The Suffragettes

Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading suffragette, is on trial for inciting others to commit criminal acts during the campaign for women's right to vote.

A historic trial dramatised from the Old Bailey archives. The case of the suffragettes from 1912. Emmeline Pankhurst is on trial for inciting others to commit criminal acts. As the trial unfolds, witness testimony reveals the struggle for the right to vote. The question at the heart of the trial is whether Pankhurst’s words incited violent acts. The case is played out in the court room with dramatic flashbacks to illustrate the crime. The court reporter sets the scene and offers insight and context.

Teacher Notes

This powerful case can be used to highlight the way that it can be difficult to divorce the theoretical impartiality of the criminal justice from the contemporary politics of a period. Pupils could consider whether the prosecution actually had enough to convict the accused on the charges made. They could role-play members of the jury deliberating on their verdict with some cast as jury men utterly opposed to women`s suffrage debating with men with more liberal views. This discussion could be used to illustrate the point that jurors may be influenced by their political views in cases like this over and beyond the evidence actually presented in court. Wider questions could be discussed such as to who won or lost this case politically. For example were the suffragettes actually hoping for a conviction and if so why? Pupils could consider who might have been more embarrassed by an acquittal, the government or the suffragettes. The politics of the case could also be contrasted with the way government ministers and suffragettes co-operated during the First World War (this resulted in Parliament allowing some women the vote at the end of it). Other discussions could be held about the extent to which it is valid to ever break the law or use violence to further a particular cause. For example, in the modern cases of the activities of animal rights activists in releasing laboratory animals from captivity or death threats to staff at clinics providing an abortion service. This clip could also be contrasted with the case of Catherine Hayes to discuss the extent (if at all) that changes in the conduct of trials had made it more or less difficult for a woman to be tried fairly. This clip could also be readily used by pupils studying the Liberal reforms 1906-1914.

Curriculum Notes

These clips are relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 2 and Second level, particularly when studying the Edwardians, the suffragettes or the 1906-1914 Liberal reforms.