Victory is Assured
February 10, 1914 — Campden Hill Square, London UK
Ladies and gentlemen: This is an appropriate night for a meeting like this. To-day Parliament has reassembled after months of Parliamentary neglect, during which the fortunes of this country have been left in the hands of an irresponsible oligarchy. During those months, while the welfare of the country has been imperilled, those men have been paid by the men and women of this country to manage their affairs — the men, I presume, have paid willingly, the women have had no choice in the matter; they have had to pay these men who misrepresent them.
Well, to-night I am here to say the mock battle of Parliament has begun again. The sham armies are in the field. But there is a real army in the field, and that is the women’s army.(A Voice: That is the W.S.P.U.) That is the W.S.P.U., my friends. We hear of rebellion in Ireland. Some believe it is real; others do not; but there can be no doubt in anybody’s mind about the women’s rebellion. And I believe it is because the Government has not doubt about the reality of our war, that they are fighting us, while they let the others go scot free. (A voice from the crowd saying something about law-abiding women.) My friend who talks about law-abiding women is quite right. The fault we women have had in the past, is that we have neglected so long to break the laws. Had we done what the men did so long ago, we should not be where we are. But now women are fighting, and the Government recognise that in women they have far more dangerous enemies than in Sir Edward Carson and his army, in the Labour Party and their army, or in any of them; because women, who are slow to move, once moved are never quelled.
The Government’s Last Game.
I want to ask the men in this crowd: Had they ever to pass a “Cat and Mouse Act” to keep your forefathers in order? They have passed legislation to put down women that was never necessary in the case of the men of the past, w hen I believe men had more courage than have the men to-day. I am glad that we are having this fight, because it enables women to show to the manhood of the world the kind of stuff they are made of. Is there one man in this crowd who believes that they will ever crush us? (One voice: Yes.) Well, my friend, you are in a very small minority. At any rate, the men you have placed in power know e shall never be crushed.
And I will tell you women in this meeting, women members of the W.S.P.U., that they are playing their last game against us. What are they trying to do? They know they cannot crush us with imprisonment; they know they cannot crush us with forcible feeding; they know they cannot crush us with the “at-and-Mouse Act”; and so they are trying to sow dissension in our ranks. They are trying to break down your trust; they are trying to make you turn traitors — to the women who are risking their lives for your sake. They will never succeed. What would you be if you had turned traitor to women like Annie Kenney; to women like Mary Richardson; to women like Rachel Peace; to women like Kitty Marion; to women like Phyllis Brady, who are being tortured in prison to-day?
Well, my friends, we do not lack for good advice. Bishops are advising us now. To-day there appears in the papers a letter from the Bishop of London. The Bishop of London has been to Holloway Gaol. Women asked him to go and see the loathsome forcible feeding for himself, but he told us, he who is the bishop of a great diocese, that by the regulations of the Home Office he was not allowed to witness forcible feeding. I would like to say to the Bishop of London that his great Master would have broken their regulations and would have insisted on seeing that torture performed. But the Bishop of London tells women that they must not break the laws; they must not do evil, says he, that good many come. I ask the Bishop of London why does he not give that advice to Sir Edward Carson? How is it that he reserves his advice for women?
How Can He Condemn Women?
I wish to answer him when he says we do evil that good many come. I want to say to the Bishop of London, and to all those who talk as he does, that we do no evil. He says that to do violence is evil, and yet he supports the State where we maintain armies to kill human beings; he blesses warlike banners; he prays in cathedrals for the success of our armies. How, then, can he condemn women who are fighting for that which is most sacred — for human liberty? Our armies fight for possessions and property; women are fighting for human rights.
But I want to go further, and I challenge those who denounce our violence, and I say to them that if our violence is wrong then the violence of Christ was wrong, for did He not turn the money-changers out of the Temple; did He not drive the Swine into the sea? (A voice: He did not break windows.) We break windows, my friend, to get the power to save broken lives. When your forefathers fought for their liberty they took lives. (A voice: Your are only a woman.) “Only a woman,” says a man. That is what we are fighting, my friends. We women are fighting not as women, but as human beings, for human rights, and we shall win those human rights, and every one of you knows it quite well. We are going to win, and I will tell you why we are going to win: because we have courage — because nothing on earth can put down this movement. They may kill us, but they cannot crush this movement.
The Government, which is tottering to its fall, has before it this choice: it must give votes to women or death to women. And I say to you men in the meeting, I say it solemnly to-night: Are you going to share in the blood-guiltiness when women die? We are ready to die. Are you ready to have us killed? I say that the women in this movement are going on with this fight for human liberty even if every man in the world was against us. We say to you: Who give you the right o say whether women should be voters or not? Who gave you that right? Are you rulers by divine right? No. Very well, then, you took the right, or your forefathers did, and we in our turn as women, since you have not shared your political power with us, mean to take that right for ourselves, and let him who has the courage to prevent us try to do it.
A Challenge to the Government.
Now, my friends, I want to challenge the Government. I want to challenge this cowardly Government which makes war on defenceless and voteless women. I have returned to England in spite of them. When I came from American they sent battleships to meet me. I want you men, you taxpayers, to ask what it cost to deprive women of the vote, to ask what they pay for their armies of Continental police in plain clothes; ask what they pay for fire insurance; ask what it costs to protect Cabinet Ministers, these guardians of the public liberties. Well, if you like to pay, you men who call yourselves practical business men, go on paying. You will come to the conclusion at last that it is cheaper to give women the vote because I tell you that this fight is going on until we win the vote. Already it has cost millions. It will go on, and sooner or later the Britisher, whom we are told can only be touched through his pocket, will wake up and become a sensible man, and send these men who misgovern this country to the right-about, and give women the vote, to which they have as much right s the rest of you.
Now for my challenge. I have reached London in spite of the armies of police. I am here to-night, and not a man is going to protect me, because this is a woman’s fight, and we shall protect ourselves. I am coming out amongst you in a few minutes and I challenge the Government to rearrest me. Let us see if they will dare do to me what they do not do to Labour leaders in my position, under the “Cat-and-Mouse act.” (A voice said women were privileged.) You say that women are privileged. Yes, my friends, they are privileged to endure. I should come back again, my friend! (A Voice: You ought to be deported as a mover of sedition.) I should come back again, my friend! Here is a man whose forefathers were seditious on the past, talking about sedition on the part of women, who are taxed but have no constitutional rights. Yes, my friends. I am seditious, and I shall go on being seditious until I am brought, with other women, within the constitution of my country.
I Shall Come Out Alive or Dead.
Somebody says I must suffer the law. There is a principle in this country that those who obey the law have a right t help make the laws. When I have a right to help make the laws then I will obey them, but until I have that right I shall do what all self-respecting people do — reserve to myself the right to break them. When my consent is obtained, then I will obey them. “Put up with the consequences,” says a man over there. I will not! I am supposed to be in penal servitude for three years (A Voice: You will be soon.) Never, my friends, because they cannot keep m e. Seven times I have come to the edge of the grave, and they have had to let me go, and I ask: Is there a life long enough to serve three years’ imprisonment on those terms?
Now I want to challenge the Government still further. I challenge them to rearrest me, and I challenge them again, when they have rearrested me, to apply to me what they are applying to Rachel Pearce and her companions. If it is right that those three women should be forcibly fed, then it is right that I should be forcibly fed. I say to the Government that those women acted on my incitement, and how cowardly it is to punish in that way women less known that I am, while they dare not forcibly feed me. Very well, then, if they get me to-night, let them take me back to Holloway and forcibly feed me. I challenge them to dare to do it. I tell you this, my friends: that just as I have come out of that prison before, I shall come out of it again. I shall come out of it alive, or I shall come out of it dead, but never, never, will they make me serve three years’ penal servitude.
And what is Life?
Now, one word to my own women, because my last word is to you. I say to every woman, ask yourself now whether we have not reached that supreme moment in our struggle: is it not time to put aside all other considerations and fight? Can you keep your self-respect any longer? You know that some of us who are in the van have given all things, even life itself, in this cause. And what is life? At the very best it is very short. Would it not be well, when we leave this life, as leave it we must, to leave it having struck a blow for what is truer life: having struck a blow for the freedom of our sex; having struck a blow against the subjection of our sex; having struck a blow against the vicious conditions into which the majority of our sex are born; having struck one blow against the disease and degradation of the masses of our country.
Let us show the men of the twentieth century that there are things today worth fighting for. You all know it. Every man in this crowd knows that things are not what they ought to be. Every man knows now (if he did not know it before my daughter’s book has told him) that millions — think of it, friends — millions of helpless little children are born into this world, suffering for the sins of their fathers in the shape of a loathsome disease. Oh, men in this meeting, how can women believe you when you talk of love — when you talk of care for the home and the family? How can women believe you when they know, as they are knowing to-day, that when you enter into the most sacred relationship of life thousands upon thousands of you, yes, there are men doctors who say that even 80 percent of you are not fit to undertake the solemn responsibility of fatherhood.
Well, if that is true, and we believe it is, then we say in that fact alone is justification for our civil war and rebellion. And fight we shall. And I say to you women: put aside all fear; fight with the courage that you have had through generations of suffering. Let that courage animate you to fight against evil conditions, and believe me that while you and I may di in the struggle, victory is assured, and out of your struggle, even by the laying down of our lives, will come a time so wonderful for humanity that we can only dimly see that beautiful future.
Source: “Victory is Assured,” The Suffragette, February 13, 1914, 397.
Also Pankhurst, Emmeline, “Victory is Assured,” in Speeches and Trials of the Militant Suffragettes: The Women’s Social and Political Union, 1903-1918. Ed. Cheryl R. Jorgensen-Earp (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press), 1999, pp. 350-354.