PANKHURST, Sylvia (1882-1960)

Plaque erected in 1985 by Greater London Council at 120 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London SW10 0ES, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

All images © English Heritage

Profession

Campaigner for Women's Rights

Category

Philanthropy and Reform, Politics and Administration

Inscription

SYLVIA PANKHURST 1882-1960 Campaigner for Women’s Rights lived here

Material

Ceramic

Sylvia Pankhurst was a political activist and campaigner for women’s rights, who is remembered chiefly for her use of militant tactics in the fight for women’s right to vote. She lived at 120 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea from 1906 to 1909.

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst being taken into custody by policemen during a women’s suffrage protest in Trafalgar Square in 1912
© The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

EARLY LIFE

Sylvia was the second daughter of Richard Pankhurst, a Manchester lawyer and social reformer, and his wife, Emmeline, who was – with her eldest daughter, Christabel, and Sylvia – to become a major figure in the women’s suffrage movement. In the early 1900s Sylvia combined work for the Women’s Social and Political Union, founded in 1903 by Emmeline and Christabel, with training as an artist at the Royal College of Art in Kensington.

 

SUFFRAGETTE AND PACIFIST 

Sylvia was known for her suffrage militancy – she was imprisoned for the first of many times in 1906, the year she moved to 120 Cheyne Walk. In 1913, she founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes, and launched a newspaper, the Dreadnought. She later wrote The Suffragette Movement (1931), one of the first and most lucid accounts of the struggle for the vote.

The First World War caused a rift in the Pankhurst family: while Emmeline and Christabel supported the war effort, Sylvia emerged as a radical socialist and pacifist. After 1918 she visited Russia and became associated with the emergent Communist Party of Great Britain, writing fiercely polemical articles in the Dreadnought.

In 1924, Sylvia moved from Kensington and Chelsea to Woodford, Essex, where she ran a tea room with her partner, Silvio Corio. Their home there, which they named ‘Red Cottage’, has unfortunately not survived. Sylvia’s refusal to marry, and the birth of a child out of wedlock, widened the rift with her mother and sister, who were scandalised by the affair.

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst in 1938 when she was actively involved in campaigning against fascism
© National Portrait Gallery, London

ETHIOPIA

Sylvia was an early and articulate opponent of Italian fascism and was particularly incensed by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935–6. In 1935 she started the New Times and Ethiopia Times which became the principal source written in English on Ethiopian affairs. She remained committed to the Ethiopian cause for the rest of her life and in 1956 settled permanently in Addis Ababa, where she died in 1960. 

COMMEMORATION

Remarkably, when Sylvia was first considered for commemoration in 1980, her case was narrowly rejected by the Greater London Council’s Historic Buildings Committee after a vote, though it was approved two years later on the centenary of her birth. Her plaque was erected in 1985 at 120 Cheyne Walk, the most important of her addresses to survive in London. Number 120 is next door to the former home of JMW Turner, whose residence there is marked with an unofficial plaque.

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques


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