October Artwork of the Month: Imprisonment Medal awarded to Emmeline Pankhurst

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01 October 2015

Artwork of the month:  On 8 October 1908, Emmeline Pankhurst incited the public to join a ‘rush’ on the House of Commons.

The campaign to secure the right to vote for women began in the mid-19th century. As the franchise was widened to include more of the male population, some women began to resent their exclusion from the franchise, when they too were subject to the laws (and taxes) of the land.  Petitions were submitted to the House of Commons during the first half of the 19th century and in 1866 the first mass petition, signed by 1500 women was presented by John Stuart Mill MP in the House of Commons Chamber. The number of petitions presented steadily increased with over 15,000 submitted before 1900.

The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), chaired by Millicent Fawcett and formed in 1897, united suffragist groups from all over the United Kingdom. The NUWSS attempted to achieve change through peaceful lobbying of Parliamentarians, petitions and marches. However, some members became frustrated with the slow progress of change, and in 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst and others founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) with the motto 'Deeds not Words'.

The WSPU believed in more radical tactics, including civil disobedience, which directly led to the attempt to invade the House of Commons. On 8 October Emmeline Pankhurst, together with Flora Drummond and Christabel Pankhurst, issued leaflets and held public meetings calling for the public to join them on 13 October 1908 to rush Parliament. On the day 60,000 people joined the WSPU in their ‘Rush on Parliament’, and though the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, Emmeline Pankhurst, together her WSPU colleagues Flora Drummond and Christabel Pankhurst, were nonetheless arrested for incitement.

This Imprisonment Medal was awarded to Emmeline Pankhurst by the WSPU following her release from Holloway Prison in December 1908. The WSPU awarded medals to all their members who went to prison, including special medals for hunger striking.

The medal was acquired by the Speaker's Advisory Committee in 2007, as part of their ongoing policy to increase the representation of women in the Parliamentary Art Collection.

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