Suffragism and Socialism: Sylvia Pankhurst 1903–1914

  • Les Garner


In the early twentieth century Sylvia Pankhurst fought for socialism, feminism and votes for women. An evaluation of her life in this period can enrich our understanding of all three. Surprisingly perhaps, though her activity in these years has been adequately recorded, principally by herself in The Suffragette Movement — An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals,1 it has often been misunderstood and undervalued. In particular Sylvia had much to contribute to the still unresolved debates surrounding class and sex and to the battle to integrate socialism and feminism, preventing them becoming exclusive terms and ideologies. Sylvia also played an important part in creating a political climate that made votes for women more rather than less likely, arguably more so than her renowned sister Christabel. An understanding of this can perhaps further develop the re-evaluation of the importance of the WSPU to the suffrage campaign. However, this chapter will not re-tell the suffragette story, nor give a narrative account of Sylvia’s role in it except when recent misconceptions make it necessary to do so. Instead, through Sylvia it intends to analyse the thorny dilemmas and complex struggles which socialists, feminists and suffragists like her faced.


Trade Union Limited Measure Labour Party Democratic Constitution Class Issue 
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  1. 1.
    E. Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement — An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals (London: Longmans, 1931). Though written several years after the events described took place and in spite of the problem of hindsight and an occasional tendency to exaggerate, Sylvia’s book is still crucial to an understanding of her life and work.Google Scholar
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© Ian Bullock and Richard Pankhurst 1992

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  • Les Garner

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