Amazing career of Letchworth’s Annie Kenney focus of Suffragette talk

PUBLISHED: 10:05 02 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:08 02 July 2018

Annie Kenney was one of the Suffragettes featured in a talk by Diane Atkinson at the Wimpole History Weekend. Picture: United States Library of Congress

Annie Kenney was one of the Suffragettes featured in a talk by Diane Atkinson at the Wimpole History Weekend. Picture: United States Library of Congress

Archant

The life of one of the women at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in the early 20th century, who came to settle in Letchworth, has been put in focus for a talk by author and biographer Diane Atkinson.

Diane spoke at last weekend’s Wimpole History Festival – just across the county border in Cambridgeshire – with Annie Kenney a key feature of a lecture which also focused on the Pankhursts – Emmeline, and her daughters Sylvia and Christabel.

The Oldham-native is one of 200 Suffragettes featured in Ms Atkinson’s new book, Rise Up, Women!

Diane said: “Annie Kenney became part of the Pankhurst family, she worked at a cotton mill in Oldham part time from aged eight, when she was 13 she was full time.

“Her mother died in 1905 and there was a hole left in the family, and Annie was looking for something to fill that gap.

“A friend took her to a meeting where she heard Christabel speaking, and that was it. She was something of a poster girl for the movement because she had a working class background and that was something the Pankhursts really prized, so they gave her a high position in the Women’s Social and Political Union and they knew that, with her personality and her ability, she could reach into working class communities and bring so many working class women into the campaign.

“She would often lead processions wearing her mill clothes, including steel-tipped clogs. She would walk into working class communities and the message was ‘I understand where you’re coming from, this is going to be good for all of us’ – she was very, very influential.

“There’s been a lot of nonsense spoken about the Suffragettes that they weren’t serious about the vote for all women. They were utterly serious, and their fondness and their promotion for Annie Kenney was part of the point they were making.”

In her talk to the packed audience at the sun-drenched festival, Diane spoke about how the Suffragettes were perceived at the time, how they were abused, arrested and force-fed. And she spoke about the years following women’s suffrage being granted.

She concluded: “Annie’s life was changed thereafter by meeting the Pankhursts. She became a senior figure in the WSPU and she went to prison about seven different times – she’s not just a figurehead, she was an activist with an amazing Suffragette career.

“She would be charging back and forwards to Paris in disguise to get copy and policy from Christabel, who was in Paris in self-imposed exile – and she was one of the most wanted Suffragettes, right in the thick of it until the end.

“At the end of the war she was completely burnt out, and she retired from activism. She started her life over again after her amazing 15-year break from her ‘normal life.”

Annie married James Taylor and moved to Letchworth from London in 1923. She died 30 years later, after having a stroke.

For more on Wimpole History Festival go to www.wimpolehistoryfestival.com.

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