had to be done, but we shall rather think of what we should have missed had we got our Vote without a great struggle for it. We should not have had, we should not have known our dear leader Mrs Pankhurst ('hear hear' and applause), we should not have known our champion, Miss Christabel Pankhurst (great applause), we should not have had our treasure of treasurers, Mrs Pethick Lawrence and I should have been far poorer without them. They would not have had you good women, there would not have been the grand fellowship existing between the women of every class, of every creed, as there is today (applause). To the Liberal Party is the loss, to the women of our land will come the gain. Let us just look at the conditions the people of our land are living under today. Just think, and then be satisfied with life as it is if you can! Your prisons are full, your workhouses are overcrowded, your lunatic asylums are overcrowded: you have over thirteen million starving women, men and children - you have your thousands of underpaid, sweated women workers, and we want to consider what all this means to we women! Have you ever been in our British Institutions? Have you been in your workhouses and seen your old women packed together, just at the time of life when they should be made bright and comfortable for their old age, to give those tired hands and weary hearts a chance of rest? Have you ever been in our maternity wards? And seen our young girl mothers? Have you ever been in our imbecile wards, and seen the children that are borne of women, some of the children that are borne in sin? It would be wrong if the women were satisfied; it would be wrong if we women (great applause) it would be wrong if we women did not burn with righteous indignation. Where is our religion, where is our Christianity, if we are prepared to stand by without lifting our hands to help? Let us look at the condition of our prisons ...

End of transcript.