Suffragette Stories

Militancy

Women's Social and Political Union Headquarters, Bristol

Photograph of the WSPU Headquarters, Bristol

On 13 October 1905, Annie Kenney carried out what is now recognised as the first militant act of the suffrage movement. She accompanied Christabel Pankhurst to an election meeting in Manchester Free Trade Hall and heckled the speakers, Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill. She and Christabel were arrested and imprisoned.


Annie’s autobiography records her personal difficulties when the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) split over the use of more violent means. She was close to both factions but chose to remain in Christabel Pankhurst’s militant camp. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence claimed that Annie surrendered her whole personality to Christabel. Another suffragette, Teresa Billington-Grieg claimed that Annie was "emotionally possessed by Christabel".

Mass suffragette demonstration, 1910

Mass Demonstration 18 June 1910

In 1912, the WSPU began targeting post boxes, blowing them up and committing acts of arson. This campaign was planned from Annie’s London flat and she was arrested in 1913 for incitement to riot and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. She went on hunger strike and was the first women to be released under the “Cat and Mouse Act” whereby a suffragette prisoner undertaking a hunger strike was released when she became weak and re-arrested when she regained her strength.  Annie recuperated in the London home of the Brackenbury sisters, which she dubbed “Mouse Castle.”

Jessie’s first arrest was in June 1908. After a month’s imprisonment she became ill, recuperating at the Blathwayt’s home in Eagle House. In 1909, along with Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth, Jessie assaulted Herbert Asquith and Herbert Gladstone on a west country golf course.

In her autobiography, Annie records her feelings when women were given the vote in 1918, "Women were voters. And so my Suffrage pilgrimage was ended. [. . .] I left the Movement, financially, as I joined it, penniless. Though I had no money I had reaped a rich harvest of joy, laughter, romance, companionship, and experience that no money can buy" (p.288).

Militancy