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UEA to unveil ‘Suffragette Stories: Women’s Heritage in Norfolk’

Newly revealed archive materials and a new anthology of stories commemorating the suffrage movement will be unveiled by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich this week.

As part of the centenary celebrations of the first British women gaining the right to vote, UEA has partnered with the Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service and secured Heritage Lottery funding to share its archive materials with the public.

Fiona Sinclair, writer-in-residence on the Suffragette Stories project, has been running workshops in Norfolk schools and libraries to produce new works of short historical fiction. Some 100 items from the archive collection have been digitised and curated online to allow students, teachers, academics and the public to explore the suffragettes’ legacies. 

Schoolchildren across the county in Cromer, Wymondham, Kings Lynn, Wroxham, Thetford, Loddon, Great Yarmouth and Norwich have been exploring this collection and thinking about the history of the lesser-known suffragettes, including the Kenney sisters, whose correspondence and other materials are held by UEA.

Norfolk students have also been interviewing older community members in various libraries to explore the changing role of women across the last century. In each library they have curated their own exhibition using archive materials and objects contributed by the community.

Additionally, the project is publishing a new anthology of short stories to commemorate 100 years of suffrage. Authors will include established and aspiring writers as well as Norfolk schoolchildren inspired by the suffragettes. The project team will be launching this anthology and an exhibition based on the workshops that took place at all the libraries across the county, on December 6 at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. An exhibition of materials from the UEA archive, curated by schoolchildren, will also be on display.

Ms Sinclair said: “In October 1905, the ‘Votes for Women’ banner was raised for the first time. The woman unfurling the banner was Annie Kenney.

“At the age of 10, Annie was working in an Oldham mill, yet she rose to become Christabel Pankhurst’s right-hand woman, suffering multiple arrests and force-feeding. During the First World War, she and her sister Jessie became emissaries of Prime Minister Lloyd George, travelling to France, the United States and revolutionary Russia. However, in later years, Annie and Jessie’s contributions were largely forgotten.

“Through UEA’s Suffragette Stories project, we hope to highlight these women’s efforts, while forging a connection between older and younger generations to explore how the fight for women’s rights has developed and changed over the last century.”  

Prof Alison Donnell, head of UEA’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, said: “We are excited to work with authors, students and schoolchildren to create an anthology of stories from the lives of the suffragettes.  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.”

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.”

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.”

Journalists are invited to the launch of the project’s new exhibition at the Norwich Millennium Library, from 5.30-7.00pm on December 6. For more details visit: https://suffragettestories.omeka.net/

Study Literature, Drama & Creative writing at UEA