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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Annie Kenney
Annie Kenney, 1909.jpg
Annie Kenney in 1909
Born (1879-09-13)13 September 1879
Springhead, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 9 July 1953(1953-07-09) (aged 73)
Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England
Nationality English
Occupation Political activism and trade unionism
Known for Political activist and suffragette for the Women's Social and Political Union

Annie Kenney (13 September 1879 – 9 July 1953) was an English working class suffragette who became a leading figure in the Women's Social and Political Union. She co-founded its first branch in London with Minnie Baldock.[1] She also attracted the attention of the press and the public in 1905 when both she and Christabel Pankhurst were imprisoned for several days for assault and obstruction, after heckling Sir Edward Grey at a Liberal rally held in Manchester on the issue of votes for women. This incident is credited with inaugurating a new phase in the struggle for women's suffrage in the UK, with the adoption of militant tactics.


Early life

Annie was born in Springhead, Saddleworth, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on 13 September 1879, the 4th daughter (of 12 children) of Nelson Horatio Kenney (1849-1912) and Anne Wood (1852-1905); the family was poor and working class, and Kenney started part-time work in a local cotton mill at the age of 10, as well as attending school; turning full-time at 13 – which involved 12-hour shifts from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. She was employed as a "tenter", a weaver's assistant, part of her job being to fit the bobbins and to attend to the strands of fleece when they broke; during one such operation, one of her fingers was ripped off by a spinning bobbin. She remained at the mill for 15 years, becoming involved in trade-union activities, furthering her education through self-study, and promoting the study of literature amongst her work colleagues – inspired by Robert Blatchford's publication, The Clarion; she was also a regular church attender.[2][3][4]

Kenney became actively involved in the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) after she and her sister Jessie Kenney heard Teresa Billington-Greig and Christabel Pankhurst[5] speak at the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club in 1905.[4]

First arrest and imprisonment

During a Liberal rally at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, in October 1905, Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a political meeting to ask Churchill and Sir Edward Grey if they believed women should have the right to vote. Neither man replied. The two women unfurled a banner declaring "Votes for Women", and shouted at the two politicians to answer their questions. Consequently, both Kenney and Pankhurst were thrown out of the meeting and arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer. Annie Kenney was imprisoned for three days for her part in the protest, and 13 times in total.

 Annie Kenney and Adela Pankhurst, pictured here in 1909 aside a tree planted by Emmeline Pankhurst
Annie Kenney and Adela Pankhurst, pictured here in 1909 aside a tree planted by Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst would later write in her autobiography that "this was the beginning of a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matter in any other country ... we interrupted a great many meetings... and we were violently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt."

Subsequent activism

Kenney and Minnie Baldock formed the first London branch (in Canning Town) of the then Manchester based Women's Social and Political Union in 1906.[6]

In 1906 she, Adelaide Knight, and Mrs. Sparborough were arrested when they tried to obtain an audience with H. H. Asquith.[7][8] Offered either six weeks in prison or giving up campaigning for one year, Kenney chose prison, as did the other women.[7]

Kenney was a working class woman who became become part of the senior hierarchy of the WSPU, becoming deputy in 1912, unusual in such a middle class organisation. In 1913 Kenney and Flora Drummond arranged for WSPU representatives to speak with leading politicians David Lloyd George and Sir Edward Grey. The meeting had been with the proviso that these were working class women representing their class. They explained the terrible pay and working conditions that they suffered and their hope that a vote would enable women to challenge the status quo in a democratic manner. Alice Hawkins from Leicester explained how her fellow male workers could choose a man to represent them whilst the women were left unrepresented.[9]

Kenney was involved in other militant acts and underwent force-feeding many times, but was always determined to confront the authorities and highlight the injustice of the Cat and Mouse Act. On one occasion in January 1914 she had just been released from prison and was very weak, but it was reported in The Times that at a meeting chaired by Norah Dacre Fox the WSPU general secretary at the Knightsbridge Town Hall:

Miss Kenney was conveyed to the meeting in a horse ambulance; and she was borne into the meeting on a stretcher, which was raised to the platform and placed on two chairs. She raised her right hand and fluttered a handkerchief and, covered with blankets, lay motionless watching the audience. Later, her licence under the "Cat and Mouse" Act was offered for sale. Mrs Dacre Fox stated that an offer of £15 had already been received for it, and the next was one of £20, then £25 was bid, and at this price it was sold. Soon afterwards Miss Kenney was taken back to the ambulance. Detectives were present, but no attempt was made to rearrest Miss Kenney, whose licence had expired.[10]

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst called an end to suffragette militancy and urged the women to become actively involved in war work by taking on jobs that had traditionally been regarded as in the male preserve,[11] given that the vast majority those men were now absent at the front. This was set in train through the pages of The Suffragette, relaunched on 16 April 1915 with the slogan that it was 'a thousand times more the duty of the militant Suffragettes to fight the Kaiser for the sake of liberty than it was to fight anti-Suffrage Governments'. As part of this during the autumn of 1915 Kenney accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst, Flora Drummond, Norah Dacre Fox (later known as Norah Elam) and Grace Roe to South Wales, the Midlands and Clydeside on a 'recruiting' and lecture tour to encourage trade unions to support war work.[12] She took her message as far afield as France and the United States, but eventually married James Taylor (1893-1977) and settled in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, after women (over 30) won the vote in 1918. A son, Warwick Kenney Taylor, was born in 1921.

She died of diabetes at the Lister Hospital in Hitchin on 9 July 1953 aged 73. Her funeral was conducted according to the rites of the Rosicrucians and her ashes were scattered by her family on Saddleworth Moor.[13]

In 1999, Oldham Council erected a blue plaque in her honour at Lees Brook Mill in Lees, near Oldham, and where Kenney had started work in 1892.[14]

Personal life

Reportedly,[15] Christabel Pankhurst and Kenney were lovers. Mary Blathwayt made notes in her diary of Kenney's female sleeping partners when she stayed at the Blathwayt's home of Eagle House. Mary's jealousy has been proposed as the reason. She made notes of 10 of her short-lived lovers.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Jackson, Sarah (12 October 2015). "The suffragettes weren't just white, middle-class women throwing stones". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2018. 
  2. ^ Helen Rappaport. Encyclopedia of women social reformers, Volume 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2001) p. 359-361
  3. ^ E. S. Pankhurst. The suffragette: the history of the women's militant suffrage movement, 1905–1910 (New York Sturgis & Walton Company, 1911) p. 19 ff.
  4. ^ a b Annie Kenney, Marie M. Roberts, Tamae Mizuta. A Militant (Routledge, 1994) Intro.
  5. ^ "Jessie Kenney". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2017-10-26. 
  6. ^ Jackson, Sarah (12 October 2015). "The suffragettes weren't just white, middle-class women throwing stones". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2018. 
  7. ^ a b Adelaide Knight, leader of the first east London suffragettes — East End Women's Museum
  8. ^ Rosemary Taylor (4 August 2014). East London Suffragettes. History Press. pp. 32–. ISBN 978-0-7509-6216-2. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Miss Kenney's Health – Released Suffragist at a Meeting" The Times, 21 October 1913, p. 5)
  11. ^
  12. ^ McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2011). Mosley's Old Suffragette – A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4466-9967-6. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. 
  13. ^ Guide to the Kenney Papers - Collection of the University of East Anglia
  14. ^
  15. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa; Marsh, Alec (2000-06-11). "Diary reveals lesbian love trysts of suffragette leaders". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2017-10-27. 
  16. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa; Marsh, Alec (2000-06-11). "Diary reveals lesbian love trysts of suffragette leaders". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 2017-10-27. 

Further reading

  • Drinkwater, Carol (2015). My Story: Suffragette. Scholastic. ISBN 978-1-407-15652-1. 
  • Kenney, Annie (1924). Memories of a Militant. E. Arnold & Company. ISBN 978-9-333-49205-8. 
  • Marlow, Joyce (2013). Suffragettes: The Fight for Votes for Women. Virago. ISBN 978-0-349-00775-5. 
  • Meeres, Frank (2013). Suffragettes: How Britain’s Women Fought & Died for the Right to Vote. Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1-445-60007-9. 

External links

This page was last edited on 23 March 2018, at 09:58.
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