Suffragette Stories

War

At the outbreak of World War I, the Women's Social and Political Union's leadership suspended militant action, mobilising suffragettes into war work.  Annie recorded the mixed reception provoked by this decision: "This autocratic move was not understood or appreciated by many of our members. They were quite prepared to receive instructions about the Vote, but they were not going to be told what they were to do in a world war" (Memories of a Militant (1914), p.255). Annie travelled to the USA and Australia on war business, returning to the UK to work with Lloyd George on finding female workers for munition factories and, after 1917, speaking with Christabel on anti-Bolshevik platforms. In the 1918 election, she canvassed for Christabel’s failed campaign to be a Women’s Party MP for Smethwick.

The archive includes Jessie's passport, which she used, in 1917, to accompany Emmeline Pankhurst on a three month tour of Russia, as envoys of Prime Minister Lloyd George’s ‘Mission to the Women of Russia’. Jessie kept a detailed diary of the visit, recording a country toppling into Revolution and meetings with Kerensky, Prince Youssoupoff and Plenkhanov, the leader of the Mensheviks.

They also met The First Women’s Battalion of Death, led by Maria Bochkarëva, and participated in a procession with them. The battalion was later part of the guard on the Winter Palace in the October revolution and surrendered to the Bolsheviks.  Jessie was critical of the Bolsheviks, despite her own working-class roots. In a diary entry from the Russian trip, she wrote: “[The Bolsheviks] were out to cause anarchy and hatred amongst the people, and against the Allies, those Allies who had helped Russia in every possible way.” 

After the Armistice, Jessie recorded in her diary that “we gained nothing by our patriotism. No money, no lasting position. By Armistice we were tired out, no homes, no jobs, no money, no cause. Forgotten."

The archive also contains correspondence between Annie and Christabel during and immediately after World War II, detailing Christabel’s sense of despair for the future. 

Passport  (Jessie Kenney)

Passport of Jessie Kenney

War