The reputation of Annie and Jessie Kenney, as well as most of the women memorialised in the Suffragette Plantation, has ebbed and flowed.
Annie and Jessie were born into obscurity. They were working class women in the early years of the twentieth century, with limited prospects. However they (along with their brothers and sisters) and many other suffragettes found their voices and wrote their own scripts.
Annie ran the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) whilst Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were in exile. She met and corresponded with a succession of Prime Ministers including Balfour and Lloyd George. She mixed with countesses and politicians and thought nothing of speaking on political platforms herself. By their early thirties, both sisters had travelled abroad, to France, Switzerland, the US, Australia and revolutionary Russia, much of it on Government business.
One aspect which the archive reveals is how blind the militant wing of the WSPU is to class, how Annie and Jessie are, by and large, treated as equals. There is an irony that in the act of becoming outsiders, in terms of the law and society’s expectations on how women should behave, they became insiders, of the movement and eventually, through their war work, part of the establishment.
Sadly, this was not to last. The archive reveals how both sisters had to fight to be remembered in the 40s and 50s. Letters show Annie’s despair at being caricatured as the mill girl in a BBC radio play. Her attempts to publish letters in newspapers and a second book were futile. Jessie also fails to publish her books and finds her efforts to secure a profession hampered by her gender. The occasional spurts of interest from TV companies and journalists are outweighed by long years of obscurity. They appear to become outsiders once again.