Mrs Pankhurst’s Visit to Warrington – September 1905

With the advent of the Centenary of the 1918 Enfranchisement Act Emmeline Pankhurst’s name has been in many news reports. The Women’s Suffrage and Political Union (W.S.P.U.) founded in Manchester in 1903 and her leadership have become synonymous with militant campaigning. The motto “Deeds Not Words” adopted in 1903 was a sign of the direct action to come. The turning point for the movement was the arrest of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney at a Liberal Party meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 13th October 1905. Immediately prior to the W.S.P.U. move to radical tactics the Warrington Trades and Labour Council did hear Mrs Pankhurst speak and the local papers were keen publish reports of the meeting.

At this stage in its history the movement had links with the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.) and the Trades Union movement. From these connections Mrs Pankhurst was invited to speak at the Warrington Trades and Labour Council meeting held at the Bold Street Wesleyan schoolroom on a Tuesday evening in late September 1905 on the subject of the Women’s Enfranchisement Bill. (Warrington Examiner 30 September 1905)

Before this could happen the invitation was discussed at the July meeting when the Secretary read a letter from the W.SP.U. requesting if they would be willing to hear an address from a representative on the subject of the Women’s Enfranchisement Bill. In response Mr Grealey proposed that the invitation should be opposed as the W.S.P.U. was a political organisation and they had no right to accept. In his view the W.S.P.U. was moving away from the Trade Union movement to politics. “Introducing politics was against the rules.” In reply Councillor Stott proposed an amendment to invite a speaker as the W.S.P.U. was for the special purpose of enfranchisement. Political opinion in the W.S.P.U. was across the political spectrum and some were non – political.  (Warrington Guardian 12 July 1905 p 5) The amendment was carried by six votes.

Mrs Pankhurst’s address was covered by both Warrington papers and both reported how it was the first time a lady had addressed the Trades and Labour Council. In her address she emphasised that the W.S.P.U. needed to broaden and extend its appeal by changing from a middle class movement to a working class movement. When she went on to describe judge-made law she drew laughter from the delegates as the Franchise Law definition of “person” excluded women. “Therefore women were not persons in the eyes of the law”. In her speech she discussed how married and single women were disadvantaged by their dependence upon men. Women too suffered unemployment and received lower wages than men so widows, deserted wives and single women struggled to survive. Women lacked the “lever” of the Parliamentary vote and this was the way to change social and economic conditions. The vote would allow women to voice their opinions on laws. Her address also spoke of how “she and others have come out of their homes to help in the struggle of politics”. The situation “would only be remedied when men and women work shoulder to shoulder”. This was received with applause.

The  visit to Warrington was described as  part of the W.S.P.U. work in educating the Trades Councils of the country as the Labour Representation Conference at Liverpool rejected the Union’s aim of enfranchisement. In her words “their position was not understood”. She expected that there would be some measure at the next election for manhood suffrage but not women’s enfranchisement. Just as men had a right to form opinions women too had this right.

At the close of the meeting Mrs Pankhurst answered several questions. Rather annoyingly the reports give no indication of the questions, who asked the questions or her replies. Finally her address was met with the unanimous passage of a resolution which was to be sent to the committee investigating the redistribution of seats. The resolution commended legislation which recognised “qualified women as voters” and without this there would not be effective representation. Finally there was a vote of thanks to Mrs Pankhurst.

Mrs Pankhurst’s visit to Warrington was part of the movement’s attempt to educate, challenge and change opinions. With the events at the Manchester Free Trade Hall Liberal Party meeting in October and the subsequent imprisonment of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney this was the start of the era of militancy – Deeds Not Words.  From this we can conclude that Warrington witnessed the final stages of the pre-direct action era.