Riot Girl Sheffieldâ€&#x;s radical women
Sheffield as a city has an extensive history of radicalism, anarchy and protest. Ebenezer Elliott, Samuel Holberry, Edward Carpenter and the Chartrists are amongst the most celebrated for their true revolutionary spirit. Their female revolutionary counterparts, however, remain obscure.
Sheffield suffragettes on a march (late 19th century)
In 1847, a formidable woman named Anne Knight created the first recognisable Womenâ€&#x;s Suffrage pamphlet. Born in Chelmsford, her family were Quakers and took part in anti-slavery protests. Anne was outraged by the lack of acknowledgement of women during the Antislavery conventions in London, causing her to launch a campaign in the name of womenâ€&#x;s equal rights. Her dedication stretched so far as to create her own stationery: gummed stickers and labels printed with feminist quotations.
In 1848 Anne moved to France – participating in the revolution there – before coming to Sheffield. There she worked with Anne Kent to create the Sheffield Female Political Association. This was to spark a fire in feminist activity within Sheffield, founding a circle of highly dedicated and passionate women willing to fight for not only women‟s rights but for all injustices. In 1882, the Sheffield branch of the Women‟s Suffrage Society was founded. Just over twenty years later in 1906 the Women‟s Social and Political Union (founded by Emmeline Pankhurst) was created, its Sheffield treasurer Helen Archdale and its organiser Adela Pankhurst (Emmeline‟s daughter) both based on Marlborough Road, Sheffield. The Women‟s Suffrage are remarked to have been „militant‟ and „intense‟ in their work.
A Suffragette cart circa 20th century
Meetings of the Women‟s Suffrage circa 1919 were held at Chapel Walk. The following citations reveal the spirited (and sometimes criminal) actions of the Women‟s Suffrage group back then: “In the course of her work as suffragette organiser Miss Schuster, a spinster, we are told, used to firebomb pillar boxes. The tea shop across the road was used as a hiding place for the incendiary materials. The suffragette shop in Chapel Walk soon became a magnet for working men who acted as bodyguards at meetings. Eventually some of the committee ladies objected to the presence of the men and Molly resigned in protest.” “In 1908 an attempt was made to enter the Cutlers' Feast, at which the First Lord of the Admiralty was the guest speaker. Adela Pankhurst disguised herself as a kitchen maid and tried to enter the Cutlers' Hall, but was stopped by the police. In response she made a speech from
the Town Hall steps, but was moved on by the police. Adela made a second attempt to enter Cutlers' Hall later in the evening but failed.â€?
The following newspaper article from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1907 tells of two Sheffield suffragettes, Annie Higgins and Jane Lockwood, returning from a stint in prison. The two women were arrested whilst taking part in a London Suffragette protest. On average it is estimated that around 1000 Suffragettes were arrested and imprisoned during the movementâ€&#x;s active years.
SHEFFIELD SUFFRAGETTES Home From London Prison NO CROWD TO WELCOME THEM Sheffield was quite indifferent last evening when the two local Suffragettes returned home from prison. Mrs. Higgins and Mrs. Lockwood were two of the ladies imprisoned for the last raid upon the House of Commons. Instead of the big cheering crowd that might have been expected to honour them, there were only two persons another Suffragette (Mrs. Whitworth) and a small boy. Describing their entry into the prison both the Sheffielders complained of the manner in which they were treated. We were placed in a cell with seven others and kept there without food for hours". Breakfast was provided at 7 o clock. Brown bread, a little butter, and very little tea, was, according to Mrs. Higgins, what breakfast consisted of. Both agreed that the breakfast was very bad, also that the tea was awful,â€˘ but they agreed that the butter was very nice. The tea tasted just as though they had boiled the leaves and the water together, said Mrs. Higgins.
After breakfast they were all taken to Chapel each morning. It did us little good, but we welcomed it because it gave us an opportunity of seeing each other, and also of giving our cells a chance to get aired.
The dinner was not always the same. Some days they got lentil soup, potatoes boiled in their jackets; other days tinned meat and a slab of suet pudding. Horrid stuff, was the way Mrs. Higgins described the meat and the pudding. Mrs. Lockwood preferred the vegetarian diet, and for dinner got a pint of milk, an egg, carrots, and a little cob of brown bread. One day she got some cauliflower, and another day sprouts were given to her. Neither of them liked their food. They agreed that the stuffâ€˘ generally was not palatable. The only other meal after dinner was made up of cocoa and bread. All the prisoners managed to communicate with friends in cells on either side of them by breaking wind in the fashion of Morse Code.
Blanche Flannery (born Blanche Howson), a “modern day Boudica”, was a lifelong Socialist and Unionist in Sheffield. Her history of protest and representation in Sheffield and Hillsborough is exhaustive and formidable. From her obituary published in the Guardian, 2010: “During and after the second world war, she campaigned for the establishment of the National Health Service and state nursery facilities for young children. In the 1960s and 70s she was involved in campaigns for women's rights in the workplace. As well as being involved in National Assembly of Women marches in the 1970s, she was an advocate for women's reproductive rights, maternity rights and the right to health screening tests. She was an active member of the anti-apartheid movement and CND.
Blanche was involved in establishing the women's subcommittee in the Sheffield Trades Union Council and in the 1980s became that body's first and only female president. She worked to set up the Sheffield Centre Against Unemployment and played a crucial role in the steelworkers' and miners' strikes, as well as many other industrial disputes. Blanche is survived by her children, Kate, Jim and Sue.â€?
"We are women, we are strong, We are fighting for our lives Side by side with our men Who work the nation's mines, United by the struggle, United by the past, And it's - Here we go! Here we go! For the women of the working class."
In 1984, when the Pit Closures were announced under the government of Margaret Thatcher, Sheffieldâ€&#x;s women gathered once again to support their community. This time they founded Women Against Pit Closures, empowered with Suffragette colours and spirit. Their support not only reached out to the wider community but to the women, children and families whose livelihoods and incomes were suffering due to job loss. They organised soup kitchens, put together food and care packages, and toured the country preaching solidarity. Notable Sheffield women in this movement are Betty Cook, Blanche Flannery, Barbara Jackson and Caroline Poland.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to sheffieldhistory.co.uk, sheffieldforum.co.uk, The Guardian, the BBC and the University of Sheffield for the information and accounts given in this pamphlet.