Papers of Jessie Kenney

Scope and Content

During 1919 a'Mission to the Women fo Russia' was undertaken by Mrs. Pankhurst, who was accompanied by Kenney. Jessie kept a diary of her experiences in which she described the atmosphere and events in St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as the meetings addressed by herself and Mrs. Pankhurst. The diary entries are flanked by an Introduction and by discursive notes, written in the 1960s, on the cultural and historical links of Russia and Great Britain, the fate of the Women's Battalions, an essay on Mazzini, and a concluding section on the Price of Liberty.

Administrative / Biographical History

jessie kenney was born in lees, near oldham , lancashire in 1887 to anne and horatio kenney. she was one of 11 children of whom her elder sisters annie, jane and nell and herself would later join the women's social and political union, and all of whom would receive a remarkable education in the family home. >From the age of thirteen to sixteen, Kenney worked in a local cotton mill becoming involved in the trades union there. In early 1905, she attended an event at the Oldham Trades Council with her sisters Annie and Jenny. Christabel Pankhurst and Teresa Billington-Greig addressed the meeting and from that moment Jessie and Annie would be involved in the women's suffrage movement.

After a brief time working in the local area, Annie Kenney moved to London to become an activist. Jessie would soon follow her, becoming Pethick-Lawrence's private secretary at the age of 19. Two years later, she was appointed as a WSPU organiser in the group's Clement's Inn offices. In June 1908 she was arrested at a demonstration and imprisoned for a month and it was after this that her health became an ongoing problem. She stayed in the West Country with the Blathwayt family on a number of occasions to restore her and, in 1910, was taken on a holiday to Switzerland by Pethick-Lawrence. Her health seemed to be re-established and on her return she was appointed as the organiser of the Walthamstow branch of the Women's Social and Political Union. Two years later she undertook the groups operations at the South hackney by-election but illness returned again and she was sent back to Switzerland the following year with lung disease.

Kenney did not return immediately to London after the time in Switzerland but went to Paris to live with Christabel Pankhurst for a short time before beginning a gruelling routine which involved commuting to Glasgow every week to oversee the clandestine production of the 'Suffragette' newspaper. This lasted until the summer of 1914, when the activities of the Women's Social and Political Union were radically transformed and became focussed solely on the war effort. During the First World War Kenney travelled to America to organise the preliminary stages of the Pankhursts' Serbian Mission, returning to help organise the War Work procession which took place in July 1916. The following year, she accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst on a visit to Russia between June and September, addressing meetings, meeting the leader of one of the Women's Battalions formed to repulse invaders of the country, as well as Kerensky, Prince Youssoupoff and Plenkhanov, the leader of the Menshevick party. After the war, she remained loyal to the Pankhursts and joined their Women's Party, but eventually moved to St Cloud near Paris and worked for the American Red Cross. In the 1930s she became a ship's steward but after the Second World War she settled permanently in Battersea and became the administrative secretary to one of the first comprehensive schools in Britain. At the end of her life she moved to a home in Essex where she died in 1985.

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The collection is open for consultation. Intending readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

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Related Material

Personal papers of Annie and Jessie Kenney consisting of letters (include correspondence with Lady Constance Lytton and Christobel Pankhurst), photographs, press-cuttings, unpublished manuscripts, books and memorabilia are held in the Archives Department of the University of East Anglia.

Geographical Names