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 Unpublished memoirs within the archive reveal fascinating insights into the movement and the legacy of the Kenney sisters.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

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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).