This week in July 1858, an extraordinary woman was born in the Manchester suburb of Moss Side.
A clue to her future lay in the political backgrounds of her parents, Sophia and Robert Goulden.
A Manx woman, Sophia was steeped in the social unrest that characterised the Isle of Man. In 1881, it was the first part of the UK to give women the right to vote in national elections.
Robert came from a politically active merchant family in Manchester. His father was present at the Peterloo massacre and his mother was associated with the Anti-Corn Law League.
The baby born on Thursday July 15th 1858 clearly had reform in her blood. But no-one could have guessed the colossal impact she’d have on the lives of women the world over.
Her irrepressible voice was destined to shake contemporary politics to its foundations.
The newborn baby was called Emmeline. But generations would come to know her better by her married name.
Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst.
On October 10th 1903, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) at her home in Nelson Street, Manchester. It played a major role in securing votes for women in 1918.
Emmeline’s activities as a suffragette, alongside her daughters Sylvia and Christabel, were not always lawful. She believed direct action was the only way to get her message across.
She later wrote: ‘Deeds not words was to be our permanent motto.’
Emmeline’s place in Manchester’s history was marked in December 2018 when a statue of her was unveiled in St Peter’s Square – the first female statue in the city since 1901.
She was chosen as the subject as a result of the WoManchester statue campaign, which asked the public to vote on a long list of twenty outstanding candidates. The vote was unanimous!
Now the twenty on the long list are being commemorated themselves in a brilliant new book entitled First in the Fight. It celebrates the achievements of Manchester’s radical women.
Their stories are being told in a collaboration between Andrew Simcock, who spearheaded the Our Emmeline campaign, social historian Helen Antrobus and local publishers iNostalgia.
First in the Fight covers the history of the city from when the first women marched to St Peter’s Field to the entrepreneurs and reformers who fought shoulder to shoulder for equality and social change.
The great novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work was so admired by Charles Dickens, is there; so too is cross-channel swimmer Sunny Lowry, birth control pioneer Marie Stopes and theatre impresario extraordinaire Annie Horniman.
In addition to the Pankhursts, the book features essays on the city’s first woman councilor Margaret Ashton, Lydia Becker, Louise Da-Cacodia and Margaret Downes.
Also included are Kathleen Ollerenshaw, Mary Quaile, Elizabeth Raffald, Esther Roper, Olive Shapley, Sheena Simon, Marie Stopes, Ellen Wilkinson and Emily Williamson.
First in the Fight has been written by Helen Antrobus, a social history curator and historian from Manchester. Her TV appearances include the One Show, Who Do You Think You Are and Britain’s Lost Masterpieces.
She said: ‘I was so inspired firstly by WoManchester and then, as a result, Hazel Reeves’ wonderful sculpture of Our Emmeline.
‘The fact that I am getting to share the stories of all these amazing women is fantastic. Each was ground-breaking in their own way and the impact of their collective contribution leaves a legacy that is felt by the world.’
Fellow author Andrew Simcock, Chair of the Emmeline Pankhurst Statue Committee, has been Labour Councillor for Didsbury East on Manchester City Council since 2011.
He commented: ‘The Our Emmeline project created such positive energy and reminded all what a progressive city Manchester is, and always has been.
‘So I’m delighted that through First in the Fight we’ll be exploring the stories of all the women that were part of the WoManchester project, where this journey began, and that the legacy of Our Emmeline continues’.
First in the Fight will be published by iNostalgia in autumn 2019. For more information, check out the First In The Fight website firstinthefight.co.uk.