Lest We Forget – Emmeline Pankhurst, Ada Wright and Black Friday

A few days ago, the above image was posted on my Facebook newsfeed. The caption claimed that the woman huddled on the ground was Susan B. Anthony and included an inspirational message about why women needed to vote in this election. Inspired by the striking photograph and being in my usual mode of avoiding housework, I began to surf Wikipedia for information about Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.  As I looked at the photographs of these women, I realized that something was off about the image on my newsfeed; it was too modern as compared to the stiffly posed images of the American women’s rights advocates.  I ran a quick search on the image and discovered that the photograph of the beaten woman originated from a horrifying event in the British history called Black Friday.

Black Friday occurred when a bill that would have helped women secure voting rights failed in parliament. Militant suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who was known for her window-smashing tactics, organized a peaceful protest on November 18, 1910.  The Home Secretary Winston Churchill authorized the London police to use aggressive means to dispel the women. The protesting suffragettes were beaten and molested before finally being arrested. Here is a letter to the editor of The Times concerning Black Friday.

The image that appeared on my Facebook stream is actually British suffragette Ada Wright as she appeared on the cover of The Daily Mirror on Saturday, November  19, 1910.  In the photograph, she protects her face after having been knocked to the ground several times by the police. The plain-clothed man in the picture is trying to shield her from further violence. You can read an account of the photograph at History Today.

Pankhurst in New York City

This is weird, but I’m having a great deal of difficulty sourcing information on Black Friday.  So, I’m excerpting text and using images from Pankhurst’s book My Own Story.

What the Government feared, was that the Liberal women would be stirred by our sufferings into refraining from doing election work for the party. So the Government conceived a plan whereby the Suffragettes were to be punished, were to be turned back and defeated in their purpose of reaching the House, but would not be arrested. Orders were evidently given that the police were to be present in the streets, and that the women were to be thrown from one uniformed or ununiformed policeman to another, that they were to be so rudely treated that sheer terror would cause them to turn back. I say orders were given and as one proof of this I can first point out that on all previous occasions the police had first tried to turn back the deputations and when the women persisted in going forward, had arrested them. At times individual policemen had behaved with cruelty and malice toward us, but never anything like the unanimous and wholesale brutality that was shown on Black Friday.

The Government very likely hoped that the violence of the police towards the women would be emulated by the crowds, but instead the crowds proved remarkably friendly. They pushed and struggled to make a clear pathway for us, and in spite of the efforts of the police my small deputation actually succeeded in reaching the door of the Strangers’ Entrance. We mounted the steps to the enthusiastic cheers of the multitudes that filled the streets, and we stood there for hours gazing down on a scene which I hope never to look upon again.

At intervals of two or three minutes small groups of women appeared in the square, trying to join us at the Strangers’ Entrance. They carried little banners inscribed with various mottoes, “Asquith Has Vetoed Our Bill,” “Where There’s a Bill There’s a Way,” “Women’s Will Beats Asquith’s Won’t,” and the like. These banners the police seized and tore in pieces. Then they laid hands on the women and literally threw them from one man to another. Some of the police used their fists, striking the women in their faces, their breasts, their shoulders. One woman I saw thrown down with violence three or four times in rapid succession, until at last she lay only half conscious against the curb, and in a serious condition was carried away by kindly strangers. (Susanna’s note: According to other accounts, some women actually died from injuries sustained in the protest.)

Every moment the struggle grew fiercer, as more and more women arrived on the scene. Women, many of them eminent in art, in medicine and science, women of European reputation, subjected to treatment that would not have been meted out to criminals, and all for the offence of insisting upon the right of peaceful petition.

This struggle lasted for about an hour, more and more women successfully pushing their way past the police and gaining the steps of the House. Then the mounted police were summoned to turn the women back. But, desperately determined, the women, fearing not the hoofs of the horses or the crushing violence of the police, did not swerve from their purpose. And now the crowds began to murmur. People began to demand why the women were being knocked about; why, if they were breaking the law, they were not arrested; why, if they were not breaking the law, they were not permitted to go on unmolested.

For a long time, nearly five hours, the police continued to hustle and beat the women, the crowds becoming more and more turbulent in their defence. Then, at last the police were obliged to make arrests. One hundred and fifteen women and four men, most of them bruised and choked and otherwise injured, were arrested.

While all this was going on outside the House of Commons, the Prune Minister was obstinately refusing to listen to the counsels of some of the saner and more justice-loving members of the House. Keir Hardie, Sir Alfred Mondell and others urged Mr. Asquith to receive the deputation, and Lord Castlereagh went so far as to move as an amendment to a Government proposal, another proposal which would have compelled the Government to provide immediate facilities to the Conciliation Bill.

We heard of what was going on, and I sent in for one and another friendly member and made every possible effort to influence them in favour of Lord Castlereagh’s amendment. I pointed to the brutal struggle that was going on in the square, and I begged them to go back and tell the others that it must be stopped.

But, distressed as some of them undoubtedly were,they assured me that there was not the slightest chance for the amendment. “Is there not a single man in the House of Commons,” I cried, “one who will stand up for us, who will make the House see that the amendment must go forward?”

Well, perhaps there were men there, but all all save fifty-two put their party loyalty before their manhood, and, because Lord Castlereagh’s proposal would have meant censure of the Government, they refused to support it. This did not happen, however, until Mr. Asquith had resorted to his usual crafty device of a promise of future action. In this instance he promised to make a statement on behalf of the Government on the following Tuesday.

The next morning the suffrage prisoners were arraigned in police court. Or rather, they were kept waiting outside the court room while Mr. Muskett, who prosecuted on behalf of the Chief Commissioner of Police, explained to the astounded magistrate that he had received orders from the Home Secretary that the prisoners should all be discharged. Mr. Churchill it was declared, had had the matter under careful consideration, and had decided that “no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution, and accordingly no evidence would be given against the prisoners.”

Subdued laughter and, according to the newspapers, some contemptuous booing were raised in the court, and when order was restored the prisoners were brought in in batches and told that they were discharged.

*Note 9/3/2017: I came across these photos of suffragettes on The National Archives UK  Flickr photostream.


5 Replies to “Lest We Forget – Emmeline Pankhurst, Ada Wright and Black Friday”

  1. I’ve long had conflicted feelings about Churchill for his role in the suppression of votes for women. Yet, in the end, this abuse probably did a great deal to help the cause. Nobody likes a bully.

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