A year of suffrage celebrations

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day on 8 March is a time to celebrate the achievements of women, past and present, from around the globe.

Here in Oldham the date is particularly significant as we take a look back at how we’ve celebrated our very own female figures who have had a hand in shaping the future of women, particularly in politics.

Last year marked 100 years of some women being able to vote in Britain. In order to recognise this, Oldham Council, local community groups, schools and partners embarked on a year of celebratory events and activities.

Seven schools sent their teachers to Gallery Oldham on a training day in February to learn all about suffrage as part of the Heritage Schools programme. This resulted in an art exhibition in the foyer of Gallery Oldham showcasing the work of their pupils. Each school was subsequently awarded the Heritage Schools status.

A procession, complete with a replica suffragist caravan, took place in Werneth Park in July to honour the pilgrimage to London that local philanthropist and suffragist, Marjory Lees embarked upon in 1913. Schoolchildren, the Mayor of Oldham and local people walked in the sunshine with their placards whilst learning more about the role of Oldham women in the suffrage movement.

A letter, written by suffragette Annie Kenney to her sister upon her release from Strangeways Prison, was located in Canada by a lecturer from the University of Oxford. The letter travelled 4,350 miles to Gallery Oldham where it was put on display as part of the ‘Peace and Plenty? Oldham and the First World War’ exhibition.

One hundred people attended a rare and special screening of the 1974 drama ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ at Oldham Library. The episode focused particularly on Annie Kenney and her involvement with the Pankhurst family. We were only the second organisation to ever be granted the rights to screen ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’, and the event was a huge success. There was also a performance by Oldham Girls’ Choir and craft activities courtesy of Saddleworth Museum and Gallery.

December saw Annie Kenney’s statue finally make an appearance in Parliament Square after months of fundraising by the public. Around 2,000 people attended the unveiling alongside local dignitaries and celebrities.

Councillor Hannah Roberts, Elected Member Champion for the Suffrage to Citizenship Programme, said: “We had a remarkable year in 2018 celebrating the centenary of some women being able to vote.

“It was fantastic to see so many people acknowledge the achievements of the suffragists and suffragettes and particularly those who were from Oldham.

“By highlighting the achievements of women such as Annie Kenney and Marjory Lees I hope that people realise just how much of a struggle it was for women to get the vote and how far we’ve come since then, but also how far there is still to go.”

This is only a snapshot of the events held in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of The Representation of the People Act. The next significant date on the timeline is 2028 when we will celebrate 100 years of all women over the age of 21 getting the opportunity to vote due to the introduction of The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act.

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, Oldham Library are hosting a day of events on Saturday 9 March, 11am–4pm. These include a talk by local author, Carol Talbot on her book “Working-Class Suffragette: The Life of Annie Kenney”, themed craft activities, and a meet and greet with Dawn Nisbet whose parkrun success story has inspired many people to get running. For more information on these free events, visit www.oldham.gov.uk/libraries

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