Lives of forgotten suffragettes celebrated

The extraordinary personal stories of women involved in the suffragette movement which are celebrated in a University of East Anglia (UEA) archive will tour Norfolk schools and libraries, thanks to National Lottery Funding.

The tour, which in partnership with Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service, marks 100 years since women won the vote with 100 items for young people to explore.

In each location of the tour, schoolchildren will learn about the suffragettes using items in the Kenney sister archive. The two sisters from Oldham in Greater Manchester were central in the movement, but their contributions have largely been forgotten until recently.

Young people will also interview older community members about their experiences and will work with UEA student volunteers to curate a local exhibition, develop speechmaking skills and work on new short historical fiction inspired by both suffragette materials and what they learn from older community members.

Schools and libraries across Norfolk will participate in the project over the coming months, bringing together people across the age spectrum, to share their experiences and reflect on gender equality, voting rights and social change.

One highlight from the Kenney Papers is a series of cuttings taken from a plantation of trees in Somerset. The trees were planted in the grounds of the Blathwayt residence where suffragettes were invited to recover from hunger strikes and force-feeding in prison. Dubbed ‘Annie’s Arboretum’ after Annie Kenney, each suffragette who stayed there planted a tree to mark her contribution to the cause. However, the plantation was destroyed to allow for a housing development in the 1960s, leaving only one tree, and the cuttings in the UEA archive are the only surviving traces of the plantation.

UEA is set to publish an online anthology of stories to commemorate the women who lost their memorial trees. Authors will include established and aspiring writers as well as Norfolk schoolchildren who will work with student volunteers to develop research and writing skills using the suffragettes as inspiration.

Professor Alison Donnell, Head of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, said: ‘The Lottery funding allows us both to showcase and safeguard the remarkable stories in the Kenney archive. We are excited to work with authors, students and schoolchildren to create an anthology of stories from the lives of those suffragettes who spent time in “Annie’s Arboretum”. As they join the project to give a voice to these forgotten women, young people will also be helped to find their own voices by working with some our leading creative writers.”

Over the summer, schoolchildren in Cromer and Wymondham interviewed older community members to explore the changing role of women across the last century. They have curated their own exhibitions using archive materials and objects brought in by the community.

The project will culminate in December, which is the anniversary of women first voting in a General Election, with a physical exhibition, curated with objects from the Kenney Archive and materials from the smaller community exhibitions, at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

Announcing the award, Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “We are delighted to support this project that will put a spotlight on the suffragettes in the centenary year since some women first got the vote. Thanks to funds raised by National Lottery players, nationally important papers will be safeguarded and shared, including unpublished manuscripts by the Kenney sisters and letters from leading suffragettes such as the Pankhursts and Lady Constance Lytton.”

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said: “The last century has seen a revolution in women’s lives and we’re proud to be part of this unique project that brings generations together. When schoolchildren meet older members of the community, it brings this heritage to life for them. Learning firsthand about the barriers faced by earlier generations allows young people to understand the past, and also to appreciate their own opportunities.”

For more details click here, or follow @StoriesUEA on Twitter.