• Categories: 20th Century

Annie KenneyAnnie was born in Yorkshire, on 13 September 1879, the 4th daughter of 12 children. 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 became actively involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) after hearing Christabel Pankhurst speak at the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club in 1905.

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 got out a banner declaring “Votes for Women”, and shouted at the two politicians to answer their questions. 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.

Kenney was the only working class woman to become part of the senior hierarchy of the WSPU, becoming deputy in 1912, unusual in such a middle class organisation. She 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.

force feeding of a suffragette

Force feeding of a suffragette

She eventually settled in Letchworth after women over 30 won the vote in 1918. She died on 9 July 1953 aged 73.

Annie Kenney with Christabel Pankhurst