Christabel Pankhurst

Christabel Pankhurst Sitting at Her Desk
Christabel Pankhurst Sitting at Her Desk. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images
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Christabel Pankhurst

Christabel Pankhurst Sitting at Her Desk
Christabel Pankhurst Sitting at Her Desk. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Known for: major role in the British suffrage movement
Occupation: lawyer, reformer, preacher (Seventh Day Adventist)
Dates: September 22, 1880 - February 13, 1958
Also known as:

Christabel Pankhurst Biography

Christabel Harriette Pankhurst was born in 1880. Her name came from a Coleridge poem. Her mother was Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the best known British suffrage leaders of the more radical Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in 1903, with Christabel and her sister, Sylvia. Her father was Richard Pankhurst, a friend of John Stuart Mill, author of On the Subjection of Women. Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer, wrote the first woman suffrage bill, before his death in 1898.

The family was solidly middle-class, not wealthy, and Christabel was well-educated early. She was in France studying when her father died, and then she returned to England to help support the family.

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Christabel Pankhurst, Suffrage Activist and Preacher

Christabel Pankhurst
Christabel Pankhurst, circa 1908. Getty Images / Topical Press Agency

Christabel Pankhurst became a leader in the militant WSPU. In 1905, she held up a suffrage banner at a Liberal Party meeting; when she tried to speak outside a Liberal Party meeting, she was arrested.

She took up her father's profession, law, studying at Victoria University. She won first-class honors in the LL.B. exam in 1905, but was not permitted to practice law on account of her sex.

She became one of the WPSU's most powerful speakers, at one time in 1908 speaking to a crowd of 500,000. In 1910, the movement turned more violent, after protesters were beaten and killed. When she and her mother were arrested for promoting the idea that women's suffrage activists should enter Parliament, she cross-examined the officials in court proceedings. She was imprisoned. She left England in 1912 when she thought she might be arrested again.

Christabel wanted the WPSU mainly to focus on the suffrage issues, not other women's issues, and to mostly recruit upper and middle class women, to her sister Sylvia's dismay.

She unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 1918, after winning the vote for women. When the profession of law was opened to women, she decided not to practice.

She eventually became a Seventh Day Adventist and took up preaching for that faith. She adopted a daughter. After living for a time in France, then again in England, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by King George V. In 1940, she followed her daughter to America, where Christabel Pankhurst died in 1958.