Freedom or Death Speech | Study Guide

Emmeline Pankhurst

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Freedom or Death Speech | Quotes


I am here as a soldier ... in order to explain ... what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst introduces herself to an American audience by declaring herself to be a soldier in the war for women's rights. The statement is meant to provoke her audience, not elicit sympathy. Her intention is to show how serious the suffragists are in their fight for their rights. Elsewhere in the speech, she will describe the suffragists as militants engaging in what she calls a "civil war" over women's suffrage.


I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all.

Emmeline Pankhurst

British women did not have the right to vote in 1913. Pankhurst articulates her status in stark legal terms: according to the law, she is a nonentity. Without the right to vote, her life is of no value. She has come to the United States to gain support for women's suffrage. American women also lacked the right to vote at the federal level, although some states allowed women to vote.


[The men] would either have to submit indefinitely to an unjust state of affairs, or they would have to rise up.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst uses a hypothetical situation to help the men in her audience understand the perspective of a disenfranchised person. Were their government to ignore their grievances, what would they do? Pankhurst argues that they would either submit, or—more likely—they would rebel against injustice just as their ancestors did during the American Revolution. Pankhurst makes an implicit parallel between the American patriots and the suffragists.


We were called militant, and we were quite willing to accept the name.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst explains why British suffragists shifted from advocacy to militant activism. Evoking the analogy of the crying baby, she points out that activists who are disruptive get their grievances addressed. She expresses pride in the fact that the women not only willingly call themselves "militant" but also through their actions prove worthy of the name.


In our civil war people have suffered, but you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst refers to the fight for women's suffrage as a civil war between disenfranchised women and a powerful government run by men. She concedes that war always brings suffering, usually for women, but this civil war is being waged by women. She regrets the collateral damage, but the goal is to keep it to a minimum. Her tone here is practical.


Now, I ask you, if women can do that, is there any limit to what we can do except the limit we put upon ourselves?

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst provides an illustration of how women have waged war. She recounts how a group of activists in Glasgow, Scotland, disrupted commerce by cutting communication lines. Pankhurst takes pride in the women's sabotage. She implies that it is the kind of warfare men can expect until they grant women the right to vote.


We belong to every class; we permeate every class of the community from the highest to the lowest.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst describes the fight for suffrage in terms of revolution. She makes a distinction between the fight for women's suffrage and previous revolutions, such as the Industrial Revolution, which pitted the wealthy against the poor. She argues that the war for suffrage has no clear side or battle lines because women are everywhere, in every class and in every community.


We are showing them that government does not rest upon force at all: it rests upon consent.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst introduces the concept of consent in the relationship between a government and the people. The principle was first explored by British philosopher John Locke (1632–1704), who noted that the contract between a civil government and the people relies on the people's consent to be governed. As Pankhurst will argue, the suffragists have empowered themselves by withholding their consent to be governed by an unjust government.


No power on earth can govern a human being, however feeble, who withholds his or her consent.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst implies that even the powerful British government cannot control any individual—man or woman—who refuses to be governed. Merely by withholding consent, even the weakest person has some leverage over those in power. Pankhurst will go on to explain how imprisoned suffragists demonstrate the withholding of consent by staging hunger strikes.


I think there are very few men today who would be prepared to adopt a "hunger strike" for any cause.

Emmeline Pankhurst

In prison Pankhurst and others defied the British government by engaging in hunger strikes. While some men have mocked the strikers, she wonders if men would have the fortitude to stage a hunger strike. She acknowledges that hunger strikes are a desperate measure that reflects the "intolerable sense of oppression" the individual feels.


To the shame of the British government, they set the example ... of feeding sane, resisting human beings by force.

Emmeline Pankhurst

While Pankhurst was never force-fed by prison authorities, she describes the procedure as a violation. She scorns the government for resorting to such a barbaric practice to "crush" the suffrage movement. She notes that in the end, the use of force-feeding has failed to stop or even slow the activists.


Give me the power to let these women go when they are at death's door ... and then bring them back.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst paraphrases the thinking behind the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act of 1913. Known as the "Cat and Mouse Act," it required prisons to release hunger strikers when they become too ill to serve their sentence. If the strikers recover, they may be taken back into custody to complete their sentences. The law's nickname refers to the way a cat will sometimes toy with its weakened prey.


Either women are to be killed or women are to have the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst sees the struggle for women's suffrage in stark terms. The government has two options—to kill women or to give them the vote. Her implication is that women will never stop fighting for their rights. Thus, if the government wants to end the conflict, it must either kill them like adversaries or give in to their demands.


There is only one way out—you must give those women the vote.

Emmeline Pankhurst

In concluding her speech, Pankhurst appeals to the American men in the audience. She warns that giving American women the vote is the only way to avoid a civil war in the United States like the one in Britain. She urges the men to prevent their government from taking a position against women's suffrage. Otherwise, the government will be left with the stark choice of either having to kill women or give them the vote.


If we win it, this hardest of fights, then ... it is going to be made easier for women all over the world.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Pankhurst ends her speech with an emotional appeal for the audience's help in winning the fight for women's suffrage. She predicts that if this fight is won in Britain and the United States, it will be easier for women all over the world to gain the right to vote as well. It would be another five years in Britain before women over 30 gained the right to vote. American women would not be able to vote until 1920.

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