Facts about the life and times of Sylvia Pankhurst
- Was born in Manchester in 1882 she was the second daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Suffragettes’ movement who campaigned to get women the vote. Sylvia’s father was a barrister and legal reformer and regular visitors to her childhood home included the designer and socialist William Morris and the founder of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie.
- She organised spectacular demonstrations, rallies and marches all over Britain publicising the Suffragettes, and trying to persuade the Government to give women the vote. She spoke to huge audiences. Sometimes 16,000 women came to hear her.
- With her mother and her sister she fought for women to have the right to vote and was imprisoned more times than any other Suffragette. When in prison she would refuse to eat or drink anything and this would result in her being force fed by Drs and Nurses who would hold her down and force a tube down her throat which would be filled with liquid food.
- When her sister asked members of the Suffragette movement to use violence by burning buildings and smashing shop windows of MP’s homes windows she did not agree that this was the right way to bring about change. Her mother and sister also believed that poor women would not be able to contribute anything if they were given the vote. Sylvia believed that all women should be given the vote and set up a different branch of the Suffragettes called the East London Suffragettes.
- The East London Suffragettes worked tirelessly in East London. At the beginning of the WW1 when men went to war women, children and the elderly were left without any money coming in and many were on the brink of starving. Sylvia saw ways of improving conditions for people. She persuaded the Prime Minister to have food parcels sent to hungry East Enders.
- When Sylvia became aware of the extreme poverty that women and children in London’s East End were facing, she and her friends went to help. , Between 1914 and 1922 she and her friends opened mother and baby clinics and organised education for children. She arranged for there to be a place where babies could get milk. She also opened a clinic where a doctor treated patients for free. Within two weeks of war being declared, food had begun to run. With the help of local builders, tradesmen and families who donated labour, china cutlery and money Sylvia opened the ‘Cut Price Restaurant.’ It was claimed by locals that because they could get cheap food many lives were saved. In 1915 the ELS served about 400 meals daily and every day Sylvia joined them.
- Sylvia also converted a disused pub, the Gunmakers’ Arms, into a mother-and-baby drop-in centre called the Mother’s Arms. Toys were no longer being imported from Germany, so Sylvia’s opened a factory employing 59 women. First the women made wooden toys and then dolls followed by stuffed cats, dogs and bears. One day, Sylvia took a taxi full of the toys to Selfridges new store in Oxford Street and persuaded Gordon Selfridge himself to become a stockist. At the same time as doing this she became involved in the International Women’s movement for peace.
- She moved to Woodford in 1924, with her partner Silvio Corio. Sylvia went to live in an old four-roomed cottage at 126 High Road, Woodford Wells, opposite the Horse and Well pub. It was called Vine Cottage, but Sylvia renamed it Red Cottage. After 3 years she moved to West Dene in Charteris Road and her home was constantly filled with refugees etc.
- People in Woodford were scandalised because she and her Partner Silvio were not married and three years later in 1927 she had her only child Richard which caused even more scandal.
- She would walk her son Richard every day to St Aubyns School and would take him regularly to the Cinema.
- In 1930 she set up a Montessori school in Woodford for a short period.
- Silvio was a trained Printer and Publisher and together at Red Cottage the couple started paper called the Worker’s Dreadnought. She was the first person in Britain to employ a black journalist.
- She continued to fight for the poor and oppressed and before and during WW2 she helped Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi Germany.
- 1935 when she suspected the lives of Ethiopians could be threatened by the Italian armies invading Ethopia, Sylvia campaigned against it by setting up another newpaper published in Woodford call the Ethopian times. She did not get the support of the British Government she hoped for and she and Winston Churchill, MP for Woodford, had a long-running exchange of letters on this point in 1936 on the letters page of the Woodford Times. During this period Woodford was agog at the goings on at Charteris Road as people visited Sylvia Pankhurst to offer support for her fight against facism in Italy. Some of the people who attended at her home included Jomo Kenyatta who visited her in full African Robes. Jomo Kenyatta eventually became President of Kenya. Dr Harold Moody, one of the first black doctors in England, also visited to provide his support.
- Silvio died in 1954 and was buried in Walthamstow.
- In 1956 she moved to Ethiopia at the request of Emperor Haile Selassie, she turned her attentions once again to improving conditions for mothers and babies, and campaigned to open a specialist women’s hospital.
- On her death, she was given an Ethiopian state funeral, and was buried in a place reserved for Ethiopian heroes. She is the only non Ethiopian to be buried in this special cemetery.
For further information please go to http://www.sylviapankhurst.com/