Emma’s first steps in politics
After her return to Wolverhampton Emma continued her interest in politics, attending meetings, lectures and debates. In 1895 she joined the Independent Labour Party and it was here that she met her husband-to-be, Frank Sproson, a postman and secretary of the Wolverhampton branch of the ILP. They married on 1st August 1896. The couple had four children, of whom three survived: two sons, Frank (b. 1899) and George (b. 1906), and a daughter, Chloris (b. 1897), who became profoundly deaf. Emma’s autobiography skips forward to the early 20th century and the formation of the Women’s Social & Political Union, which had been founded in Manchester in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel. 1905 saw the start of demonstrations and lobbies of Parliament, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of growing numbers of WSPU members. The slogan ‘Deeds not Words’ was quickly adopted, a slogan that the women lived by.
Frank was instrumental in bringing Mrs Pankhurst to Wolverhampton where she stayed with the Sprosons. Emma took the chair at the meeting and Pankhurst, impressed with Emma’s speech, urged her to go to London for a demonstration that was being arranged. This was in 1907, not long after the birth of Emma’s third child, George, and in fact she was still feeding him at that time, but arranged for George to be looked after by her mother and Frank (Emma writes that she breastfed ‘him for the last time on Feb 7th at 6am, leaving him and my family in the care of my mother’). She then took the 6.55am train to Euston and made her way to 4 Clement’s Inn, the residence of Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who had started the suffragette newspaper Votes for Women and were instrumental in the WSPU at that time. Emma writes ‘a deputation was planned for us to go to the House of Commons the same evening, to protest against the King’s speech for not including votes for women’. She recalls the song that the women sang
‘we will die for you if that will break your chains, we will live to battle on and on again, we will never yield until the wrong is slain, for the cause goes marching on’.
They went to Caxton Hall in Westminster and heard speeches by members of the WSPU including Mrs Pankhurst. The deputation included around 200 women. The plan was to go in an orderly procession and to lay their claim before the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Emma writes
‘when we emerged from the hall passing through the Churchyard to Victoria Street, the police were in strong force and held the gates. So very gently, we bowled some of them over. We had not broken the law and the police had no lawful right to prevent us going peacefully on our way’.
‘we had not proceeded far when we saw hundreds of policemen, mounted and unmounted, in Parliament Square, but we proceeded on our way. A cordon of mounted police lined up in front of the house, and the unmounted broke up our ranks…I myself dodged through the cordon of mounted police on to the steps of the entrance, when two policemen took hold of me, used me very roughly, and pushed me back, and then the mounted police swept us before them. We returned again to our objective, and many of us were ruthlessly swept along the pavements, as though we were the enemy advancing in war. I, with 66 others, was arrested and escorted to Cannon Row Police Station. We were all bailed out to appear at Rochester Row Police Court the next morning’.
At court the next day the Magistrate asked Emma if she had anything to say. She replied ‘yes. The reason I took the course I did yesterday, is because I know that the political status of all women in this country is little better than the brute, and much below the lowest gutter-snipe on the Parliamentary registers’. The magistrate sat back in his chair, looked Emma steadily in the face, and said ‘10 shillings or 14 days’. All 66 of those arrested elected to go to prison and were taken to Holloway.