History KS2: The Suffragettes

In 1912, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, is on trial at the Old Bailey for inciting others to commit criminal acts.

The question at the heart of the trial is whether or not Mrs Pankhurst’s words incited violent acts. As the trial unfolds, witness testimony reveals the historic struggle for women's right to vote.

The case is played out in the court room with dramatic flashbacks to illustrate the crime. The court reporter sets the scene and offers insight and context.

This film is from the series Tales from the Old Bailey.

Teacher Notes

This powerful case can be used to highlight the way it can be difficult to divorce the theoretical impartiality of the criminal justice from the contemporary politics of a period.

  • Pupils could consider whether the prosecution actually had enough evidence to convict Emmeline Pankhurst on the charges made.

  • They could role-play different members of the jury deliberating on their verdict, with some cast as jurymen utterly opposed to women's suffrage debating with jurymen with more liberal views. This discussion could be used to illustrate the point that jurors may be influenced by their political views in cases like this over and beyond the evidence actually presented in court.

  • Wider questions could be discussed, such as to who won or lost this case politically. For example, were the suffragettes actually hoping for a conviction and, if so, why? Pupils could consider who might have been more embarrassed by an acquittal: the government or the suffragettes?

  • The politics of the case could also be contrasted with the way government ministers and suffragettes co-operated during World War One, which actually resulted in parliament allowing some women the vote at the end of the war.

  • Other discussions could be held about the extent to which it is valid to ever break the law or use violence to further a particular cause. For example, in the modern day cases such as animal rights activists that release laboratory animals from captivity, or death threats to staff at clinics providing abortion services.

  • This clip could be contrasted with the case of Catherine Hays to discuss the extent (if at all) changes in the conduct of trials have made it more or less difficult for a woman to be tried fairly in court.

  • This clip could also be used by pupils studying the Liberal reforms 1906-1914.

Curriculum Notes

These clips are relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 2 and Second level, particularly when studying the Edwardians, the suffragettes or the 1906-1914 Liberal reforms.

More from Tales from the Old Bailey

The Blackguard Boys
The Grave Robber
The Murderess
The Thief Taker General