Deeds Not Words: Emotional Appeals and Argumentation Theory in the Suffragette Movement Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

The Women's Movement and the Right to Vote in England

Who Led the Suffragettes in England in the 20th Century


After release from prison for militant suffragette activities (breaking windows, burning buildings), Christabel Pankhurst gave England to know that she was in no way mollified or subdued. Her recording of a speech asserting that now is the time for women to have the right to vote was made and disseminated and will serve as the text for analysis in this paper. The women’s suffragette movement of the early 20th century was pivotal in signaling a change in the political tide; it ushered in a new era for women’s rights, representation and social and political status. It set the wheels in motion for the subsequent waves of feminism and woman’s empowerment that swept across the Atlantic to the US. The movement was helmed and steered by a group of women who understood that their rights would be hard-earned, and amongst them was Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union and a leading figure in the British women’s suffrage movement. Upon being released from Holloway Prison in 1908, she recorded a speech as a press release for the followers of the movement. Apart from being a rare instance, at that time, of recorded speech, the text itself was a departure from her usual ‘the Queen of the Mob’ style of inflammatory language. The speech was conciliatory; a call to join for women seeking their due rights and at the same time a measured argument against, and targeted rebranding of, the then popular image of the suffragettes as ‘mad extremists.’ This essay will explore how Pankhurst’s speech functioned as an early example of Toulmin’s Practical Model of Argument, by examining how the structure of Pankhurst’s speech aligns with Toulmin’s model. Next, Burkean identification theory will be applied to show how identification of one party with another served as a process technique applied in the speech to persuade the audience to join forces with the militant suffragette movement that had, up till then, appeared unruly and rambunctious. Finally, this paper will use Goffman’s framing theory to explain how the medium of the message affected the way audiences processed the message.

The Toulmin Model

In his book, ‘The Uses of Argument,’ Stephen Toulmin comes up with a basic model of argumentation that graphically maps out how an argument can flow functionally in order to achieve the greatest persuasive impact; by prioritizing reason as the crux of the argument and making it evident and easily identifiable through the natural progression of the argument, and by backing your warrant, or the justification for your claim, exceptionally well. His theory for practical argument borrowed from the mathematical style of logic first introduced by Aristotle, but was supplemented by his focus on the justificatory function of argument, as opposed to the inferential function of theoretical arguments (Toulmin). Christabel Pankhurst’s speech is a prime example of rhetoric that follows Toulmin’s model, as it first finds and identifies a claim of interest, that is, that women deserve the right to vote, and then provides justification for this claim using a set of reasoned arguments, evidence, and backing.

The Toulmin model typically utilizes six steps to produce an effective argument: first is the statement of the argument, i.e., the claim that is made; second are the grounds upon which the argument is based, i.e., the evidence; third comes the warrant, which consists of the assumption that relates the evidence to the claim; fourth is the qualifier, which alerts the audience of the instances in which the claim might not always be true; fifth is the rebuttal, i.e., the acknowledgement of an alternative point of view; and sixth is the backing, which provides support to the warrant and justifies its existence (Toulmin). To recap, the warrant connects the grounds to the claim. Essentially it is a kind of syllogism in which a conclusion is reached based on two premises. For instance, the claim may be that a storm is coming; the grounds for the claim are that the wind is howling and dark clouds are fast approaching. The warrant (the underlying assumption) is that storms often occur when dark clouds and wind arrive. Thus, the claim is linked to evidence by way of an underlying assumption or understanding of what the evidence means. This model will be applied shortly to the text of Pankhurst’s speech. But, first, the Burkean identification theory will be examined to show how one can influence or persuade by using identity politics.

Burkean Identification Theory

Kenneth Burke in his work A Rhetoric of Motives focuses attention on how identity is actually more important than persuasive rhetoric. In this sense, a speaker who seeks to win over an audience need to present a reason for that audience to identify with the group that the speaker wants the audience to join or support. The key concept here is identification. Identification fosters unity and unity fosters cohesion. Persuasive devices, such as argumentative words, phrases and images, have their place in traditional rhetoric but in Burke’s theory the use of identity is much more influential in capturing the imagination of the audience and spurring that audience on to action. Identity politics is thus here viewed as an important element in argument: Kim et al. show distinctly that political identity has a great deal of social influence. Altman notes that those who attack identity politics as a symptom of political correctness tend to be under the mistaken assumption that equality is apparent and available to all. The assumption of Altman and of Pankhurst is that equality is non-existent. Thus, there is a need to identify one’s group as oppressed and the call is put out to all who feel oppressed to unite in an effort to confront the repressor. By identifying oneself with a group, it gives greater weight to one’s message (Smith).…

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…what better way to do that than to appeal directly to them in a subtle way that does not convey any overt gestures? The framing is done in accordance with the mission of the message.

Conclusion: Lessons Learned

The use of the medium of recording did not lead to immediate action on the part of England’s leaders. It would not be until 1928 that the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 would be passed. However, a decade earlier in 1918, the Parliament Qualification of Women Act had been passed which did allow women to serve as members of Parliament. This Act was likely passed in an attempt to mollify the suffragettes by allowing them “representation” in Parliament—but the women’s movement wanted the right to vote, not just figureheads in government. Still, it would be nearly 20 years after Pankhurst’s recording before the vote would be won. Thus, measuring the immediate effects of the text and its medium in terms of the time passed between the delivery and the achievement of the goal suggests that in the scheme of things the recording was not such a pivotal moment in history as the immediate, sensational effect of the thing would have it seem. Like most propaganda, the effect can be hot and quick, but the iron must be struck while it is hot—and if there is no political action or movement taken the effect of the propaganda is lost. With the rise of a new medium, the various propaganda forces at work could more easily set about initiating their own claims and warrants, putting out their own messages, and moving the public in one way or another. Pankhurst was not the only one to utilize the recorded voice to invoke unity and solidarity. What she did of course set a precedent for women in the movement—but much more is often required to effect political change than a piece of propaganda can do. That work took two decades to achieve its effect, and it is as worthy of study and analysis as any communication medium issued by Pankhurst: for a complete understanding of how communication, messaging, media and politics intertwine, a deeper understanding of the entire suffragette movement up to 1928 is needed.

Nonetheless, the lesson learned from Pankhurst’s recording is that rhetoric, fashioned in a way so as to make a claim, support it with reason, and set it before one’s audience in a logical manner, is a good way to win enthusiasm and support for an idea. Prior to the recording Pankhurst had best been known for her Queen of the Mob style of rhetoric. Here, her words were temperate, moderated, and focused on logic and reason rather than passion. She set in voice recording the basic argument for her position and that of the women’s movement. Even though it would be two decades before her movement would realize its goal, her words were here set down to serve as a line in the sand and a call for all…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Altman, Dennis. "Discontents: Identity, politics, institutions." Griffith Review 57 (2017): 80.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. University of California Press, 1969.

Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis. Penguin, 1975.

Laible, Deborah, et al. "Maternal sensitivity and effortful control in early childhood as predictors of adolescents’ adjustment: The mediating roles of peer group affiliation and social behaviors." Developmental psychology 52.6 (2016): 922.

Kim, Claire Heeryung, et al. "Political identity, preference, and persuasion." Social Influence 13.4 (2018): 177-191.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, critical edition, edited by W.Terrence.

Gordon. Berkeley, California: Gingko Press, 2013.

Pankhurst, Christabel. “Speech.”

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