Suffragettes

Emaline Pankhurst

Electioneering campaigns of hundred years ago were a very different activity to those of today. Then, with no radio or television to reach their constituents with their policies, the politicians had to address the public personally in parks, theatres, halls, schoolrooms and literally, on their ‘soap boxes’. Campaigning then was a very dangerous affair, none more so than the political rallies held in Llanelli during the by-election caused by the appointment of Mr Llewelyn Williams MP to the Recordership of Swansea in January 1912. One speaker, addressing the public in Town Hall Square from the top of a wagon on the ‘Tariff Reform’, had his platform dragged around the square to the cheers and laughter of the crowd.

The suffragettes did not fare any better, for a similar attack was made on their vehicle, on that occasion the female occupants narrowly escaped a ducking in the River Lliedi by escaping down Old Castle Road. These brave ladies of the ‘Votes for women brigade’ had a very difficult challenge ahead of them especially in the male dominated town of ‘Tinopolis’. Two factions of the suffrage cause had set up camp in Llanelli. The ‘National Union of Women’s Suffrage’ had opened committee rooms in Stepney Street, opposite the YMCA. They disapproved of the illegal and militant methods of those associated with Mrs Pankhurst who distinguished themselves by interrupting political meetings. The militant suffragists had their base in an office at the Arcade and were known as the ‘Women’s Social and Political Union’.

While addressing a packed meeting at Park Street School, the Suffragette speaker Mrs Cowmeadow, was heckled by the mob. Every time she attempted to address the audience she was met with the singing of ‘Sospan Fach’ and the ringing of the school bell forced the abandonment of the event. On Thursday 18 January 1912, another group of the women were addressing a crowd outside the Western Tinplate Works when they were attacked by a group of youths pelting snowballs, forcing the valiant ladies to beat a swift retreat on their wagon. Speaking afterwards, Miss Barrett dismissed the assault with nonchalance, stating that ‘snowballs were not as bad as rotten eggs’.

News of the events in the town that week would have crossed the mind of Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, as she journeyed from Carmarthen to Llanelli to address the townspeople on Saturday 20th January 1912. Any fears of disruption or disorder were unfounded, as the authorities and organisers had taken preventative action by limiting the numbers of those attending the venue and had provided an adequate number of stewards to keep order. The meeting was planned to start at 8pm with Miss Barrett presiding.

On Mrs Pankhurst’s arrival at the Parish Hall, Llanelli, she was greeted with the sounds of a rattle and a toy trumpet. Although the audience at the meeting heckled and barracked the formidable lady, Mrs Pankhurst’s fine eloquence was more than a match for them, the opposition that she met with was of a very trifling nature, while many of her arguments were met with derisive cheers she appeared to have carried the day, for “Mrs Pankhurst’s pleading tones saved the situation each time”. One eye witness commenting on the event said “I can quite understand the pre-eminent position Mrs Pankhurst has secured for herself in the Women’s Suffrage movement”. Another stated, “Perhaps the most surprising incident is the excellent reception which the far-famed Mrs Pankhurst received on Saturday at the Parish Hall. I had the pleasure of hearing this great apostle of Women’s Suffrage. She is a very able and very effective speaker and made out an extremely strong case”. The South Wales Press commented “That Mrs Pankhurst had a very good hearing at Llanelli” She subsequently went on to speak at a meeting in the Higher Elementary School, where a window was smashed by some youths who were refused admission. By 1928 women over 21 finally got the vote - that same year the first woman crossed the Atlantic Ocean in an aeroplane.

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