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Wednesday’s Woman … Annie Kenney

May 1, 2013

Annie Kenney (1879-1953) was an English working class suffragette who become a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union.  Annie become friends with Christabel Pankhurst  in 1904 the year her mother had died.  In a bid to find companionship Annie joined a choir.  The members of the Oldham Clarion Vocal Union seemed to share her values (Memories of a militant by Annie Kenney).  She soon made friends with another member, Jane Ogden who was also a member of the Oldham Trades Council.  The Council had invited Miss Christabel Pankhurst and Teresa Billington to speak on Women’s Suffrage and Jane asked Annie along as her guest. Although Annie had never heard about ‘Votes for  Women’ she not even interested in politics.  She had never read a newspaper except for the Clarion.  The name Pankhurst meant nothing to her; she went to the meeting perhaps not wishing to be impolite in refusing.  

She listened to the women speak and was suitably impressed with Miss Pankhurst although Annie says in her Memories of a militant that she was a little hesitant and more nervous than Miss Billington and that she was measured and full of zeal.  While Miss Billington ‘used a sledge-hammer logic and cold reason.  Annie liked Christabel Pankhurst but was afraid of Theresa Billington.     

Annie was not sure about the questions and answers concerning ‘Limited Suffrage’ but stayed after the talk to speak with the guests.  As she watched she was amused by the way the audience were drawn to one or other of the speakers.  Thinking about those who were drawn to the cold logic of Miss Billington and the others who preferred ‘human side of Miss Pankhurst.

Before long Annie had arranged a meeting for Miss Pankhurst among the factory women of Oldham and Lees and she walked  with her to the station.  Miss Pankhurst invited Annie to spend the following Saturday at her home in Manchester.  It was at Christabel’s home where she meet Mrs Pankhurst and were able to make plans for the forthcoming meeting.  Annie arranged to have some handbills made and the choirmaster agreed to allow the choir to sing.  Annie and her sister Jessie distributed the handbills in Oldham.  Although the meeting did not attract the crowds they hoped for; it did mark the beginning of a strong friendship between Christabel and Annie.

Annie began making public speeches in fair grounds in the towns around  Manchester.  At such a meeting Annie began as usual by saying she was a factory – girl and a Trade Unionist afterwards she was approached by a local Union official who asked her to give them a couple of weeks organising the girls to join the Trade Union.  

When Annie asked her manager at work the following day for the time off; he did take a lot of persuading but eventually did give his consent  … to be continued.

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