Freedom or Death Speech
by Emmeline Pankhurst
A speech delivered at Parsons Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, on November 13, 1913.
Pankhurst explains why the British suffrage movement has grown militant, comparing the cause of voting rights for British and American women to the fight for American independence.
Katharine Houghton Hepburn1, president of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, introduced Pankhurst, who held her listeners rapt. Onstage "some palms, a table, two chairs, and a great suffrage banner of purple, white and green...formed the sole setting.... The seats...were perhaps one-third filled." —Hartford Courant, 14 Nov. 1913, p. 12.
Mrs. Hepburn, ladies and gentlemen: Many people come to Hartford to address meetings as advocates of some reform. Tonight it is not to advocate a reform that I address a meeting in Hartford. I do not come here as an advocate, because whatever position the suffrage movement may occupy in the United States of America, in England it has passed beyond the realm of advocacy and it has entered into the sphere of practical politics. It has become the subject of revolution and civil war, and so tonight I am not here to advocate woman suffrage. American suffragists can do that very well for themselves.
I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain—it seems strange it should have to be explained—what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women. I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field at battle; I am here—and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming—I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all: and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison. So you see there is some special interest in hearing so unusual a person address you. I dare say, in the minds of many of you—you will perhaps forgive me this personal touch—that I do not look either very like a soldier or very like a convict, and yet I am both.
Now, first of all I want to make you understand the inevitableness of revolution and civil war, even on the part of women, when you reach a certain stage in the development of a community's life. It is not at all difficult if revolutionaries come to you from Russia, if they come to you from China, or from any other part of the world, if they are men, to make you understand revolution in five minutes, every man and every woman to understand revolutionary methods when they are adopted by men.
1 Mother of film star Katharine Hepburn.
PORTRAIT: Emmeline Pankhurst. Library of Congress.
CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Pankhurst, Emmeline. "Freedom or Death" Speech. Gleeditions, 30 Nov. 2016, www.gleeditions.com/freedomordeathspeech/students/pages.asp?lid=418&pg=3. Originally published as Verbatim Report of Mrs. Pankurst's Speech, Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, 1913.