Book review: My Own Story

Written by Emmeline Pankhurst
Published by Vintage Books

"I began to think about the vote in women’s hands not only as a right but as a desperate necessity." (p.27)

This year marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted votes to women over the age of 30 with property valued at £5 or more.

It is thanks to the anniversary of this milestone in the Votes for Women campaign that I reached for my copy of My Own Story, Emmeline Pankhurst’s memoir, first published in Great Britain in 1914.

The faded receipt hidden among the pages places my purchase on the 30th December 2014 in the shop of the National Portrait Gallery in London. It has taken me a while to do justice to Mrs Pankhurst’s words and I now firmly believe that everyone should read this book, regardless of sex or political beliefs.

If you are looking for gossip, you will find none. What you will gain by reading this book is a clear and matter-of-fact insight into the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose members were widely known as the Suffragettes, and its struggle for women’s enfranchisement.

Mrs Pankhurst wrote this book for an American audience in order to raise funds for the cause and she explained aspects of the British political system and the history of the W.S.P.U. that might have been unknown to a foreign public at the time. For this, as a foreigner myself and not very well versed in all things political, I am very grateful.

I feared that the detailed descriptions of parliamentary proceedings and the almost verbatim accounts of speeches made during trials might be perceived as a little heavy or boring and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t the case at all.

Despite this being a factual recounting of the struggle of a movement, Mrs Pankhurst’s words made me feel deeply connected to these women, whose courage, perseverance and dedication led to great accomplishments and to the freedom we sometimes take for granted. At the same time, the pure obstinacy, opposition, ignorance and downright viciousness of the men who held the power at the time made me retrospectively furious.

The closing paragraphs of the book were written in the summer of 1914, when – at the eve of World War I – the militants proclaimed a truce in the fight for women’s political empowerment. It is some consolation to know that Mrs Pankhurst lived to see some women gain the right to vote in 1918, although she sadly died only weeks before it was extended to all women over 21 years of age in 1928.

While we wait to celebrate another important milestone, there are many more books celebrating the fantastic women who fought and are still fighting for women’s rights. I shared some of these using the hashtag #FeministBookshelf on Twitter. Please feel free to add your recommendations!

Speaking of incredible women, you can also read an article about Eleanor Marx’s activism in the current online edition of The Linguist by clicking here. You're welcome!

"No wonder the old people shook their heads, and declared that ‘there had never been owt like it’." (p.88)


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