Kill Me, Or Give Me My Freedom!
July 14, 1913 — London Pavilion, London UK
It is a little over three months since I last stood on this platform, on the eve of an Old Bailey trial. The outcome of that trial was that I was sent to three years’ penal servitude, and in a little over three months I stand here again. At that last meeting I tried to make my audience understand the reason why women are rebels. We are rebels, and with greater justification than my fellow-rebel — Sir Edward Carson. Sir Edward Carson is a rebel as I am. He told us so in Ireland on Saturday. He is at liberty while I am a felon, and yet I and all other women have justification for rebellion which neither Sir Edward Carson nor any other man in the so-called United Kingdom has. They have a constitutional means of obtaining redress for their grievances, women have no such means. I saw we are rebels because there is no other way open to us of obtaining redress for the grievances, the grave grievances which women have.
“A Defiant Deed.”
Now I wondered as I came along to this meeting if I should find the physical strength to speak to you, because during those three months I, with other women, have experienced the tender mercies of a Liberal Government, in its efforts to coerce women and break their spirits; and as I wondered if I could speak when I came before you, coming as I have off a sick bed which I have kept intermittently during those three months, I thought to myself, “At any rate, I must say one thing — that a defiant deed has greater value than innumerable thousands of words” — and I determined that even if I were arrested and taken back to Holloway from the door of the Pavilion, I would do my defiant deed. There is a spirit in this movement which gives even the weakest of women power to speak her mind when the occasion arises; and I want to say just a few of the thoughts that I have had in my mind during these three months.
One word first of all — to say how proud I am of the splendid movement; how magnificent I think it is that you all went on as if nothing had happened after that raid at Lincoln’s Inn House, which was intended to break down the movement, to scatter the members, to break their spirit, to make them afraid of their own personal position, to make them fear poverty, to make them fear disgrace, and which tried to weaken their determination to win the cause of their sex. All this failed. I think the enemy is realising that there is a spirit in women which is unbreakable. I say here that if they take me back and take Miss Kenney back, and take all the women whose names are prominent in the movement, and break their bodies, although they cannot break their spirits, this movement will go on.
“I Would Rather be a Rebel than a Slave.”
You know there is something worse than apparent failure, and that is to allow yourself to desist from doing something which you are convinced in your conscience is right, and I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave. I would rather die than submit; and that is the spirit that animates this movement. Well, we are not going to die, at any rate the movement is not going to die, and that is all that matters.
Now I want to say a word about our paper. You know when they raided Lincoln’s Inn House they thought that at the same time they would put an end to the Suffragette. Why were they so anxious to put an end to the Suffragette? (A Voice: Because it tells the truth.) Yes, it tells the truth about many things besides the militant movement. It was not because the Suffragette advocated militancy that they seized it. The Suffragette was seized, or rather they attempted to seize it, for the attempt did not succeed, because there were certain articles exposing the wrong doing of the Government. You remember that at that time they put through the House of Commons an Act which pretended to deal with that infamy of modern times — the White Slave Traffic, that ordered that all procurers were to be flogged. Well, in the Suffragette it was pointed out that that kind of legislation is futile. That if you want legislation, that legislation ahs got first of all to deal with customers, and the first people to whom you want to apply the White Slave Traffic Act is the Government. That is what the Suffragette made clear. That is why they attempted to stop that voice of the Woman’s Movement — the Suffragette. Well, one of the things I made up my mind I would do if I lived to come out of prison and stand on this platform again, was to repeat in the most public possible manner that charge against the Government. Why, it is verified by almost everything they do affecting women.
“The Policy of Hush Up.”
There was a prosecution the other day. Just opposite this Pavilion is a flat in which infamies were carried on, degrading young women. The poor wretched creature, the intermediary and servant of others, was arrested and taken before the magistrate. She was let out on bail. What happened in the interval? The result was seen at the trial. She pleaded guilty, and the judge said by pleading guilty she had spared young women from being put into the box. No, my friends, what it had done was to help them to hush up the thing. In Miss Kenney’s trial private letters were read and names mentioned in those private letters. Those letters had nothing to do with the charge, no connection with it. There were letters in that case too, but it was not thought advisable to read them, because in this hypocritical country of our, the policy of “hush-up” is the policy which is pursued everywhere. We want to protest against that kind of thing, and the people who are most against us in the House of Commons are the men who want things hushed up. And the Government wants things to be hushed up because there are too many tarred with the same brush.
“Purveying for the White Slave Traffic.”
Another illustration out of last week. The War Office has been attempting to reduce the wages of women in the Army and Navy clothing factory. Is not that purveying for the White Slave Traffic? Is not the sweating of women in the Civil Service — is not the sweating among Government employed women purveying for the White Slave Traffic? But there are things worse than that. We have heard a little about India. We do not hear very much about our other possessions. A little light has been thrown upon India, and that is quite enough to make us want to know more about what goes on in other places. Well, we know enough, ladies and gentlemen, to find absolute justification to say, as I say here deliberately, that of all the white slavers in this country, or in the Empire, the British Government is the biggest white slaver and I hope the Government reporters present are taking it down. Whether they take it down or not, you here, when our voices are silent, as probably they will be for a short time when we leave this hall, you can, while the Press takes part in the conspiracy, you can each be a missionary to carry out of this hall the spirit that brought us into it. We are going on with our protest against the infamous coercion of women naturally law abiding, who have taken to the weapons of rebellion.
“Anarchy is There!”
There are people who told me even yesterday, that men who know better — because, believe me, my friends, however women may misunderstand the militant movement, every man who has any intelligence understands it quite well — there are men who are deluding women, men who know better, men who prove that they love freedom, and can sympathise with Russians or people of any other nation, men who are agitating for bomb throwing for freedom, these people are saying to women that now they are not going to sign a petition against the “Cat-and-Mouse Act” because they so disapprove of anarchy, and that women are creating anarchy. No, it is not we who create anarchy. Anarchy is there. There is anarchy in a country which professes to be under constitutional and representative government, and denies the benefits of the constitution to more than half its people.
The anarchy is there, and we are trying to end it, and these men know perfectly well that it is not true when they say that when we have got the vote we shall break laws in order to get our own way. They know perfectly well that we are breaking the laws because we have had no voice in making them; because, whether just or unjust, we have to submit to them; because we are taxed without being represented. We also know perfectly well that when we have won the same constitutional rights that they have, we shall continue to set them an example of law abidingness as women have always done, and what we have to do, and what we are doing by this protest, this terrible protest which involves our lives, what we are teaching them is this — that they will have to give votes to women or kill women.
I mean to be a voter in the land that gave me birth or that they shall kill me, and my challenge to the government is: Kill me or give me my freedom: I shall force you to make that choice.
Source: 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. 313-316.