Letter from Christabel Pankhurst to Annie Kenney, 1949
[Transcription is available below]
Christabel writes about the death of fellow suffragette, Flora ‘the General’ Drummond. “It is really very difficult to realise our General has left the world. A chapter has closed for us.” Spearheading the militant suffragette movement, Christabel, Annie, the General and Grace Roe were all very close friends and continued to take interest in each other’s lives after their militant days were over. During the votes for women struggle, the General was imprisoned nine times and went on a hunger strike several times. She got her nickname because of her habit to lead Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) marches and demonstrations riding a horse and dressed in a general’s uniform. In the 1930s, Drummond formed a right-wing league, Women’s Guild of Empire, which was opposed to communism and fascism. Christabel writes that the General’s political beliefs may have led her to feel that “affairs public had taken a turn other than she had hoped” after WWII. This refers to Clement Atlee’s landslide victory over Churchill in the 1945 General Election, which gave Labour its first majority government.
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Transcript - KP/AK/2/Pankhurst,C/16
2172 Vista del Mar Avenue, January 25th 1949.
Los Angeles 28, California
I am happy to have, forwarded by Grace, a Christmas card and message. I cannot go further in writing to you without referring to the death of our beloved General. Grace and I feel that this is the first break in the circle of you and me and the General and Grace he herself, upon whom a good deal depended in the good days of the WSPU [the Women’s Social and Political Union]. Shall I ever forget that the General was the first to greet me when I came out of Holloway. How many pictures of her at different times come to my mind’s eye. Ther [there] never was and never will be another General. I am glad that she had so much happiness in the latter years with the husband who was so sadly killed in the war. That I think was a fatal blow so far as her life here was concerned and also she may have felt that affairs public had taken a turn other than she had hoped….that the hopes hse [she] had cherished of a happier country were not being fulfilled[.] One has to look higher than the political and economic plane to find hope for the future, in view of what is happening in our time.
The General had a wonderful faculty for summing up a situation and a deep understanding of the epole [people] and their thoughts and motives. She was in her element in the days in and after the first world war when we were [striving] for industrial peace and a constructive solution of social and economic problems. If the ideas we put [forward] at the time had been accepted and acted upon by industrial mangement [management] and the workers, things would have gone much better.
One of the memories I have is the visit the General [illegible deletion] and I made to Paris to see Lloyd George and plead with him to make a peace which we thought would last and would avert another war. He knew we were right I believe, but he was detrmined [determined] to go another way and so he quite lost his temper.
When the next war did come as we warned it would, he said strangely little and seemed to feel that it was not very much his business. No doubt he had not the health and strength to play a really active part in that war. Of course, we can never forget the great leadership that he gave the country in World War 1. If [he had] done as well in making peace as he did in waging the war, history would have been different and less sorrowful.
It is really very difficult to realise our General has left the world. A chapter has closed for us.
Now who do you think has written to me? Mrs Tuke. our dearm [dear] hon.sec. [honorary secretary] of old. Captain Cameron-Swan had written to tell me of the death of his wife, whom you will well remember. When I replied to him, he wrote again to say that Mrs Tuke had recently called on him. [I] wrote her a letter in his care and now she has written and the same affection. I [had lost] knowledge of where she was in the world.
Grace has tlod [told] me of [J]essie’s letter to her with the account of your brother Rowland’s fine career in the Foreign Office.
You Kenneys do “make good”, do you not. You must be proud of your brother. How sad that he has lost the presence of his wife. She must have been a great inspiration to him.
I am sure that Warwick is still as great a joy to you as e ever. I am happy that he came through the wa r [war] unharmed and well. You are a fortunate mother of a son who was in the service. I must say this that all the sons [I] know that were in the British and American armed forces were unwounded and survived with alomost [almost] no exceptions. d and these were only wounded and not killed.
Now for another point on which I should l ike [like] your opinion. It is not unlike the point that arose when some were agitating to have film of the movement. I have jus t [just] received a letter from one who would like to write a life of Mother and history of the movement combined. Now as you know, I have myself written such a book and had a [definite] contract for its publication and even had placed the manuscript in the publisher’s hands. Then I decided not to publish the book because of the then Gathering Storm, as Churchill calls the oncoming of the recent second worl d [world] war.
The world at this present time is also darkened by a gathering storm and as I think of what bad propaganda for England the hist ory [history] of the treatment of the [cause and the women] would provide.
I hate to think of fanning the embers of that old struggle of reviving the memory of forcible feeding and the repeated berayals [betrayals] of the cause by those promise-breaking politicians…. a disgrace to England.. Shall I rather say that I [illegible deletion] shrink from doing this.
I have sent for my manuscript and am so telling the lady who aspire to write the book herself though she does say that if I am going to pu blish [publish] [illegible deletion] my book there would be no question of her writing one.
She feels that she is in touch with the younger generation who would more probably read such a book written by her. I mayy [may] may write to suggest to her that she write a book about the present and [illegible deletion] future needs and duties of this younger generation of women.
After all, we have the vote and now it is for the younger women to use it wisely if they can. The statue of mother and her [portrait] in the National Portrait Gallery are memorials to her more i impressive than any book.
One difficulty about a book written so soon after the events recorded, is the references to various individuals still living which may not satisfy them and their friends and cause discontent. [I] feel that the books now being written about the recent war have raised this difficulty.
I do not [know] how you feel on this book business but I should like to know.
It seems to me that some of these ladies are living with their eyes shut to the gravity of the state of the world today, oblivious of the danger of war and other trouble. you amy [may] think that I am over sensitive on this book question...and it is true that [M]other and I were always dislikers of personal publicity and a book means a good deal of that[.] There are too some rather difficult points arising out of personal things re relating to those who some of them were in the movement at different stages. I need mention no names. With love and remembrance. Christabel. You note I am typing now.