Annie Kenney: War before Suffrage

An Unboxed blog from Laura Noon.

blog post image AK postcard votes for womenAnnie Kenney was the first suffragette to perform militant action for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) when she asked Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill during a Liberal rally at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester:

‘If you are elected, will you do your best to make Women’s Suffrage a government measure?’

Ignored several times, Annie, together with Christabel Pankhurst, who had accompanied her, began to shout the question. When asked to leave, they did not. She was offered a fine, which she refused to pay. Kenney subsequently faced three days imprisonment for this protest, the first of thirteen jail sentences.

Annie Kenney’s committed fight for women’s voting equality was courageous and her devotion to justice lasted a lifetime. This was evident in 1944, thirty years after woman’s suffrage, when she stood in opposition to a film production about the suffragette movement, believing that it would bring ‘neither a tear, laugh or sigh to the cinemagoer’.

Jill Craigie, a feminist documentary film maker, had set out to produce a dramatisationof the movement. She wrote to Christabel Pankhurst and Kenney, asking for their co-operation. As a keen admirer of the suffragette movement, Craigie promised to use their correspondence to depict, to the best of her ability, historical accuracy.

Kenney responded with trepidation, questioning the sensitivity of the timing. She contended that a film about the suffragette movement would insensitively depict the brutality of the First World War in conjunction with the suffragettes, in the midst of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” that was the Second World War.

In her reply to Craigie, she wrote: “Mothers’ sons are giving their fresh young lives and shedding their clean blood so that mankind can breathe and live as free men in a free world.”

Kenney, having aided Lloyd George in 1914 and served her country in War as loyally as she served the movement, understood the current hardship that faced the nation. She strongly believed that, if the film were to be made, she and Pankhurst should not be included in it.

Kenney wrote: “…Until happier and more peaceful days return, we must do the duty that lies nearest to our hand and put on one side all retrospection of the past, keeping our eyes fixed on the present, looking forward to a brighter future, for in this way we serve the highest and the best.”

Kenney’s perception of the “very small and insignificant” women’s struggle embodied her altruistic nature, as she considered the welfare of those fighting the bigger battle to be of more significance than her personal fight for women’s voting equality.

Craigie didn’t produce a script about the suffragettes until 1951. Entitled “The Women’s Rebellion”, it was broadcast on the BBC Home Service radio station on 13 March 1951.  Kenney and her family were upset with Craigie’s depiction of Annie, which they believed to be too focused on her attire and on her class than on her contribution to the fight for women’s suffrage. Jessie Kenney wrote to the BBC and a meeting was held to discuss the matter.

Craigie subsequently apologised to Annie for any distress caused and the play was never re-broadcast.

An Unboxed blog from Laura Noon, Graduate of the MA in Gender Studies, University of East Anglia

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Further Reading:

Correspondence between Craigie, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst and other Kenney family members, relating to this episode, can be found within the Kenney Papers Archive at UEA. [Reference: AK/5/2 BBC Radio Play, ‘The Women’s Rebellion’, 1951]

Access a full listing of the Archive: https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/kenney

Suffragette Stories

During 2018-19, the University of East Anglia is digitising 100 items from the archive, to celebrate the centenary of some women achieving the vote as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project, in partnership with Norfolk County Council’s Library Service. The archive material is also being used in libraries and schools across Norfolk to prompt discussion about forgotten legacies and women’s equality. Find out more about the project here: https://suffragettestories.omeka.net/

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Imprisoned Suffragettes and their Visual Tools of Power

WSPU Procession 18 June 1910

Copyright: Speed, R / Source: UEA Archives

WSPU ‘From Prison to Citizenship’ procession, 18 June 1910

Unboxed blogger and UEA graduate, Nicholl Hardwick, explores the importance of the broad arrow symbol in suffragette protests.

This photograph captures one of the earliest mass marches organised by the suffrage movement.

As you focus in on the picture, it becomes clear that many of the women are carrying unique staffs. Yet not many of us may know what these visual tools symbolise.

Almost 15,000 women walked together from the Embankment to the Albert Hall in London, in order to hear Christabel Pankhurst and other suffragette leaders speak. These particular staffs represented the “broad arrow” symbol which was a triple line stitched or painted on prisoners’ uniforms at the time. The women carrying these staffs had all been imprisoned for their suffragette activities, hence their use of the symbol.

The staffs make a striking image, especially when considering how many women were holding them. They honoured the actions of those women who saw the crucial need to not just leave their families, but also to risk their freedom and health in their pursuit of gender equality. These staffs represented strength, solidarity, focus and togetherness, and demonstrated that this was a powerful movement whose aims and demands needed to be taken seriously and with empathy.

The scene appears chaotic and stifling, yet it represents bravery, progress and power. The suffragette movement was not without its exclusions and indications of deep-rooted racial prejudice, but it also contained elements of revolution, effective change and radical direct action that have influenced the ways in which many women participate in politics and protest today.

Source: The photograph is held within the papers of Suffragette, Annie Kenney, as part of the Kenney Papers at the University of East Anglia. Kenney was a suffragette pioneer who contributed considerably to the movement and its inclusion of working class women. The march ended at the Royal Albert Hall, where Kenney gave a speech. To visit the archive, email archives@uea.ac.uk

View a short clip from the demonstration (BFI): https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-demonstration-of-suffragettes-1910-online

 

Archive Exhibition: Identity, Memory and Legacy in Suffragette History

 

The archives of leading working class suffragettes, Annie Kenney and Jessie Kenney, are held at the University of East Anglia (UEA) as ‘The Kenney Papers’ and include diaries, memorabilia and original correspondence from leading political figures, including Lady Constance Lytton, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. To celebrate the lives of these extraordinary women and the centenary of partial suffrage in 1918, a small display is on show during 2018 at UEA Library’s Archives Foyer (Floor 02), and available to the public. The archive itself is publicly accessible Mon-Fri by prior appointment e: archives@uea.ac.uk p: 01603 59 3491.

A project to digitise material from the archive as part of an online exhibition is also underway and material is being loaned to the Kenney sisters’ home town in Oldham as part of an exhibition at Oldham Gallery.

About the Kenney sisters

Annie Kenney (1879-1953) worked in a cotton mill from the age of 10. In 1905 she was recruited to the cause of women’s suffrage after hearing Mrs Pankhurst and her daughters addressing an open-air meeting in Manchester. On the 13th October 1905 she carried out what is now recognised as the first militant act of the suffrage movement when she accompanied Christabel Pankhurst to an election meeting in Manchester Free Trade Hall and heckled the speakers, Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill. She and Christabel were arrested and imprisoned. Thereafter Annie Kenney was a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903.

Jessie Kenney (1887-1985) was Annie’s younger sister. She was Secretary of the WSPU and worked alongside Christabel Pankhurst in Paris from 1912, assisting in the long-range operations of WSPU. In 1917, she accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst to Russia, on behalf of the British government to promote the mobilisation of Russian women in the war effort. Jessie was in Russia for some three months and made a detailed record of events. Unpublished memoirs within the archive reveal fascinating insights into the movement and the legacy of the Kenney sisters.

Link to the Kenney Papers’ Archive page

The Suffragettes and two World Wars: Letters from Christabel Pankhurst to Annie Kenney

Annie_Kenney_and_Christabel_Pankhurst,_c_1905-1912__(22525796328)

Annie Kenney (left); Christabel Pankhurst – c1905-1912 Source: The Women’s Library collection, London School of Economics

An Unboxed blog from Yaiza Canopoli, undergraduate of the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing.

Related blog, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, arrested at the Free Trade Hall on October 13, 1905.

Christabel Pankhurst was born into a family of fighters for women’s rights. Her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, was the leader of the suffragette movement, and she taught her daughter from early on to fight for her rights. Christabel wrote many letters to fellow suffragettes after 1918, asking for opinions on their legacy and treatment and voicing her own; two particularly interesting letters are addressed to Annie Kenney, with whom she maintained a strong friendship long after the suffragette movement had quieted down and the two world wars were over. The letters are held at the University of East Anglia’s Archives as part of the Kenney Papers.

In a letter from January 1949, Christabel commemorates the death of Flora Drummond, nicknamed ‘the General’ for her habit of leading marches for women’s rights wearing a military uniform. This woman had been a grand figure in the movement, and her death caused sorrow for a lot of women who had been involved at the time.

The idea that the movement is over, that ‘[a] chapter has closed’, and that there is nothing more to be done, seems to be a recurring thought in Christabel’s letters. In 1946 she writes

[t]he vote is ours, and that is what matters,

and then in 1949 she repeats herself, adding that:

it is for the younger women to use it wisely

This is in response to multiple requests for publications focusing on the suffragette movement; in 1946 she was asked to participate in the making of a movie recounting the women’s struggle for the vote, and then in 1949 a similar request was put forward regarding the writing of a book. In both cases, she refused to take part, saying that with the world in such a fragile state as it was left in after the Second World War, showing the way the British government had responded to the women’s rights movement would only put more pressure on Britain and create further tensions:

for foreigners who see the film may get an erroneous impression of what England is today and judge her present case by that blotted page in our history

This awareness of more than just women’s rights is very present throughout most of the suffragettes’ correspondence with one another. When the First World War broke out, the suffragette movement was put on hold to help the government with this international struggle, and even after both wars were over, the women who had been part of the movement were still careful about putting the national and international situation before their own fight. Another example of this is a book that Christabel had written before these requests were voiced; she had already put it in the hands of a publisher when she decided to call off the deal because of the upcoming Second World War.

Ultimately, both letters are about war and memory. As much as they talk about writing books and making movies, the theme of the two world wars is present throughout the correspondence, and the weight these experiences have put on Christabel is palpable. The suffragettes fought for their own rights, but first and foremost they fought for equality and freedom, and the wars of the 20th Century brought these two concepts to their limits, uniting the militant women and the government in what was ultimately a fight for human rights.

The letters exchanged between Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney can be accessed at UEA, alongside other fascinating correspondence between various suffragettes.

[KP/AK/1-2: correspondence with Christabel Pankhurst. Letter from 25/01/1949 + letter from 19/11/1946]

Kenney Papers at UEA Archives

How to access the Archives at UEA: https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives

Suffragette sisters Annie and Jessie Kenney

This week sees the release of the British historical period drama film Suffragette. An opportunity then to highlight the papers held in the Archives of two suffragette sisters, Annie (1879-1953) and Jessie Kenney (1887-1985).

Annie Kenney (1879-1953) Copyright Kenney Papers

Annie Kenney (1879-1953) Copyright Kenney Papers

This is an extensive collection which includes correspondence with Lady Constance Lytton and the Pankhursts. (In the film, Emmeline Pankhurst is played by Meryl Streep).

Annie and Jessie were sisters in a family of 12 children. Born in Springhead, Yorkshire they both started their working life as cotton-mill operatives.

In 1905 Annie was recruited to the cause of women’s suffrage after hearing Mrs Pankhurst and her daughters addressing an open-air meeting in Manchester, and on 13th October 1905 she accompanied Christabel Pankhurst to an election meeting in Manchester Free Trade Hall. The pair heckled the speaker, Sir Edward Grey, were evicted, and conducted an impromptu meeting in the street. They were arrested and imprisoned, Annie for three days, and Christabel for seven. Thereafter Annie Kenney was a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903.

Memorabilia from the Kenney Papers

Memorabilia from the Kenney Papers

Jessie Kenney worked alongside Christabel Pankhurst in Paris from 1912, assisting Christabel in the long-range direction of WSPU operations. In 1917 she accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst to Russia, on behalf of the British government. Their particular objective was to promote the mobilisation of Russian women in the war effort. Jessie was in Russia for some three months and made a detailed record of events which she later prepared for publication under the title The Price of Liberty. The unpublished manuscript and diary records are contained in the Kenney Papers.

Further information and a detailed listing of the Kenney Papers.

The Kenney Papers were consulted widely for the book Lady Constance Lytton by Lyndsey Jenkins (2015).