The Original Manx Suffragette


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So, how many statues of real people on the Isle of Man can you think of?

Norman Wisdom, obvs.George Formby, Joey, Hizzy.TE Brown at the top of Prospect Hill that sometimes has a cone stuck on his head (so original!)If you think really hard, you might remember “the lifeboat bloke” – Sir William Hillary, or if you’re a history buff, you might know of Captain John Quilliam and Hall Caine at the little garden at the Strathallen end of the prom.

Does anything strike you as strange about that list? No….? Where are all the women?

Would it surprise you then, to know that there is only currently one statue of a woman on the Island (a real one, Fenella at Peel doesn’t count) and it’s not even very prominent.It’s of Queen Victoria; perched looking down over Victoria Street from the second floor of the old Telecom shop building.

So why am I banging on about statues? Well, it’s because representation matters and now finally, important women are getting statues put up in their honour. Mary Seacole, Alice Hawkins, Millicent Fawcett, and Emmeline Pankhurst have all had successful statue campaigns recently. More drives are ongoing for Victoria Wood, Annie Kenney, Sylvia Pankhurst, and lately, calls for Mary Wollstonecraft to also be recognised in this way.

You’ll notice that the Pankhurst name came up twice there. Hopefully, it’s a name you recognise and know why their achievements, and those of their sister Christabel, are being commemorated with statues. But how did they become so “woke”, as we would now call it? And what on worth has this got to do with the Isle of Man?!Enter…Emmeline’s mother, Sophia Jane Goulden, born Sophia Craine in Lonan in 1833. Emmeline credited her mother as having introduced her to the fight for women’s suffrage at a very young age.Sophia married Robert Goulden at Braddan Church and they moved to his native Manchester and started a family. Sophia and Robert had 11 children (though sadly the eldest died at two years old), who they brought up to believe in fighting for the rights of others – as they did themselves.One of Emmeline’s earliest memories was of helping her mother at a bazaar, to raise funds for newly emancipated slaves in the US, and her pride of being entrusted with a small bag to collect pennies in. At no older than five years old, she already understood the meaning of slavery and emancipation – indeed her favourite book was Uncle Toms Cabin, read to her and her siblings at bedtime by her mother.Sophia and her husband were part of the radical Manchester movement fighting for women’s suffrage, which included Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Bright, Lydia Becker and Alice Scatcherd – both of whom came to the Isle of Man to campaign for votes for women here – and Dr. Richard Pankhurst. Their children grew up surrounded by these people, and later, of course, Emmeline married Dr. Pankhurst, 30 years her senior.Sophia and Robert Goulden both returned to the Isle of Man regularly, visiting Sophia’s mother who lived in their Strathallan Crescent house, before retiring here themselves. They are both buried up in Braddan Cemetery, Sophia living 18 years here as a widow – with the right to vote as a property owner. They brought their children here for holidays and Emmeline and Robert continued the tradition with their own children.

It has often been assumed by historians that it was the marriage to Richard Pankhurst that started Emmeline off on her historic fight for votes for women. Yet, it was her mother Sophia who brought her to her first suffrage meeting at 14 years old, and again Emmeline credits this as being hugely influential on her, coming away from the meeting “a conscious and confirmed suffragist…with my temperament and surroundings, I could scarcely have been otherwise.”

It also wasn’t just Emmeline who was influenced by her upbringing; her sister Mary (later Clarke) had an active part in forming the Women’s Social and Political Union and was imprisoned three times for her actions in their “Deeds not Words” campaign. Mary actually died as a result of being so weakened by hunger strikes she went on in Holloway Women’s Prison; collapsing on Christmas Day, just after being released days before, and died in Emmeline’s arms of a brain hemorrhage.

Other siblings, Ada Goulden Bach and Effie Bailey were also involved in campaigning, as was Herbert Goulden – who was once chased coming out of a suffrage talk, the mob recognising him as Mrs Pankhurst’s brother. He was pelted with eggs and flour, seeking refuge in a pub before being found and pursued again!

Emmeline’s daughter Sylvia remembers her grandmother as a warm, loving woman, making her own bread, pickles, butter and jam, and recounted a story of young Christabel baking with her – a well pawed sticky bit of dough somehow magically turning into a tasty, well-made apple tart!

It seems clear that Sophia had a massive impact on her family, all the while bringing up ten children, managing the family home – which also included the Pankhurst’s children for the early years their marriage – whilst still getting out and striving to help change history. The Friends of Sophia Goulden is a Manx charity who feel that her contribution to the suffrage movement should be recognised and so we are raising funds to have a statue of Sophia built for the island. Check out our Facebook page for more details of how you can become a member, donate, and attend our events.

Women need to be equally visible for their historic achievements, and in the past that rarely happened. Queen Victoria has monuments in her honour by virtue of her born status and the respect for that position, rather than by her own individual efforts.Women, and especially girls, need to see representations of people like them, to feel that they too can be a part of history. By having statues, women and girls can literally look up to in a physical manifestation of female empowerment. They say history is written by the victors; it seems we are finally getting to write a chapter of our own. You can help ensure this wonderful Manx woman gets the recognition she deserves.