"Freedom or Death" was named by Britain's The Guardian newspaper as one of the top 10 greatest speeches of the 20th century. In 1913, British suffragist Emmaline Pankhurst was invited to speak in Hartford, CT, by Mrs. Katharine Hepburn, president of the Connecticut Women's Suffrage Association and mother of the future actress. Mrs. Pankhurst traveled to America not to encourage women to fight for the vote ("American women can do that very well for themselves") but to raise money for legal defense costs for her followers who had destroyed and sabotaged property. Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union had become a militant force, determined at all costs to win the vote. She expected to be arrested again as soon as she returned to England. She was.
The speech is a brilliant exposition of the double standard that permeated the laws of her country. Pankhurst cites contemporary Russian and Chinese (male) revolutionaries who had to resort to militancy to be heard; Sir Edward Carson, an Ulsterman who demanded his followers spill blood for their cause but who was never arrested, as she had been; the biased and punishing inheritance and divorce laws and the meager salaries that working women earned; the horrific force feeding the government employed when the imprisoned suffragists went on hunger strikes. A hundred years later her speech still resounds: the words of a great warrior in a just cause.
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