Suffragette City: We can be heroes

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

Suffragette City by David Bowie was a song released in 1972. It was a B-side. That is to say that it wasn’t the focus of the single release. Starman, had that honour. Later it would appear on several albums, compilations and even other singles. Bowie had offered this song, written by himself and co-produced with Ken Scott to band Mott the Hoople. They politely said no thanks but accepted a song called All The Young Dudes. This piece of glam rock has a history before it was even recorded. It even references the movie A Clockwork Orange.

Suffragette City has wonderful rousing lyrics, great guitar work and power. An Occasional Dream, Heroes, and John, I’m Only Dancing are some of my favourite choices of David Bowie music. However, Suffragette City has an aura like no other. These tighter two-semitone gaps (F-G-A) really drive the song. That dummy ending, “wham bam, thank you, ma’am!” fires you back into an encore of chorus. It’s such a great track and one fitting for the growing theatrical rock and swagger of the 1970s.

Manchester though, should be the Suffragette City itself. The sometimes-called ‘powerhouse of the north’ was of course the birthplace of the Suffragette Movement. Our very own Mancunian superhero, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters battled hard against money and power, for the people and for the women of the world.

“Governments have always tried to crush reform movements, to destroy ideas, to kill the thing that cannot die. Without regard to history, which shows that no Government have ever succeeded in doing this, they go on trying in the old, senseless way.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

Emmeline Pankhurst’s former residence is today a museum and home to Manchester Women’s Aid (against domestic violence). The Pankhurst Centre, a pair of Victorian Villas, was once home to Emmeline and her three daughters Sybil, Christabel and Adela. They were all immensely political. Between 1891 and 1907, they lived together under those roofs and flew the flag of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The small house that is a museum features banners and sashes of the original purple and white colours.

“I want to say right here, that those well-meaning friends on the outside who say that we have suffered these horrors of prison, of hunger strikes and forcible feeding, because we desired to martyrise ourselves for the cause, are absolutely and entirely mistaken. We never went to prison in order to be martyrs. We went there in order that we might obtain the rights of citizenship. We were willing to break laws that we might force men to give us the right to make laws.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

Against the backdrop of cheap labour and a lavish textile industry, the city prospered as the spine of the industrial revolution. Here Socialism was birthed and Labour Unions formed. Community values were thrown at the establishment in their droves. So, with class division and heated change, up popped widow Emmeline Pankhurst. Her late husband Dr. Richard Pankhurst had been a barrister and sympathiser to the cause. There was immense risk to all for taking on the Edwardian overlords. Many were killed, many imprisoned and other atrocities committed towards them.

“Every man with a vote was considered a foe to woman suffrage unless he was prepared to be actively a friend.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

Manchester’s Free Trade Hall now replaced by the Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester, was built in 1853. It was a place central to Manchester’s progressive and radical history. The Corn Laws were repealed, and this building was a celebration of that. The building also stands on the site of the infamous Peterloo Massacre. Here, at St Peter’s Field, in 1819, 15 people were killed by the government’s cavalry and police. Over 700 people were injured. Like some of today’s global protests over the late George Floyd, these peaceful protestors were met with disproportionate aggression. At the Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, during 1905, suffragettes Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst pushed to fight for votes for women. Watching in the wings was a future prime minister, and then Liberal Party member, Winston Churchill. He offered to pay their bail but was refused. Five years later as Home Secretary, Winston Churchill would direct the uncompromising Police against Emmeline Pankhurst’s protest march of 300 women to Parliament Square. Politicians do like a good U-turn.

“The militancy of men, through all the centuries, has drenched the world with blood, and for these deeds of horror and destruction men have been rewarded with monuments, with great songs and epics.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

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Manchester has embraced pride in Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragette Movement. On St. Peter’s Square, just to the side of the Metrolink tramline, stands a proud Emmeline Pankhurst statue. Artist Hazel Reeves opted for Emmeline on a chair, a nod to her speech, “Rise up, women.” Some of her original and other Suffragette pieces can be found down the road, at the People’s History Museum. There are telegrams by Emmeline Pankhurst. The collection is a pure conservation to the history of working people in the UK. If you’re a student or an interested historian, this is the place to go for interpretation and study material relating to Suffragettes. It is all wrapped inside Henry Price’s former hydraulic pumping station. The Museum of Science and Industry and Quarry Bank Mill provide further atmospheric links to different times.

Quarry Bank MIll September 2019 (30)

“My conduct in the Free Trade Hall and outside was meant as a protest against the legal position of women today. We cannot make any orderly protest because we have not the means whereby citizens may do such a thing; we have not a vote; and so long as we have not votes we must be disorderly. There is no other way whereby we can put forward our claims to political justice. When we have that you will not see us at the police courts; but so long as we have not votes this will happen.” – Christabel Pankhurst

Influenced by her mother, Sophia Craine, Emmeline Pankhurst passed on her strong character to her daughters. On the 14th June 1928 died in a nursing home in Hampstead. She was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. Her legacy is well-known.

“The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.” – Lucretia Mott, U.S. Quaker, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and social reformer.

Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst, DBE, born of Old Trafford (22nd September 1880), and was laid to rest in Santa Monica, California, U.S.A. in 1958, the day before Valentine’s Day. She had spent two years exiled in France during 1912-13 and directed the militant action of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle had an airport named after him for his exile in World War 2. Christabel Pankhurst was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her dedication to public and social services. Of course, being British, and like many Suffragettes she had several blue plaques placed at places she frequented, mostly in Notting Hill.

“Mothers came to me with their wasted little ones. I saw starvation look at me from patient eyes. I knew that I should never return to my art” – Sylvia Pankhurst

Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (5 May 1882 – 27 September 1960) was part of the alma maters of both the Manchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1956, she moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with her son Richard at the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie. Her social and healthcare work there earned her a state funeral. She died as an honorary Ethiopian. She is buried as the only foreigner with patriots of the Italian War, alongside the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Her son, Richard Keir Pethick Pankhurst OBE was a British academic and founding member of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.

“The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world. I am like a snowball – the further I am rolled the more I gain.” – Susan B. Anthony, American social reformer and women’s rights activist

Adela Constantia Mary Pankhurst Walsh (19 June 1885-23 May 1961) would move to Australia, far from her birthplace in Chorlton Upon Medlock. She would be the co-founder of both the far-left Communist Party of Australia and the far-right Fascist Australia First Movement. She spent some time in a Japan, before returning to Australia to face prison for her advocacy of peace with Japan.

“Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.” – Lucy Stone, suffragist and abolitionist.

Today the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst CBE is an international development and women’s rights activist and writer, as well as a Visiting Professor at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her brother Alula Pankhurst (Manchester University PhD: Social Anthropology) is a social development consultant. His focus is Ethiopian studies and the Young Lives multidisciplinary, longitudinal study, multinational study. Like Alula, Helen Pankhurst CBE has two children and remains heavily connected to her Eithiopian heritage through CARE International.

“I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said.” – Ida B. Wells, prominent journalist, activist, and researcher.

There are huge parallels to what’s happening in America and the world right now, with regards to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Much can be learnt from the Suffragette movement and their struggles. Let’s look at the Minneapolis City Council who have decided to disband and break-up the Minneapolis Police Department. They have formally committed to forming a community-led Police system. The system was broke, and many should – and hopefully will have the right to fix it. By the people, for the people.

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