Skip to main content

Spotlight on...Adela Pankhurst (1885-1961)

Adela Pankhurst is the least well known of Mrs Pankhurst’s daughters. Born in 1885, she was the youngest of the girls. Like many women involved in the suffrage campaign, Adela trained as a teacher through the pupil teacher system in Manchester, but left teaching to work for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) alongside her sisters Christabel and Sylvia.

Adela Pankhurst
She soon faced her first imprisonment in Manchester when she was sentenced to a week in prison after a WSPU demonstration. She then worked as an organiser in Yorkshire, but was in London for the protest meeting led by her mother at the House of Commons in October 1906. She was arrested with Annie Kenney and several other women and served a month in Holloway. Following her release she went up to Aberdeen to campaign at a by election.

In 1907 Adela joined Annie Kenney in Bristol, where Annie was establishing the Bristol and West of England branch of the WSPU. She shared a house in Clifton with Annie and Mary Blathwayt of Batheaston near Bath, with Mary doing most of the housekeeping. That summer Adela travelled to Cardiff, where she was heckled and pelted with fruit during a speech and had to be escorted to safety by the police.      

Adela went back to work as a WSPU organiser in Yorkshire, spending periods in Sheffield and Scarborough, and at by election campaigns in Scotland. She was arrested in Dundee and went on hunger strike. She was too frail to be forcibly fed and was released.    

Suffragettes campaigning at a by-election

She was back in Bristol in July 1910, when she spoke at a demonstration on the Downs on 30 July. One of the reasons men were so afraid of women having the vote was that they outnumbered men. Adela remarked that “she did not think it would matter if there were more women voting than men…If women made the better teachers how was it they got so alarmed about their having the paltry vote?” She also dealt with the objection that women were not educated enough to vote: “There were thousands of electors in this country who could neither read nor write, and had to be shown where to place their cross on the ballot paper. Even the stupidest woman they could find would be as smart as that”. (Reported in the Western Daily Press, 1 August 1910.)

Unfortunately, Adela, like her sister Sylvia, was to find that her socialism increasingly alienated her from her mother and Christabel, as did her growing unease with escalating militancy. After a bout of ill health, a period working as a gardener in Bath, and a stint as a governess, she was shipped off to Australia in 1914. Here her career traced a trajectory from socialist to conservative, with several imprisonments along the way. Initially she worked for feminist, pacifist and labour causes. In 1914 she married trade union leader Thomas Walsh.

In 1928 Walsh was expelled from his union, and Adela turned her back on socialism and the labour party. She set up a branch of the conservative Women’s Guild of Empire, although she retained her pacifism to oppose the Second World War. In 1942 she was interned because of her support for Japan. She later joined the anti-British Australia First movement, but after her husband’s death, and suffering from failing eyesight, she withdrew from public life.

She converted to Roman Catholicism and died in Sydney in 1961. 

By Election Campaign and Adela Pankhurst Images: The Women’s Library Collection on Flickr; No Known Copyright Restrictions.

Available from Amazon UK or SilverWood Books 


Popular posts from this blog

The Bristol Boys: The Bare Knuckle Champions and The Hatchet Inn

The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street in Bristol is all that remains of a row of seventeenth-century timbered houses dating back to 1606 – making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. It was substantially altered in the 1960s, and these days it stands on a traffic island. But at one time it boasted extensive grounds – and amongst the facilities on offer was a bare-knuckle boxing ring. Plaque at The Hatchet Inn, Bristol The pub’s connection with Bristol’s boxing heroes is commemorated in a plaque illustrating five of Bristol’s champions – one of whom, Hen Pearce, features in Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery. Hen Pearce (Detail) Bristol born Hen Pearce, The Game Chicken (1777 – 1809), a former butcher’s boy, became champion of England in 1805. He was a hero inside and outside the ring. In 1807 he climbed onto the roof of a building in Thomas Street, Bristol to rescue a servant girl from a fire. Always a popular figure, this courageous act inspired many eulogies in pr

Spotlight On...Begbrook House, Frenchay, Bristol

On 11 November 1913, the head gardener at Begbrook House in Frenchay near Bristol discovered that the   building was on fire. The house stood in its own wooded grounds, and was said to have twenty rooms and a fine old staircase. Within a few hours the house was gutted. The fire caused £3,000 worth of damage. A copy of the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette , was left at the site with the message, “Birrell is coming. Rachel Pease is still being tortured”.  Begbrook House Picture: Frenchay Village Museum Augustine Birrell was the Liberal MP for Bristol North, and a cabinet minister. He was frequently targetted by militants in Bristol. Suffragettes interrupted his meetings and two women once accosted him at Temple Meads Railway Station with their demand for the vote.    Begbrook House belonged to Hugh Thomas Coles, a wealthy banker. Hugh Coles was the son of   William Gale Cole of Clifton, who was also a banker, and was born in Clifton in 1856. Lik

Dickens and Chickens

On 17 April 1860, in fields near Farnborough, Charles Dickens joined an audience amongst whom were the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, as well as a number of MPs and clergymen, to watch the American John Carmel Heenan and England’s Tom Sayers (the Brighton Titch) beat one another blind and bloody in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted nearly two and a half hours. The fight ended in a draw when Aldershot police stormed the ring, forcing the fighters and their illustrious spectators to flee the scene. It was the brutality of this match that signalled an end to the bare-knuckle era and prompted the development of the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules. Dickens’s interest in pugilism was of long standing. In 1848 Dombey and Son , which had been published in serial form over the preceding two years, came out in book form. One of many of his novels that draws on the world of the prize fighter, it introduces the unforgettable Mr Toots, a would-be man about town, an