A CENTURY ago today the vote was extended to women for the first time in Britain. Although the act stopped short of giving the vote to all women, it paved the way for universal voting rights here in 1928.
The First World War was still raging across the globe when the act was passed in Parliament, but the role of women in the war effort had been recognised. So too had the long-fought and high profile campaign run by the Suffragettes – members of women’s organisations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who advocated the extension of the franchise, or right to vote, to women.
The Pankhurst family are synonymous with the Suffragette cause. But many will be aware of the role that Annie Kenney played in winning the vote for women. Although her name is less prominent than the Pankhurst’s, here in Oldham she is our very own working class suffragette – and we are extremely proud of her story.
Remember Annie’s story is important because understanding our history is important. It helps us learn from those who lived before us; it helps us place our lives in context; and it forges a sense of identity and belonging in communities and nations.
But Annie’s story should also inspire us to great things as individuals within our communities, especially working for the causes that we believe strongly in. I often think of Annie’s story as I work with the Youth Council here on the votes at 16 campaign.
So we have been asking local people and organisations to help us erect a statue in memory of Annie Kenney in recognition of her work as a local activist. She was the only working class woman to hold a senior position in the ‘Women’s Social and Political Union’ (WSPU), which spearheaded the campaign for universal suffrage under the banner ‘Votes for Women.’
Annie Kenney was born in what is now the borough of Oldham in 1879, to a relatively poor family. She was one of 12 children. She started work in a local cotton mill at the age of 10 and became actively involved in the trade union whilst working there. Her political activity attracted the attention of the press and the public in 1905 because, during a Liberal rally in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, she and Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a political meeting to ask Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey if they believed women should have the right to vote. Both women were arrested and later imprisoned for allegedly causing an obstruction.
Due to her commitment to the cause Annie was imprisoned a total of 13 times yet when war broke out she travelled the country with other senior members of the WSPU encouraging women and trade unions to support the war work.
Annie died on the 9 July 1953 aged 73 and Oldham Council erected a blue plaque in her Honour at Lees Brook Mill, Oldham, where she first started work as a young child. Local people however feel the plaque is not enough and want to erect a statue in the centre of Oldham to recognise the work she did and the sacrifices she made to secure universal Suffrage.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity of people across the country that have donated to the project with a special thanks to Stan Chow, an artist from Manchester who donated limited special edition prints that are available to purchase as a contribution to the project.
Schools such as The Oasis Academy and The Hulme Grammar School in my constituency have held non-uniform days to raise significant funds towards the project, the project exciting in itself has bought together the community for a credible and long overdue cause.
We are now at a stage where we can commission the project, I am in talks with Oldham Council to discuss the practicalities around this to give Annie Kenney the recognition she deserves!
Finally a call and gentle reminder that any donation, no matter how small is more than welcome. We are hoping to have the statue installed to mark the 100th anniversary of all men and some women voting for the first time.
You can also read my article on Peterloo and the fight for working class votes.