You have to love this cemetery!

Gravesite of Mrs. Pankhurst, Suffragette

Gravesite of Mrs. Pankhurst, Suffragette

The burial of “Mrs. Pankhurst on June 18, 1928, just short of the British suffragette victory, was at Brompton Cemetery. I can walk there in 5-10 minutes from our flat. Today was cold and blustery following the fierce coastal storms, but once inside the wrought iron fence, it seemed calm.

These grounds were opened as the commercial West London and Westminster Cemetery in 1840, one of six authorized to take on the burgeoning population after the Battle of Waterloo. By then the churchyards were full. Its location at the edge of South Kensington and Chelsea guaranteed that the remains of many well-known people would be laid to rest in the expansive “garden” for years to come. However, it was closed to burials from 1952 to 1994. It is now open for its intended use and also serves as a park. It is a wonderful place to take babies in strollers, walk dogs, or sit and ponder on a park bench.

BBrompton Cemetery Crypts

The beautiful Emmeline Goulden Pankhurst might seem to today’s feminists to have been uncertain about her role. She was born to political activists who supported womens’ right to vote, but they also believed women should stay in the home. All the Goulden children followed the parents into left-wing politics, but it wasn’t until Emmeline married Richard Pankhurst, a barrister, who also supported suffrage, that she started organizing women in London. The Women’s Franchise League was begun in July 1889 at their Russell Square home. The WFL was considered radical because it also advocated for equal rights for women in matters of divorce and inheritance. Members associated with socialists and trade unions, and the group split and finally disbanded.
Brompton Cemetery WinterThe Pankhursts, now with five children, moved to Manchester to build Richard’s clientele. Emmeline became active in the Independent Labour Party and visited poor women in workhouses. When her husband died suddenly, she found a position as registrar of births and deaths, through which she became acutely aware of poor conditions for women and children. In 1903 she and others formed the Women’s Social and Political Union, which became more and more militant, focused on “deeds, not words.” They made enemies in all parties, were heckled and beaten. The most avid women threw rocks at number 10 Downing Street windows, and went on hunger strikes. Pankhurst went on speaking tours and, as attempts to win the vote failed, she and her allies staged protest marches, started breaking windows again, and were imprisoned for damaging property. She continued organizing women inside Overgrown GravesHalloway and resisted force-deeding by guards by threatening them with her water jug.

The First World War changed Pankhurst’s priorities. She urged women to stop their divisive tactics and join men in the patriotic effort. She started an orphans’ home for babies born to single mothers and at age 57 adopted four children. She was active as a speaker at home and abroad but became disillusioned with leftist politics after a meeting in Russia. She saw women at home were making headway toward the vote, but remained faithful to a women-only political movement. The WSPU became the Women’s Party.

North Gate Brompton CemeteryAfter the war, Pankhurst moved her new family to Canada, which she thought was more socially-advanced, but ran out of money and returned to England in 1925 as a Conservative. She discovered her daughter Sylvia, whom she hadn’t seen for years, was living with an Italian anarchist; a scandal broke out when they had an out-of-wedlock child. Emmeline was hospitalized with a serious illness from which she did not recover.
I expected to have to hunt for her grave, but it is on the main path. At age 69. she was a celebrated woman. In spite of the controversies and splits, crowds attended her burial and then raised money to erect a memorial monument in Victoria Park Gardens.


Snowdrops on Grave

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