To celebrate the release on 12 October of the film ‘Suffragette’ (for which I was an historical consultant) I will post each day an image of a suffrage item that has passed through my hands.
For my current catalogue – No 189 – which contains a good deal of suffrage material – as well as general books and ephemera by and about women – see here.
A 9 ct gold bracelet, very pretty, the outer engraved on one side with decorative scrolls. But it is what is engraved inside that is the secret of the bracelet’s significance..
On one arc of the circle:
‘To dearest Annie with all my love & in recollection of our great day out’
and, on the other,
‘Christabel Pankhurst, Hyde Park June 21st 1908’.
Annie Kenney was Christabel’s most faithful follower, her love and admiration for Christabel – and Christabel’s acceptance and acknowledgment of this loyalty – made clear in letters and in Annie’s autobiography. But this bangle is, as far as I know, the only object that testifies to the peculiar bond between the two young women.
Annie, who had worked in a mill from the age of 10, had first come under Christabel’s spell in the spring of 1905 and a few months later, in October, spent a week in prison with her after they had heckled a Liberal meeting in Manchester. This imprisonment marks the beginning of the WSPU’s militant campaign.
Annie’s life was changed for ever. As she wrote, ‘My pleasure came from seeing Christabel’s face light up with a light that later in life I discovered meant victory. Her confidence in me gave me confidence in myself.’ And when they were together in prison – ‘I remember going to Church and sitting next to Christabel who looked very coy and pretty in her prison cap. She took my hand tenderly and just held it, as though I were a lost child.’
Nevertheless that ‘lost child’, backed by Christabel’s confidence, became one of the WSPU’s leading organisers. Indeed, after Christabel left for Paris, Annie acted as her deputy, putting into effect the absent leader’s commands.
But before that, for the ‘great day out’, ‘Women’s Sunday’, the first great WSPU rally, held in Hyde Park on 21 June 1908, Annie bought a hat from Liberty’s (£1/2/6) and led the procession that started at Paddington – being at the time WSPU organiser in the West of England. Once in the Park she was the principal speaker on Platform 3.
Christabel’s gift of the bracelet recognises the significance of the ‘great day out’, marking the WSPU’s entry into a world of polished performance and Annie as one of its stars.
As Annie wrote many years later in her memoir, ‘There is a cord between Christabel and me that nothing can break – the cord of love. Distance or absence makes no difference.’ Here is a tangible – and unique -emblem of that affection.