Emmeline Pankhurst "Speech From the Docks"

London Courts, England. October 29, 1908


[1] Ever since my girlhood, a period of about 30 years, I have belonged to organizations to secure for women that political power which I have felt was essential to bringing about those reforms which women need.
I have tried constitutional methods.
I have been womanly.
When you spoke to some of my colleagues the day before yesterday about their being unwomanly, I felt that bitterness which I know every one of them felt in their hearts.
We have tried to be womanly, we have tried to use feminine influence, and we have seen that it is of no use.
Men who have been impatient have invariably got reforms for their impatience.
And they have not our excuse for being impatient.
Now, while I share in the feeling of indignation which has been expressed to you by my daughter, I have lived longer in the world than she has.
Perhaps I can look round the whole question better than she can, but I want to say here, deliberately, to you, that we are here today because we are driven here.
We have taken this action, because as women—and I want you to understand it is as women we have taken this action—it is because we realize that the condition of our sex is so deplorable that it is our duty even to break the law in order to call attention to the reasons why we do so.

[2] I do not want to say anything which may seem disrespectful to you, or in any way give you offense, but I do want to say that I wish, sir, that you could put yourself into the place of women for a moment before you decide upon this case.
My daughter referred to the way in which women are huddled into and out of these police-courts without a fair trial.
I want you to realize what a poor hunted creature, without the advantages we have had, must feel.

[3] I have been in prison.
I was in Holloway Gaol for five weeks.
I was in various parts of the prison.
I was in the hospital, and in the ordinary part of the prison, and I tell you, sir, with as much sense of responsibility as if I had taken the oath, that there were women there who have broken no law, who are there because they have been able to make no adequate statement.

[4] You know that women have tried to do something to come to the aid of their own sex. Women are brought up for certain crimes, crimes which men do not understand—I am thinking especially of infanticide—they are brought before a man judge, before a jury of men, who are called upon to decide whether some poor, hunted woman is guilty of murder or not. I put it to you, sir, when we see in the papers, as we often do, a case similar to that of Daisy Lord, for whom a great petition was got up in this country, I want you to realize how we women feel, because we are women, because we are not men, we need some legitimate influence to bear upon our law-makers.

[5] Now, we have tried every way.
We have presented larger petitions than were ever presented for any other reform; we have succeeded in holding greater public meetings than men have ever had for any reform, in spite of the difficulty which women have in throwing off their natural diffidence, that desire to escape publicity which we have inherited from generations of our foremothers; we have broken through that.
We have faced hostile mobs at street corners, because we were told that we could not have that representation for our taxes which men have won unless we converted the whole of the country to our side.
Because we have done this, we have been misrepresented, we have been ridiculed, we have had contempt poured upon us.
The ignorant mob at the street corner has been incited to offer us violence, which we have faced unarmed and unprotected by the safeguards which Cabinet Ministers have.
We know that we need the protection of the vote even more than men have needed it.

[6] I am here to take upon myself now, sir, as I wish the prosecution had put upon me, the full responsibility for this agitation in its present phase.
I want to address you as a woman who has performed the duties of a woman, and, in addition, has performed the duties which ordinary men have had to perform, by earning a living for her children, and educating them.
In addition to that, I have been a public officer.
I enjoyed for 10 years an official post under the Registrar, and I performed those duties to the satisfaction of the head of the department.
After my duty of taking the census was over, I was one of the few Registrars who qualified for a special bonus, and was specially praised for the way in which the work was conducted. Well, sir, I stand before you, having resigned that office when I was told that I must either do that or give up working for this movement.

[7] I want to make you realize that it is a point of honor that if you decide—as I hope you will not decide—to bind us over, that we shall not sign any undertaking, as the Member of Parliament did who was before you yesterday.
Perhaps his reason for signing that undertaking may have been that the Prime Minister had given some assurance to the people he claimed to represent that something should be done for them.
We have no such assurance.
Mr. Birrell told the women who questioned him the other day that he could not say that anything would be done to give an assurance to the women that their claims should be conceded.
So, sir, if you decide against us today, to prison we must go, because we feel that we should be going back to the hopeless condition this movement was in three years ago if we consented to be bound over to keep the peace which we have never broken, and so, sir, if you decide to bind us over, whether it is for three or six months, we shall submit to the treatment, the degrading treatment, that we have submitted to before.

[8] Although the Government admitted that we are political offenders, and, therefore, ought to be treated as political offenders are invariably treated, we shall be treated as pickpockets and drunkards; we shall be searched.
I want you, if you can, as a man, to realize what it means to women like us.
We are driven to do this, we are determined to go on with agitation, because we feel in honor bound.
Just as it was the duty of your forefathers, it is our duty to make this world a better place for women than it is today.

[9] This is the only way we can get that power which every citizen should have of deciding how the taxes she contributes to should be spent, and how the laws she has to obey should be made, and until we get that power we shall be here—we are here today, and we shall come here over and over again.
You must realize how futile it is to settle this question by binding us over to keep the peace. You have tried it; it has failed.
Others have tried to do it, and have failed.
If you had power to send us to prison, not for six months, but for six years, for 16 years, or for the whole of our lives, the Government must not think that they can stop this agitation.
It will go on.

[10] I want to draw your attention to the self-restraint which was shown by our followers on the night of the 13th, after we had been arrested.
It only shows that our influence over them is very great, because I think that if they had yielded to their natural impulses, there might have been a breach of the peace on the evening of the 13th.
They were very indignant, but our words have always been, “be patient, exercise self-restraint, show our so-called superiors that the criticism of women being hysterical is not true; use no violence, offer yourselves to the violence of others.”
We are going to win.
Our women have taken that advice; if we are in prison they will continue to take that advice.

[11] Well, sir, that is all I have to say to you.
We are here not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.

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