About Christabel Harriette Pankhurst
Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst, DBE (22 September 1880 – 13 February 1958), was a suffragette born in Manchester, England. A co-founder of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), she directed its militant actions from exile in France from 1912 to 1913. In 1914 she supported the war against Germany. After the war she moved to the United States, where she worked as an evangelist for the Second Adventist movement.
Christabel Pankhurst was the daughter of the lawyer Dr. Richard Pankhurst and women's suffrage movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst and sister to Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst. Her family had not been wealthy; her father was a lawyer and her mother owned a small shop. Christabel assisted her mother, who worked as the Registrar of Births and Deaths in Manchester. Despite their financial struggles, her family had always been encouraged by their firm belief in their devotion to causes rather than comforts.
Nancy Ellen Rupprecht wrote, “She was almost a textbook illustration of the first child born to a middle-class family. In childhood as well as adulthood, she was beautiful, intelligent, graceful, confident, charming, and charismatic.” Christabel enjoyed a special relationship with both her mother and father, who had named her after "Christabel", the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“The lovely lady Christabel / Whom her father loves so well”). Her mother's death in 1928 had a devastating impact on Christabel.
She learned to read at her home on her own before she went to school. She and her two sisters attended Manchester High School for Girls. She obtained a law degree from the University of Manchester. She received honors on her LLB exam, but was not allowed to practice law as a woman. Later she moved to Geneva in France to live with a family friend, but returned home to help her mother raise the rest of the children when her father died in 1898.
In 1905 Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a Liberal Party meeting by shouting demands for voting rights for women. She was arrested and, along with fellow suffragist Annie Kenney, went to prison rather than pay a fine as punishment for their outburst. Their case gained much media interest and the ranks of the WSPU swelled following their trial. Emmeline Pankhurst began to take more militant action for the women's suffrage cause after her daughter's arrest and was herself imprisoned on many occasions for her principles.
After obtaining her law degree in 1906, Christabel moved to the London headquarters of the WSPU, where she was appointed its organising secretary. Nicknamed "Queen of the Mob", she was jailed again in 1907 in Parliament Square and 1909 after the "Rush Trial" at Bow Street. Between 1913 and 1914 she lived in Paris, France, to escape imprisonment under the terms of the Prisoner's (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, better known as the "Cat and Mouse Act". The start of World War I compelled her to return to England in 1914, where she was again arrested. Pankhurst engaged in a hunger strike, ultimately serving only 30 days of a three-year sentence.
She was influential in the WSPU's "anti-male" phase after the failure of the Conciliation Bills. She wrote a book called The Great Scourge and How to End It on the subject of sexually transmitted diseases and how sexual equality (votes for women) would help the fight against these diseases.
She and her sister Sylvia did not get along. Her sister was against turning the WSPU towards solely upper- and middle-class women and using militant tactics, while Christabel thought it was essential. Christabel felt that suffrage was a cause that should not be tied to any causes trying to help working-class women with their other issues. She felt that it would only drag the suffrage movement down and that all of the other issues could be solved once women had the right to vote.
On 8 September 1914, Pankhurst re-appeared at the London Opera House, after her long exile, to utter a declaration not on women's enfranchisement but on "The German Peril", a campaign led by the former General Secretary of the WSPU, Norah Dacre Fox in conjunction with the British Empire Union and the National Party. Along with Norah Dacre Fox (later known as Norah Elam), Pankhurst toured the country making recruiting speeches. Her supporters handed the white feather to every young man they encountered wearing civilian dress and bobbed up at Hyde Park meetings with placards: "Intern Them All". The Suffragette appeared again on 16 April 1915 as a war paper and on 15 October changed its name to Britannia. There, week by week, Pankhurst demanded the military conscription of men and the industrial conscription of women into "national service", as it was termed. She called also for the internment of all people of enemy race, men and women, young and old, found on these shores, and for a more complete and ruthless enforcement of the blockade of enemy and neutral nations. She insisted that this must be "a war of attrition". She demanded the resignation of Sir Edward Grey, Lord Robert Cecil, General Sir William Robertson and Sir Eyre Crowe, whom she considered too mild and dilatory in method. Britannia was many times raided by the police and experienced greater difficulty in appearing than had befallen The Suffragette. Indeed, although occasionally Norah Dacre Fox's father, John Doherty, who owned a printing firm, was drafted in to print campaign posters, Britannia was compelled at last to set up its own printing press. Emmeline Pankhurst proposed to set up Women's Social and Political Union Homes for illegitimate girl "war babies", but only five children were adopted. David Lloyd George, whom Pankhurst had regarded as the most bitter and dangerous enemy of women, was now the one politician in whom she and Emmeline Pankhurst placed confidence.
When the February 1917 Russian Revolution took place and Alexander Kerensky rose to power, Christabel Pankhurst journeyed to Russia to prevent its withdrawal from the war. Her circuit was like that of the French "anti-patriot" Gustave Hervé, whom she had admired in her youth. She received the commendation of many war enthusiasts.
After some British women were granted the right to vote at the end of World War I, Pankhurst stood in the 1918 general election as a Women's Party candidate, in alliance with the Lloyd George/Conservative Coalition in the Smethwick constituency. She was narrowly defeated, by only 775 votes to the Labour Party candidate John Davison.
Move to California
Leaving England in 1921, she moved to the United States where she eventually became an evangelist with Plymouth Brethren links and became a prominent member of Second Adventist movement. Marshall, Morgan, and Scott published her works on subjects related to her prophetic outlook, which took its character from John Darby's perspectives. Pankhurst lectured and wrote books on the Second Coming. She was a frequent guest on TV shows and had a reputation for being an odd combination of “former suffragist revolutionary, evangelical Christian and almost stereotypically proper 'English Lady' who always was in demand as a lecturer”. While in California, she adopted her daughter Betty, finally having recovered from her mother’s death.
She returned to Britain in the 1930s. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1936. At the onset of World War II she again left for the United States, to live in Los Angeles, California. Before her death she received 250 pounds a year from Olivia Durand-Deacon, a widow who was murdered by her male companion. The widow was murdered and her killer dissolved her body in an acid bath. The reason for which she left the sum to Christabel was unknown.
Christabel died February 13, 1958, at the age of 77, sitting in a straight-backed chair. Her housekeeper found her body and there was no indication of her cause of death. She was buried in the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.