"Women were struck with fists and knees, knocked down, dragged up, hurled from hand to hand, and sent reeling back, bruised and bleeding, into the arms of the crowd. They were no longer demonstrators; they were monsters, their presence unendurable. They were pummeled and they were pinched, their thumbs were forced back, their arms twisted, their breasts gripped, their faces rubbed against the pailings; and this went on for nearly six hours ... there were a certain number of tough characters who did not choose to let this opportunity slip, and some ... were dragged away and miserably ill-treated; indeed, one woman is said to have died, a year later, as a result of having been indecently assaulted in a side street." At last by lamplight the square was cleared and two hundred and eighty women were arrested with seventy-five eventually being convicted and sent to prison.

This amazing scene took place in Parliament Square, London, on November 18, 1910. Between police who had been given a free hand and a quiet delegation of women asking only to be allowed to present a petition for female suffrage to the Prime Minister, this confrontation was to be the beginning of many similar episodes. Prime Minister Henry Asquith remained obstinately determined not to meet the women. This unyielding position was to remain that of the Government for many weary years.

The daring and unflinching women who had formed the 1910 group in Parliament Square belonged to the militant organization known as the Women's Social and Political Union. This had been formed in 1903 under the autocratic leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Sylvia and Christabel. These women had become totally disillusioned and impatient with the quiet work of petitioning for the vote on the same basis as men which had been going on since 1866. Their very different group formed following the reneging of 104 members of Parliament who had promised to vote for women's suffrage. The episode previously described was their first really violent demonstration but the injustice which they experienced, inspired them to ever more self-punishing actions for their cause.



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