Adela Pankhurst (1885 – 1961)

Image of Adela Pankhurst
Portrait of Adela Pankhurst (1885-1961). Youngest daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and active member of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union)
© The March of the Women Collection / Mary Evans Picture Library

Adela Pankhurst was the only member of the Pankhurst family to work as a paid organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was involved in the earliest acts of militancy and hunger striking in Scotland, in Glasgow and Dundee in 1909.

In Dundee Police Court, in October 1909, Adela was charged with behaving in a disorderly manner and committing a breach of the peace. With suffragette Laura Evans, and two local men Owen Clarke and William Stewart Carr, she 'threw missiles' from an attic at 19 Overgate and shouted '"Votes for women"'. Police discovered a long piece of rope, a length of hosepipe, two new axes, a long piece of string with weights attached and cooking utensils. The party had been camped there for a couple of days without permission. Adela admitted stones were thrown, but added they were returned 'with interest' by the stewards on the roof of the Kinnaird Hall, who threw stones at the window of the attic, which smashed the glass in the faces of those inside.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported that 'Miss Pankhurst, assisted by Miss Evans, introduced a touch of comedy into the proceedings. Leaning listlessly on the bar rails, her head in her hands, and a smile which suggested sarcasm playing about her lips, she answered the Magistrate in a curious way. Do you plead guilty or not guilty? 'It doesn't much matter.' Said Miss Pankhurst 'You can take it whichever way you want.' Finally, she pled guilty. Owen and William were exonerated by Adela. At Court, she was sentenced to a fine of £3 or 7 days' imprisonment. Adela was released after serving 3 days due to hunger strike.

Adela was born on 19th June 1885 in Manchester, England, the youngest daughter, of Richard Pankhurst and Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the British Suffragette movement. She was the sister of Sylvia and Christabel who were also prominently involved with the movement.

Adela's left-wing views were not agreeable to Christabel or her mother. They sent her to Australia where Adela became an organiser of the Women's Peace Army in Melbourne and wrote anti-war pamphlets. In September 1917 she married Tom Walsh and they had a son and five daughters. Adela became a founding member of the Communist Party of Australia, from which she was later expelled.

Disillusioned with communism, she founded the anti-communist Australian Women's Guild of Empire in 1927 and in 1942 became a founding member of the right wing and nationalistic Australia First Movement.

Adela died on 23rd May 1961, aged 75, in Wahroonga, Sydney, Australia. Her name and picture (and 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.

Adela's case can be examined in a file held by National Records of Scotland.