Day 6: Where are all the Women?

06.03.18 |
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Have you ever wondered where the names of London’s streets come from? Many of them give recognition to historical figures, but disappointingly few of these are women.

 

Doughty Street Chambers – and the #DoughtyStWomen - are proud to be based in Bloomsbury, with its rich history of inspirational women leaders from politics, law, journalism, and art. Within a few hundred metres of our chambers are buildings where the suffragettes built their campaigns, as well as the former home of the first woman barrister in England and Wales. Helena Normanton QC lived and worked a block north, on Mecklenburgh Square. 

 

Yet the streets we walk every day are named instead for men: many of them wealthy landowners or benefactors whose public contribution stemmed principally from their wealth.  Of the women honoured on our street signs now, many are profiled not in their own right but simply as the wives of historically high-profile men.

 

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, and the centenary of women’s suffrage,  #DoughtyStWomen are reimagining our streets renamed.  For eight days between 1 March and International Women’s Day on 8 March we are focussing on one of our local Bloomsbury streets, honouring eight of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement who had connections in the area and who are too often forgotten.

 

Share these stories, follow us on social media and help us honour Bloomsbury’s inspirational feminist history.

 

#DoughtyStWomen #IWD2018

 

Day 1: 1 March 2018

 

Doughty Street became Lyons Street – read about Jane Lyons here

 

Day 2: 2 March 2018

 

Guilford Street became Lawson Street – read about Marie Lawson here.

 

Day 3: 3 March 2018

 

Roger Street became Kerr Street. Read about Harriet Kerr here

 

Day 4: 4 March 2018

 

Gray’s Inn Road became Singh Street. Read about Sophia Duleep Singh here

 

Day 5: 5 March 2018

 

Lamb’s Conduit Street became Haslam Street. Read about Kate Haslam here

 

Day 6: 6 March 2018

 

John Street was named after 18th century carpenter John Blagrave.

 

Today, we reimagine it as Kenney Street, named after Annie Kenney, a suffragette who stayed in Jane Lyons’ boarding house in the area when on the run under the Cat and Mouse Act. She is often described as “an English working class suffragette” and she became a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), very unusual in an organisation which was largely a middle-class one.

 

Annie Kenney (1879 – 1953) was born in Springhead, near Oldham, in 1879, into a large and poor family. By the age of 10 she had started working in a local cotton mill as a “half-timer”, spending her mornings working in the mill and afternoons at school. By 13 she was working full time on 12 hour shifts, from 6am to 6pm. Her job involved assisting weavers by fitting the bobbins and tending to strands of fleece when they broke; one of her fingers was ripped off when doing this work. She stayed working at the mill for 15 years, where she became very involved in trade union activities. She loved literature  and furthered her education by self-study. 

 

In 1905, aged 25, she and her sisters Jessie and Jane went to a meeting in Oldham where Christabel Pankhurst spoke about women’s voting rights. The Working Class Movement Library describes this as a key moment for Annie: “Annie was so inspired that she was soon organising and speaking at meetings, and joined the [WSPU] which Christabel has recently helped form.”  A few months later, in October 1905, Annie and Christabel attended a Liberal Party  rally together. Accounts of this event vary – some describe it as taking place in Manchester and the women heckling Winston Churchill; others describe it as taking place in London and them heckling Sir Edward Grey, a Minister. However, it is clear that it took place in Manchester, and it was reported in The Manchester Courier on 21 October 1905 (this extract is from Lucinda Hawksley’s book, March Women March: How Women Won The Vote, 2013). Annie and Christabel attended the meeting to ask that the Liberals support their campaign for Votes for Women. They were thrown out of the meeting and, in the ensuing struggle, a policeman claimed they kicked and spat at him. They held a meeting outside once ejected from the meeting. Both women were arrested and prosecuted. The Manchester Courier described the court case:

 

Mr Bell [the prosecuting solicitor]… said the defendants evidently went to the meeting with the firm intention of creating a disturbance. They appeared to have had a number of questions to put to the speakers and… one or both of them mounted a seat in the body of the hall and yelled and shrieked to the utmost of their powers. They were persuaded to desist but afterwards renewed the disturbance and were ejected from the hall… Miss Pankhurst spat in the faces of Superintendent Watson and Inspector Mather… When they got outside the defendants went into South Street and began holding a meeting. A crowd gathered round them and the police took them into custody for obstructing the thoroughfare. On her way to the police station Miss Pankhurst said that, having assaulted a police constable, she felt quite satisfied. Mr Bell added that the behaviour of the defendants was not such as was expected from ladies of education, but ‘it would be more attributable to women from the slums’… Miss Kenney said she felt it her duty to do what she had done.”     

 

It was also reported that, when the magistrates left to consider the sentence, Annie and Christabel put up a ‘Votes for Women’ banner in the courtroom. They were both found guilty and fined, but given the option of spending seven days in prison instead of paying. They refused to pay and so were brought to Strangeways Gaol. Their imprisonment attracted substantial publicity for the WSPU.

 

Once released, Annie Kenney attended an outdoor meeting in her honour, at Manchester’s Stevenson Square, where she critised the Liberal Party’s treatment of women and declared, “They have not tamed us. We have more fire in us than ever before.

 

In 1912, Annie Kenney became Deputy of the WSPU. She is described by the Working Class Movement Library as being “the only working class woman in a position of authority in the organisation.”

October 1905 was the first of 13 times that Annie Kenney was sent to prison. She was involved in many militant acts and underwent force-feeding repeatedly, being released and rearrested under the terms of the Cat and Mouse Act. It was during one of the occasions when she was released from Holloway Prison, having undergone force-feeding and when very ill, that she hid out at Jane Lyons’ boarding house on Doughty Street (described by Mary Richardson, and summarised in this anonymous blog). On one occasion when she had been released from prison, in January 1914, The Times reported that she attended a WSPU meeting at Knightsbridge Town Hall: “Miss Kenney was conveyed to the meeting in a horse ambulance; and she was borne into the meeting on a stretcher, which was raised to the platform and placed on two chairs. She raised her right hand and fluttered a handkerchief and, covered with blankets, lay motionless watching the audience. Later, her licence under the "Cat and Mouse" Act was offered for sale. Mrs Dacre Fox stated that an offer of £15 had already been received for it, and the next was one of £20, then £25 was bid, and at this price it was sold. Soon afterwards Miss Kenney was taken back to the ambulance. Detectives were present, but no attempt was made to rearrest Miss Kenney, whose licence had expired.”

 

In her book Prison Faces she later wrote, “The law may be stronger than I am, but if I may not change the wicked law that holds in bondage the smitten womanhood of this country, I will at least die in the attempt to change it.

 

We are proud to honour Annie Kenney, in acknowledgment of the sacrifices she made and her huge contribution to securing women’s suffrage.

 

 

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