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Jessica "Jessie" Kenney
Suffragette Jessie Kenney 1909. Blathwayt, Col Linley.jpg
Occupationactivist and stewardess
RelativesAnnie Kenney (sister)

Jessica "Jessie" Kenney (1887 – 1985) was a British suffragette who was jailed for assaulting the British prime minister and the Home Secretary as they played golf. She was protesting to gain votes for women in Britain. She and her sister's flat contained details of a bombing campaign to support their cause. These were discovered by the authorities when Kenney was sent abroad to convalesce. Kenney later went on to train as a wireless operator but worked as a stewardess.


Kenney was born in Oldham in 1887 in Lees which is in the West Riding of Yorkshire (part of the Borough of Oldham). She was the daughter (among 12 children) of Nelson Horatio Kenney (1849-1912) and Anne Wood (1852-1905); the family was poor and working class. Her sisters were Caroline ("Kitty", Ann (Annie) and Jane (Jennie). Annie and Jessie took leading roles in the Women's Social and Political Union.[1] Annie Kenney who was eight years older than her, promoted the study of literature amongst her colleagues – inspired by Robert Blatchford's publication, The Clarion.[2][3][4]

Mary Blathwayt planting a tree at Suffragette's Rest with Vera Holme, Jessie and Annie Kenney in 1909
Mary Blathwayt planting a tree at Suffragette's Rest with Vera Holme, Jessie and Annie Kenney in 1909

Jessie Kenney became actively involved in the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) after she and her sister, Annie, heard Teresa Billington-Greig and Christabel Pankhurst[5] speak at the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club in 1905.[4] Jessie did not have her elder sisrter's gift for public speaking but she was more organised. In 1906 she became the secretary of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Baroness Pethick-Lawrence. She would organise members to interrupt meetings and to send deputations.[5]

Daisy Solomon and Elspeth McClellan with a post boy, police and an official outside no.10 Downing Street, attempting to get themselves delivered as letters
Daisy Solomon and Elspeth McClellan with a post boy, police and an official outside no.10 Downing Street, attempting to get themselves delivered as letters

The WSPU were keen to press the case for women's suffrage with the government. The government changed the law and it was agreed that the Post Office would allow people to send "human letters". On 23 February 1909 Jessie Kennedy took advantage of this loophole to send two delegates, Ms Solomon and Ms McClennan, from Strand Post Office to the Prime Minister.[6] On 10 December 1909 Kenney disguised herself as a telegraph boy to obtain access to H. H. Asquith at a public meeting in Manchester. She was unsuccessful, but the picture was used as publicity for the cause.[7]

She and Vera Wentworth were jailed for assaulting the Prime Minister. On 5 September 1908 Kenney, Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth had assaulted Prime Minister H. H. Asquith and the Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone during a golf match.[8]

In 1909 she was invited to Mary Blathwayt's home at Batheaston where the leading suffragettes met. Significant visitors were asked to plant a tree to record their achievements on behalf of the cause e.g. a prison sentence.[8]

In 1913 she was ill and she was sent from the flat she shared with Annie to Switzerland to recover. It was described as "a breakdown" but Mary Blathwayt remembers it as a lung infection. Her illness prevented her from destroying papers in her flat and as a result incriminating evidence was found. The papers provided evidence to show that the WSPU's chemist Edwy Clayton had been involved in acts of arson on behalf of the WSPU.[9] Clayton and other were convicted and he was sentenced to 21 months in jail. Clayton went on hunger strike and was released after 15 days and he then went abroad.[10]

World War One

Emmeline Pankhurst put the women's suffrage movement aside for the period of the war. Jessie, like many, followed her lead.[9]

In June 1917 she accompanied Emmaline Pankhurst on a trip to Russia. Edward Tupper of the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union had organised amongst the seamen of the SS Vulture to refuse to accept Ramsay MacDonald and Fred Jowett as passengers on board the ship. However Tupper, made it clear that Kenney and Pankhurst would be acceptable.[11]


After working for the WSPU she decided to work in a field related to her interest in radio and science in general. She took advice from Emmeline Pankhurst and Marie Curie and realised that with her resources she may be able to train as a wireless operator. This was not without ambition as all the forms assumed that operators would be male. in 1923 she attended the North Wales Wireless College and obtained a first class certificate in Radio Telegraphy.[12]

She never found work as a wireless operator and had to work as a stewardess.[12]


  1. ^ "THE KENNEY PAPERS A Guide". University of East Anglia. 2018. Retrieved 15 August 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. ^ a b "Jessie Kenney". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2017-10-26.
  6. ^ Sylvia Pankhurst (16 September 2015). The Suffragette: The History of the Women's Militant Suffrage Movement. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 351, 362. ISBN 978-0-486-80484-2.
  7. ^ Sylvia Pankhurst (16 September 2015). The Suffragette: The History of the Women's Militant Suffrage Movement. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 384, 464 et al. ISBN 978-0-486-80484-2.
  8. ^ a b Simkin, John (September 1997). "Mary Blathwayt". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  9. ^ a b Elizabeth Crawford (2 September 2003). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. Routledge. p. 320. ISBN 1-135-43402-6.
  10. ^ Simon Webb (2 July 2014). The Suffragette Bombers: Britain's Forgotten Terrorists. Pen and Sword. pp. 35–37. ISBN 978-1-4738-3843-7.
  11. ^ Tupper, Edward (1838). Seamen's torch. London: National Book Association.
  12. ^ a b "Jessie Kenney and women seafarers". Women's History Network. 2013-06-30. Retrieved 2017-10-26.
This page was last edited on 24 November 2018, at 11:29
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