Suffragette Spotlight: Annie Kenney

Ahead of our upcoming Suffrage Centenary Celebration at the People’s Palace Museum (26th and 27th May 1-4pm), the TLW team have been posting weekly blogs about inspiring women who fought for suffrage. Today’s blog focuses on Annie Kenney.

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“As I was one of the leading actors in the first play, so I was one of the leading actors in the last.”
— Annie Kenney, Memories of a Militant

Kenney was born in 1879 to a working-class family near Oldham, and Marie Roberts describes her as “the most readily identifiable representative of working-class women” in the Women’s Social and Political Union (xi). One of eleven children, Kenney went to work in a local cotton-mill when she was ten years-old. Starting out as a ‘half-timer,’ she would work in the morning before going to school in the afternoon. At thirteen years-old she switched to full-time employment in the mill, undertaking shifts as long as twelve hours. It was in this role as a weaver’s assistant that Kenney had one of her fingers torn off.

Kenney continued to work in the mill for 15 years, during which time she helped fellow workers to read, and take an interest in literature. She became involved in the trade union movement, and throughout her life was heavily influenced by Robert Blatchford, the English campaigner and journalist who launched an affordable weekly socialist newspaper called The Clarion.

In 1905, as a member of the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club, Kenney heard Christabel Pankhurst speak. This inspired her to join the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by the Pankhurst family in 1903. In the same year that Kenney joined the WSPU she attended a Liberal rally in Manchester with Christabel, where they repeatedly interrupted Sir Edward Grey to question whether women would be given the right to vote. The two women were removed and later imprisoned for the alleged assault of the police officers who ejected them from the rally. Kenney was imprisoned for three days, the first of thirteen prison sentences throughout her life. In 1913 she was sentenced to a lengthy 18-months which was temporarily interrupted by her release under the Cat and Mouse Act.

Christabel Pankhurst fled to Paris in 1912 to avoid imprisonment, and Kenney was placed in charge of the WSPU in her absence, demonstrating the high degree of influence which she held in the organisation. When the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918 it granted women over the age of 30 the right to vote if they passed certain property and education requirements. After partial suffrage had been won, Kenney dropped out of political life. She married and gave birth to her son in 1923, and published her autobiography the following year.

Many feel that Kenney’s efforts in the fight for the vote have been “undeservedly neglected,” (Roberts, xv) and this often relates to a further belief held by some that working-class efforts for women’s suffrage have also been overlooked. Krista Cowman voices this in her 2018 article for the New Statesman, stating that “When women finally got the vote, the stories of many working class suffragettes were quickly forgotten. Few of them had the time or contacts needed to publish autobiographies and most could not afford to travel to London for the meetings of the Suffragette Fellowship, a militant old girls’ association that tried to preserve their campaign’s history. As we celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that gave votes to at least some British women in February 1918, we should remind ourselves of the sacrifices made by many ordinary and anonymous women, who risked their livelihoods and reputations alongside their more affluent companions in the fight for equality and citizenship.”

In exploring the various women to cover for the Suffragette Spotlight series, Kenney seemed a particularly fitting figure as she is an inspirational woman both within and without the context of female suffrage. For a generation of young women today, many of whom have experienced a setback in the age that they can hope to reach traditional life-milestones such as starting a career, a family, or buying property, Kenney is an example of someone who refused to let her age, class, gender, or finances, restrict her aspirations and achievements in life. She became a member of the WSPU when she was in her mid–twenties; arguably her greatest life achievement of helping win women’s suffrage was reached when she was in her late thirties, and she was in her early forties before she married and started a family. Despite having to start work at only ten years-old, she succeeded in educating herself through self-study and correspondence courses – encouraging fellow working-class women to do the same – and reached leadership status in the predominantly middle-class led organisation of the WSPU. She experienced the physical consequences of the dangerous working-conditions in Britain in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, but also helped ensure that future generations would have the opportunity to change these conditions by voting for their chosen representatives in government. Kenney exists as both a historical hero who was willing to sacrifice a great deal for a cause she believed in, but also as a rousing reminder that if a woman from her humble background could achieve so much, over a century ago, women today need not let their own goals be limited by the societal expectations which are often imposed on them.

Keep an eye on our website for more blogs like this one, or follow us on Twitter @transatlanticladies using the hashtag #TLWsuffrage. And if you want to learn more about ground-breaking suffragettes, make your own rosettes, and learn about women and the vote, join us at the People’s Palace for an afternoon of crafts, talks, and a look at Glasgow’s suffrage collections!

Kari
References and further reading

Kenney, Annie. Memories of a Militant. London, Edward Arnold & Co., 1924.

Roberts, Marie, and Tamae Mizuta. Perspectives on the History of British Feminism. Routledge/Thoemmes, London, 1994.

Cowman, Krista. “Let’s not forget the working class suffragettes” in New Statesman, 6 February 2018.

Information on Kenney can also obtained from the Working Class Movement Library.

The British Newspaper Archive gives access to articles which mention Kenney.

The Annie Kenney Project is an ongoing campaign to have a statue of Kenney erected in Oldham town square.

Picture courtesy of LSE Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TLW Film Night, Wednesday 18th April 2018, 5.15pm

Film Night
Wednesday 18th April 2018, 5.15pm
Gilchrist Postgraduate Club, Glasgow University

Those of you who have attended our events in the past will know that we hand out feedback forms asking what you would like to see included in the series’ future events. One of the frequent suggestions that we get is for a film screening, and what with the overdue recognition that is currently being given to women’s role in the film industry, we have been inspired to arrange some film-related events. Not only can we confirm that our very first film screening will take place on Wednesday 18th April, but we also have a fantastic film-related talk in the pipeline after summer! Keep your eyes peeled on the blog and Twitter for updates on the talk.

So, what are we going to be screening on our very first film night? Well, we think that you should have a say in this, so to narrow things down a little we have collated a list of four films to choose from, and created a Twitter Poll. You can read a little about each film below, as well as why they are relevant in celebrating the achievements of women in film. Whether it’s one of your favourite films that you want to re-watch in good company, or if it’s a film that you have been meaning to see for ages, this is your chance . . . get voting!

Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola has avoided living in the shadow of her acclaimed father, Francis Ford Coppola, by following her own creative path and paving the way for other female film-makers in the industry. She wrote, directed and produced this highly-acclaimed film which follows the friendship of an actor (Bill Murray) and a college graduate (Scarlett Johansson). Lost in Translation was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, with Coppola winning Best Original Screenplay, and Johansson taking the BAFTA for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

American Honey (2016)
Andrea Arnold is a British filmmaker who some of you may be familiar with through her film Red Road (2006), a Scottish film set in the Red Road high-rise flats in Glasgow. American Honey focuses on a very different world from this, following runaway youth, Star (Sasha Lane), on her journey around the Midwest of America. The film won both the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and Best British Film at the BAFTA awards.

Sound of My Voice (2011)
Brit Marling co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in this psychological indie thriller about documentary-makers who go undercover in a Los Angeles cult. Marling has been making her mark on film and television over the last few years with films like Another Earth (2011), The East (2013) and the Netflix series The OA. She has spoken out about what made her start writing roles for women rather conforming to the roles being ascribed in a male-dominated industry. You can read more about this in her response to the Weinstein scandal here.

Morvern Callar (2002)
You may have seen British film-maker Lynne Ramsay’s latest film, You Were Never Really Here (2017), in the cinema right now. Ramsay co-wrote and directed Morvern Callar, and this choice has a bit of a literary theme to it. It was adapted from a book of the same name, and also follows Morvern (Samantha Morton) as she masquerades as the author of an unpublished novel which her boyfriend has left behind before committing suicide. Morton won the BIF award for Best Actress, and the film won the Award of the Youth at Cannes.

All these films are from female filmmakers which have been given award recognition, we hope you like what we have chosen and look forward to seeing which film you pick. The poll closes in a week, so get your votes in while you can! The film night will take place at Gilchrist Postgraduate Club, plus it’s free and open to all (student and public). We will have some snacks and refreshments, and you can also purchase food and alcoholic drinks from the Gilchrist café.

Head over for 5.15pm to join us for a relaxed and welcoming night appreciating women’s achievements in the world of film-making!

Kari and the TLW team.

Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women: Hollywood novels by women

So far in our blog series on Forgotten Transatlantic Literary Women we have covered a wide range of fascinating and talented writers, including Clarice Lispector, Anzia Yezierska, Lorine Niedecker, and Toni Cade Bambara. Rather than focusing on a specific figure, today I will be looking at two works within a larger genre, the Hollywood novel.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Hollywood novel genre: it began in the 1910’s, continues today, and is made up of novels written about Hollywood and the film industry. At a glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that the genre has predominantly male contributors, as it is a genre in which women’s contributions are frequently overlooked. Most critical studies focus on the most well-known Hollywood novels like Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon (1941), and Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? (1941). One rare female work which is repeatedly recognised is Joan Didion’s first novel Play It as It Lays (1970). Despite the frequent focus on male writing within criticism, bibliographies of the Hollywood novel reveal a surprising amount of works by women. The two examples which I will be discussing today are Frances Marion’s Minnie Flynn (1925), and Katherine Albert’s Remember Valerie March? (1939).

At the beginning of Minnie Flynn, Minnie is a teenage factory girl living with her family in New York. When Minnie becomes romantically involved with a minor actor, she manages to get a foothold in an East Coast film studio. After a rocky start as a struggling extra, Minnie succeeds in ‘making it’ as an actress, and her career takes her to Hollywood. Success doesn’t last, however, and in a tale which is now a familiar Hollywood story, we witness both Minnie’s rise and her fall. Throughout her success, Minnie is consistently reckless with money, worshipping material possessions over all else. She is also taken advantage financially by her friends, family and romantic partners. Though it is difficult to feel sorry for a character who is often arrogant and greedy, Marion still manages to successfully evoke our sympathy in depicting how difficult it can be to distinguish genuine from artificial affection when you are in a position of power, wealth, and celebrity. In Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (1998), Cari Beauchamp tells us that Marion intended for Minnie Flynn to be ‘a warning to the thousands of women she saw pouring into Hollywood full of optimism and without the slightest idea of what lay ahead’ (154). In addition to depicting the pitfalls of fame, Minnie Flynn acts as a valuable account of the film industry in New York and Hollywood. It also explores the practice of acting, and the relationship between an actress and director.

Frances Marion was a director and screenwriter in early Hollywood, and her own life story is as revealing about early Hollywood as her novel is. Beauchamp tells us that by 1930 Marion had been ‘the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood – male or female,’ since 1917 (9). Marion was also the winner of two Academy Awards. In 1931 she won the Writing award for The Big House (1930), and two years later the Best Story award for The Champ (1931). Details like these can hardly be lost on a modern audience, given the recent attention on gender pay-gaps in the film industry, and in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent #MeToo movement.

The relationship between an actress and her director is a theme which is taken up again in Remember Valerie March? (1939). Katherine Albert’s novel is another rise-and-fall tale of a Hollywood actress, only this time it is narrated from the perspective of her director, Conrad Powers. Powers claims to have both started and ended the acting career of the ‘first lady of film,’ Valerie March. The novel is his own personal account of Valerie’s professional career and personal life, and often takes the form of a Hollywood exposé. Through the character of Powers, Albert explores the way in which a director manipulates the emotions and life-choices of an actress to get the desired performance from her, for the benefit of the film. At one point in the novel, Powers encourages the married Valerie to have an affair with her co-star, with the justification that this will add a more convincing dimension to the film. Albert is not alone in her portrayal of this unhealthy relationship. In the popular 2017 television series Feud: Bette and Joan, this theme is taken up. Feud is about the rivalry between Hollywood stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and takes place largely during the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). We see the film’s director, Robert Aldrich, pitting the actresses against each other for the sake of authenticity. Hollywood fan-magazines and gossip columns latch on to the story, and fuel the fire between the two women to increase readership. Though Feud is a dramatized series, there is no doubt that these practices were in play in the industry, as many Hollywood histories depict.

Both Marion and Albert’s novels explore a number of similar themes. For example, both spark interesting questions on different forms of acting, particularly method acting, and what exactly makes a successful and convincing performance. Albert delves further, however, into topics such as the cult of celebrity in America, the role of the press in Hollywood, and work of publicity departments within film studios. It comes as no surprise then, that Albert was also a Hollywood insider. She worked as an actress, a studio publicist for MGM, and a feature and fiction writer for Photoplay, one of the first film fan magazines in America.

The ongoing current debates and discussions over male control within the film-industry have emphasised the unacceptable positions that both men and women have been forced into as a result of an extreme power imbalance. The relevance of Hollywood novels such as Minnie Flynn and Remember Valerie March can’t be underestimated in depicting how people in positions of power can abuse this power, and their employees. Considering Frances Marion and Katherine Albert’s active and varied careers in the film industry, they can also help to represent the achievements of women in that industry. In an era where women are increasingly viewed as under-appreciated in the industry (through both salary and award recognition) this recognition is much needed.

Thanks for reading!

Kari Sund

 

Notes and References

Sadly, these novels are difficult to obtain, particularly Remember Valerie March? I was, however, lucky enough to obtain a beautiful new copy of Minnie Flynn thanks to the fantastic work of The Hollywood Novel Project, run by Ben Smith. You can view the project’s Kickstarter, and the journey of how the first edition of Minnie Flynn in 90 years came into being, through the following link. We eagerly await the next Hollywood novel to be published by this project:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1133736285/frances-marions-lost-novel-minnie-flynn-a-new-edit.

Information on Albert’s role as a Hollywood insider comes from Anthony Slide’s Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazines. A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers. University Press of Mississippi, 2010, pp 77-78.

Information on Frances Marion is taken from Cari Beauchamp’s Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (1998), a great source for anyone who wants to learn more about women’s achievements in early Hollywood.