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Green and purple poster laying on table, picturing sign-carrying suffragist
Emmeline Pankhurst poster, November 1911. Box R OV 110. National Woman’s Party Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by Karen Femia, Senior Archives Specialist (retired).

Of Note: A Poster from Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1911 American Tour

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Of Note is an occasional series in which we share items that have caught our eye.

British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) made several visits to the United States to support the American women’s suffrage campaign and raise funding for her own suffrage organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).[1] During one of her American tours, she gave a rousing speech at the Parsons’ Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, on the evening of November 27, 1911. One local newspaper reported that Pankhurst said “some things in the speech that would have made the ears of Premier Asquith, chancellor of the exchequer, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill tingle had they been among the 1,700 people who crossed into the theater to hear the leader of England’s militant suffragettes.”[2]

The Hartford Equal Franchise League hosted the evening and went all out in preparing for the event. Chrysanthemums filled the stage and women ushers wearing white, many representing women’s colleges, greeted the audience.[3] The ushers also wore sashes representing the colors of the WSPU – purple, white, and green – and those same colors adorned a large “Votes for Women” banner inside the theater.[4] The Hartford Equal Franchise League advertised the event far and wide, using leaflets, broadsides, and large posters, such as the one pictured here. This large format poster, showcasing the colors of the WSPU, measures 6.5 feet by 3.5 feet (about 2 meters by 1 meter), and can be found within the Manuscript Division’s National Woman’s Party Records. Manuscript Division archivists discovered this poster as they processed an important new addition to the records received from the National Woman’s Party in 2020 and 2021.  The new addition, known as Group V, is now available to researchers. The National Woman’s Party (NWP), founded as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913 by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, fought for women’s suffrage and equal rights for women for more than a century.

Monochrome image of standing in carriage above Wall Street crowd
Bain News Service, “Mrs. Pankhurst in Wall St.,” November 27, 1911. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Pankhurst’s speech in Hartford that evening was all the more remarkable because earlier that same day, she had been “mobbed by a gang of hoodlums” while attempting to deliver a suffrage speech on Wall Street. Pankhurst was unable to continue her speech due to shouts from the crowd, attributed to “office and messenger boys.”[5] Photographs from the event show Pankhurst standing in an automobile with American suffrage leaders Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, Harriot Stanton Blatch, and Alva Belmont seated near her. They are completely surrounded by young men, mainly in bowler hats. Blatch presided over the open-air meeting and also failed to make herself heard over the shouts and jeers of the crowd.[6]

Blatch, the daughter of notable American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had been instrumental in arranging these American speaking tours for Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, demonstrating how suffragists on both sides of the Atlantic informed, inspired, and financed each other.  Almost a year earlier, in December 1910, Blatch plastered advertisements throughout New York for a lecture by Pankhurst’s daughter Sylvia, a socialist labor activist who shared Blatch’s goal of attracting more working-class women to the cause. Emmeline Pankhurst’s third American trip in 1913 received heightened publicity when immigration officials detained her at Ellis Island for being a political radical and a criminal. She was eventually released after President Woodrow Wilson approved her entry.

Pankhurst smiling and wearing fur in front of group
Harris & Ewing. “Miss Lucy Burns (left) of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, with Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst” after her release from Ellis Island, 1913. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Pankhurst’s suffragettes waged “deliberate warfare” with the British government through militant tactics such as street protests, hunger strikes, smashing windows, throwing stones, assaulting police, bombings, and arson.[7] While British suffragettes influenced American suffragists’ tactics, the more militant wing of the American suffrage movement in the early twentieth-century, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, chose to focus instead on civil disobedience and peaceful protest, including parades, picketing, hunger strikes, and other non-violent demonstrations. Although many other American suffragists eventually accepted parades as useful tactics, they disapproved of other forms of protest, preferring to concentrate on political pressure and lobbying efforts.

To discover more about women’s suffrage materials in the Manuscript Division’s collections, see the women’s suffrage section of the American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collection guide.

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[1] British supporters of the franchise for women reclaimed and embraced the once derogatory term “suffragette,” while Americans preferred the term “suffragist.” American supporters also avoided the term “suffragette” because it was associated with militancy and radicalism, although there were rare exceptions, such as Sofia Loebinger, editor of the short-lived pro-suffrage publication The American Suffragette.

[2] “Winston Churchill Shameless, Says Mrs. Pankhurst,” The Hartford Courant, November 28, 1911.

[3] “Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst,” The Hartford Courant, November 27, 1911.

[4] “Winston Churchill Shameless, Says Mrs. Pankhurst,” The Hartford Courant, November 28, 1911.

[5] “Mrs. Pankhurst Mobbed in Wall Street,” The Hartford Courant, November 28, 1911; “Take Up Woman’s Charges: Police Start Inquiry into Rowdyism at Wall Street Meeting,” The New York Times, November 29, 1911.

[6] “Boys Howl Down Suffrage Speakers,” The New York Times, November 28, 1911; Suffrage Hearts Angry: Mrs. Pankhurst Howled Down at Wall Street Meeting,” New-York Daily Tribune, November 28, 1911.

[7] “Winston Churchill Shameless, Says Mrs. Pankhurst,” The Hartford Courant, November 28, 1911.

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