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The Argument of the Broken Pane

c. 1911-1912 — Connaught Rooms, London UK


I rise to propose the health of our guests, those brave people who have recently come to use from Holloway prison. It is difficult for me to find the right words to express our gratitude, but I say to them to-night, from the bottom of my heart, that what they did last November has done more during the last three months to bring this question to where it is than perhaps all the patent work done y women since the movement for the emancipation of women began. It is perhaps one of the strangest things of our civilisation that it should be necessary to say that; to think that women in the twentieth century are in a world where they are forced to say that an appeal to justice, that an appeal to reason, that evidence of their fitness for citizenship, should be of less value than the breaking of panes of glass. And yet there is no doubt that it is true.

We honour these women because having learnt that the argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument tin modern politics, they nerved themselves to use that argument; and they used it with such effect that we are to-day waiting eagerly the issue of dissensions in the very heart and seat of Government itself. The fact that we have a Cabinet crisis is due to Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence and her deputation of November 21. And those of us who feel the truth of what I am saying are going to thank these women who are with us to-night, by imitating, at the earliest opportunity, their excellent example. “Deeds, not words,” is the motto of this movement, and we are going to prove our love and gratitude to our comrades by continuing the use of the stone as an argument tin the further protests that we have to make.

We cannot say to often that the success of the next protest depends upon its size. I have been reading only to-day the history of Europe during the memorable year of 1848, and in reading the history of revolt and the struggle for political freedom that went on in this county and in every country of Europe I am impressed with the success that attended numbers and determination wherever that struggle wen ton. Wherever the struggle failed it was due to two causes — lack of courage and determination and lack of numbers. We have the courage and the determination in this movement. No one doubts that. What we lack is in actual fighting members. We have plenty of sympathy, we have a great deal of support, but we want the actual fighting army to be bigger than it ever has been before.

The Time is Now.

Nearly two years ago a professional friend of mine said to me, “I know the day is coming when we shall every one of us be compelled to cast every other consideration aside, and come along all together, an irresistible, mighty band of women.” When my friend said that to me I could not say to her then, “The time is now!” I realised that we had not yet created the political situation when we might with certainty say, “now is the time for every woman to strike.” But I do believe now, largely due to what the last deputation did, that we may with something like political certainty say the time is now ripe. Well then, if we have come to the tide in our fortunes, when if we take it we shall win, and if we neglect to take it our victory may be postponed, have not the leaders in this movement — those women you have chosen to follow, whose judgment you accept — have we not the duty laid upon us of saying to women, ”Come if you can? Come, if it humanely possible for you to come!” We go as far as that. We cannot go into the conscience of every woman. We cannot weight her reasons for and against coming with us. That is the responsibility put upon each of us, but I can say, and my colleagues can say with me, that we believe the call now is so great that nothing but the most vital necessity should prevent women, who honour their womanhood, from coming to take part in this protest.

Suppose that if instead of an announcement of a Manhood Suffrage Bill the Prime Minister had said, “Women have struggled for fifty years of Constitutional means to win their political freedom. For six years they have participated in a passionate revolt against their political outlawry. We are engaged in legislation which calls pre-eminently for the cooperation and the experience of women, and so since we dislike the present franchise anomalies, and we do not like to give women the vote on a basis of representation of which we disapprove, we will have a Reform Bill for women, uncharacterised by these anomalies; and, since we believe in the fullest measure of democracy, we will give the vote to those people who need it most, without restriction — the women of the country; and we will postpone dealing with the grievances of men until we have time, since their grievances are not so pressing, every class of men having won a certain amount of representation.”

What would the men of this country do in such a case — not so hard a case as ours? What would they do? There is not a man in this meeting, or outside this meeting, who would not say to the Prime Minister, “If you are going to do this for women, if you are going to give the fullest measure of enfranchisement to women, then you will have to give it to men at the same time.”

That being so, there cannot be a man here to-night who does not agree with the appeal that I am making to women; and there cannot be a husband her tonight who dare stand in the way of his wife, if she feels it her duty to postpone for a time her duties to her family and to him, and do her duty to womanhood. I say this because I know it is the domestic call which stands in the way of many women.

Wanted Good Citizens.

You know what has always been said about women married to men who cared very much for public causes. When the husband has said, “I wish to volunteer for danger service in defence of my country,” or “I want to fight this reform out, although I may run great business or professional risks in doing it”; if the woman said, “Oh, think of the children, think of their future; what is to become of me and children?” — w know what is said of women like that. They say these women block the man’s way, they make him a worse citizen; and every man who has sacrificed even his family is honoured when he does it in a public cause. And yet, what is said of women? Quite the contrary. If the woman wants to stand for a great human cause, and if she leaves a child or a husband sometimes for a week or two, they say, “Look at this woman. How unfaithful of her duty: how careless of her duty as a woman she is.”

Now we are going to alter all that. If it is a good thing for a man to sacrifice for the public good, then it is a good thing for a woman to sacrifice for the public good; and just as the woman to-day is honoured if she consents to suffer in order that her husband may do his public duty, so in the future the husband will be honoured who agrees to his wife making her sacrifice for the public good.

I have said this because I want to make women feel as men have always felt, that great human causes and great human needs transcend all your private duties. In saying this, I repeat that each of us must always be a law to ourselves in making a final decision, but I emphasize the fact to-night as I have never, as you know, done before, that now, in my opinion, is the time. We should put this public call above every private consideration except of the most urgent and important kind. I belie from the bottom of my heart that if we are determined enough, if we are courageous enough, the enemy will be glad to bring this struggle of ours to a speedy close.

One word about the form of our argument. The women we delight to honour to-night are women who threw stones. Don’t let us forget that. Don’t let us forget that they were active fighters in this cause. Last night, in the Savoy Theatre, I was very glad that my daughter in her speech compared our movement with the Chinese revolution. I think a comparison like that really gives you the right point of view about this movement of our. Even those who have been taking part in it have not always seen it in its right perspective. Directly you talk of a revolution or a civil war, then you understand the breaking of glass; then you understand every kind of weapon, and the use of every weapon in our warfare. If any criticism is to be allowed on women who are fighting for their liberty, it is perhaps that we have not used weapons sufficiently, shall I say, persuasive. We don’t want to use any weapons that are unnecessarily strong. If the argument of the stone, that time-honoured official political argument, is sufficient, then we will never ruse any stronger argument. I believe myself it is. And that is the weapon and the argument that we are going to use next time. And so I say to every volunteer on our demonstration: — “Be prepared to use that argument.” I am taking charge of the demonstration, and that is the argument I am going to use. I am not going to use it for any sentimental reason, I am going to use it because it is the simplest and the easiest and the most readily understood. Why should women go into Parliament Square and be battered about and be insulted, and, most important of all, produce less effect than when they use stones? We tried it long enough. We submitted for years patiently to insult and to assault. Women had their health insured. Women lost their lives. We should not have minded that if that had succeeded, but that did not succeed, and we have made more progress with less hurt to ourselves by breaking glass than ever we made when we allowed them to break our bodies. We have so peculiar a sense of proportion in these sentimental days.

After all, is not a woman’s life, is not her health, are not her limbs more valuable than panes of glass? There is no doubt about that, but most important of all, does not the breaking of glass produce more effect upon the Government? If you are fighting a battle, that should dictate your choice of weapons. Well then, we are going to try this time if mere stones will do it. I do not think it will be necessary for us to arm ourselves like the Chinese women have done, but there are women who are prepared to do that, if it should be necessary. In this Union we don’t lose our heads. We only go as far as we are obliged to go in order to win, and we are going on the next protest demonstration in full faith that this plan of campaign, initiated by our friends whom we honour to-night, will on this next occasion prove effective.


Source: Pankhurst, Emmeline, “An Argument of the Broken Pane,“ 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. 144-147.