The forgotten Glasgow suffragette protest that saw Emmeline Pankhurst arrested

On March 9, 1914, a large meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union met at St Andrew’s Hall, Glasgow.

On a day known as the Battle of Glasgow, more than 30 suffragettes clashed with 50 police officers. At this point, the 1913 “Cat and Mouse” Act dealt with the problem of suffragettes on hunger strike – granting early release to prisoners so weakened that they risked death, who would then be recalled to prison once their health was restored. . .

The WSPU formed the Bodyguard, a group of trained women tasked with protecting suffragettes from arrest. These women traveled from London to Glasgow the day before Ms Pankhurst was due to speak – knowing she was subject to further arrest under the ‘Cat and Mouse Law’.

Inside the room, bouquets and garlands had been arranged along the stage to conceal barbed wire to hold back the police. As 4,000 people gathered for the meeting, officers hoped to arrest Pankhurst before she entered the room.

Manchester suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, centre, pictured in January 1913 (Image: Mirrorpix – Manchester Evening News Archive)

In reality, she had been smuggled in a laundry basket earlier that day and was already at the scene. When she started to give her speech, it was only moments before officers attempted to arrest her.

With the police entangled in barbed wire, the suffragettes were groomed with buckets of water and used flag poles as battering rams. Things took a turn when Scottish suffragette Janie Allan pulled a gun from her skirt.

The ensuing riots saw police fire batons, and several suffragette supporters, including Ms Pankhurst, were arrested. She was taken to Central Police Station where, according to the Aberdeen Evening Express, she refused to eat or drink overnight.

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The publication told readers on March 10: ‘Ms Pankhurst, in charge of two of Scotland Yard’s officers, left Glasgow this morning and joined an express for London, great secrecy being kept as to the arrangements of the police.

“A crowd of supporters marched in front of the central police station all night. Large numbers of suffragettes turned up at Glasgow Central Station expecting to see Ms Pankhurst join the express, and there was widespread disappointment when news of the police maneuver broke.

Following the events, complaints were made about the behavior of the police with letters written to the Lord Provost of Glasgow as well as local newspapers. Janie Allen campaigned for an investigation into police brutality at the time and wrote attendees a written questionnaire about the event.

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Authorities rejected requests for an official investigation, adding that there was “no cause for complaint against the police”.

William Thomson, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, made a statement to the Judicial Committee. It reads: “I wish to say a few words about the Glasgow suffrage riot from the point of view of its demoralizing influence on all concerned.

The Suffragette Oak in Kelvingrove Park was planted in 1918, to commemorate the right to vote granted to certain women (Image: Wikimedia Commons -Sara Thomas)
The Suffragette Oak in Kelvingrove Park was planted in 1918, to commemorate the right to vote granted to certain women (Image: Wikimedia Commons -Sara Thomas)

“To storm a hall or its platform by large detachments of police in order to ensure a single individual dutifully supported by a meeting which embraces a large section of the citizens’ elite must at all times to be a hazardous test of the moral qualities of the men on whom this work is imposed.

It would take four years before only certain women were granted the right to vote – those over 30 who owned land or premises worth more than £5. It was not until 1928 that women achieved electoral equality, granted to all women over the age of 21, regardless of property.

Emmeline Pankhurst, synonymous with the suffragette movement, died just weeks before the Equal Franchise Act was introduced in 1928.

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