Yesterday was the centenary of an event that, but for the outbreak of war in August 1914, may have gone down in history as the moment women effectively won the vote. On June 18th 1914 Sylvia Pankhurst was released from Holloway Prison under the terms of the ‘Cat & Mouse’ Act. She had become so weak from her hunger and thirst strike that the authorities had to release her. Prison wardresses took her by taxi to Jessie Payne’s home in Old Ford Road, Bow. But Sylvia had decreed that she would continue her hunger and thirst strike outside of prison, until either the Prime Minister agreed to see a deputation of her East London Federation of Suffragettes or she died. She changed her clothes and washed her face at Jessie’s, and then a car she had waiting took her from Bow to Westminster. It stopped by Richard the Lionheart’s statue, outside the Houses of Parliament. Kier Hardie and Josiah Wedgewood, two of Sylvia’s friends and supporters, came out to the car to see her. Hardie tried to gain entrance to the House for her but she was refused admittance. Police were guarding Stranger’s Entrance (known as St Stephen’s Entrance nowadays) so the car took Sylvia a little further along, closer to Oliver Cromwell’s statue. Sylvia had some of her women supporters from Bow there to help her out of the car and laid her down on the ground, where she would starve to death unless forcefully removed or the Prime Minister yielded. There was an altercation with the police who said she couldn’t stay there. George Lansbury, the ex-MP (who had fought the Bow bye-election as a Votes for Women candidate) and Henry Nevison, two more of Sylvia’s supporters, came running out of the House to say that Prime Minister Asquith had agreed he would receive a six woman deputation in 2 days time on June 20th. Asquith had always refused to meet Emmeline Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst or any of the other leaders of the numerous women’s societies fighting for the vote, so this was quite a coup.
“We are winning! At last we are winning” cried some of Sylvia’s supporters.
Were they? Find out in my blog tomorrow, on the centenary of the momentous meeting between the East London Federation of Suffragettes and Prime Minister Asquith.