Working Class Heroes

Mayor of London

The working heroes who fought to ensure voting rights weren't just for middle class women. #BehindEveryGreatCity

Class tensions
Despite having its roots in working class areas like Manchester, the suffrage campaign is largely remembered as a movement of white, middle class, well-educated women like Millicent Fawcett and the Pankhursts. Indeed, the 1918 Representation of the People Act only granted the vote to home-owning women over 30, so working class women remained unable to vote until universal suffrage was introduced ten years later, in 1928. The 'working class struggle' was a contentious issue within the suffrage movement, but the role of women workers - from the mills of northern England to the factories of east London - should not be forgotten.
Annie Kenney
Annie Kenney was the most prominent working class woman in the suffrage movement. Born in Yorkshire, Annie was a mill worker and Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) campaigner. For most of her WSPU career, Annie worked as an organiser in Bristol.

In 1905, Annie was famously arrested and imprisoned with Christabel Pankhurst for disrupting a Liberal Party rally in Manchester.

The women held up a 'Votes for Women' banner and heckled Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey on the subject of women's suffrage.

Mary Gawthorpe
Born in Leeds, Mary Gawthorpe was the daughter of a leatherworker and a former mill worker. She was a member of the Women's Labour League, and later the WSPU. Mary co-founded and edited the radical newspaper The Freewoman. After moving to New York in 1916, Mary was active in the American suffrage and trade union movements.
Sarah Reddish
Mill worker Sarah Reddish was a Bolton-based trade unionist and president of the Bolton Women's Cooperative Guild. She later became the regional organiser of northern England's Women's Cooperative Guild, and then the Women's Trade Union League. Sarah also worked as an organiser for the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage, and worked with the Bolton Suffrage Society.
Mary MacArthur
Mary MacArthur was a Scottish trade unionist and suffragist. Born in Glasgow, she moved to London in 1903 and became secretary of the Women's Trade Union League. She was a founder of the National Federation of Women Workers, and the National Anti-Sweating League - a movement against the use of sweatshops.

42 Woodstock Road, Golders Green, London - where Mary MacArthur lived from 1919 until her death in 1921.

The house today bears a blue plaque in her memory. But only 14% of blue plaques in London commemorate women.

Helen Blackburn
Helen Blackburn was born in Ireland, and later moved to London. She was an early campaigner for working women's rights, and secretary of the Bristol and West of England Suffrage Society. In 1891, Helen co-founded the Women's Employment Defence League. She edited the Englishwoman's Review from 1889-1902 and, in 1896, co-edited The Conditions of Working Women and the Factory Acts.
Isabella Ford
Isabella Ford was a trade unionist, pacifist, and member of the Independent Labour Party. She was an executive member of the NUWSS, and an active member of the Leeds Women's Suffrage Society.

Jessie Craigen was a working-class freelance suffrage speaker, who spoke on platforms around England and Ireland between 1868 and 1884.

She had no income other than what her supporters gave her.

Esther Roper
Esther Roper was secretary of Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage, before meeting and falling in love with Eva Gore-Booth, an Irish poet and aristocrat. Despite her privileged background, Eva moved to live with Esther in Manchester, where the couple founded the Lancashire and Cheshire Women's Textile and Other Workers Representation Committee with Sarah Reddish and Sarah Dickenson. They also founded and edited Women's Labour News.
Sylvia Pankhurst
Sylvia Pankhurst was a founding member of the WSPU, along with her mother Emmeline, and sisters Christabel and Adela. Despite her middle class upbringing, socialist Sylvia maintained the family's Labour Party roots and supported the working class women's movement. In 1912, after falling out with Emmeline and Christabel over the role of working women in the suffrage movement, Sylvia moved to Bow, in London's east end, where she founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS).

The site of Sylvia's east end home, a former bakery at 198 Bow Road, which became the first headquarters of the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1914.

Julia Scurr
Born in east London, Julia Scurr was a socialist and poor law guardian. She was a member of Sylvia Pankhurst's East London Federation of Suffragettes, and later joined United Suffragists.

The site of what was once 321 Roman Road, second headquarters of the ELFS. The Federation's newspaper, The Woman's Dreadnought, was published here and sold at nearby Roman Road Market.

As well as being instrumental in winning women the vote, many of these working class heroes were pioneers of the women's trade union movement. They helped lay the groundwork for improvements to working conditions, and employment equality.

Credits: Story

#BehindEveryGreatCity: celebrating the centenary of the first women winning the right to vote and tackling gender inequality in London

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