Votes For Women
“The Militants, when their prisoners are released,
will fight for their country
as they have fought for the Vote.”
Women were Voters.
Creating the Centena.
Annie Kenney (1879-1953), in 1905, at a Liberal Party rally at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, stood on a chair and unfurled a banner on which was printed the legend ‘Votes for Women’. She had gone along with Christabel Pankhurst to try to get the question of suffrage for women heard, and ended up being arrested and put in Strangeways prison for three days. This was the start of the militant movement and the suffragettes.
A mill worker from Oldham, Annie Kenney was the only working class woman to be part of the executive of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was instrumental in helping women to get the vote. In fact, by 1912 she was running the WSPU while Christabel Pankhurst had escaped arrest by fleeing to Paris, and was visiting her there weekly, as well as directing the organisation in London.
I read her autobiography, Memories of a Militant, which was published in 1924, and is sadly long out of print. What shines out of the pages of her book, is the clear voice of someone who knew exactly what she was doing and was fiercely intelligent. Her writing is passionate and energetic, showing a determined positivity, as well as great comedic flair and lyrical wit.
My intention was to create a centena that would give Annie Kenney her voice, using snatches of her book to do this, as respectfully as possible. I needed to give it a structure, and to choose moments which would highlight Annie’s character and reflect the important part she played in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
The Kenney Papers held at the University of East Anglia added to the biographical information I had from Annie herself, and are a fascinating insight into the Kenney family. I re-watched the film Suffragette, and saw the wonderful and recent BBC programme Suffragettes with Lucy Worsley where, amongst others, Annie Kenney was brought to life on the screen.
Millicent Fawcett’s book, Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement was a very useful and illuminating read on the roots of the suffragist movement, and her views on the militant movement.
Suffragettes were “like eels” is at odds with the image of the starving mouse in the Cat and Mouse Act. Of course the suffragettes were slippery customers, doing everything possible to escape capture, and- eels are very strong. This quote along with the defiant bravery of Kenney regarding prison and hunger strikes is here in the face of her many arrests, hunger strikes and force-feedings.
The start of the First World War in 1914 came at the height of the suffragette campaign, and saw the WSPU declare a ceasefire on all of their activism and a determination to do everything possible to contribute to the war effort. In 1918 Annie Kenney saw victory, with women over thirty gaining the vote. She retired from activism, married and had a child. But she was once a militant.
Lives of the First World War.
You can find out more about Annie Kenney here at Lives of the First World War.
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