Kate Conolly, Researcher and Lecturer - 11 November 2019
Our speaker on Monday 11 November was Kate Conolly and she gave a lecture on the feminist movement in the early 20th century with a focus on a suffragette activist from the Pankhurst family who is often overshadowed: Sylvia Pankhurst. Kate Conolly’s talk began with Sylvia’s origins in the women’s suffrage movement and how she, alongside her mother and sister founded a “far more radical campaign” in Manchester, which had a focus on recruiting and working with working class women. Our speaker made sure to distinguish between the discrete and lawful suffragists and the more radical suffragettes. She detailed how the suffragettes earned their name after two women, Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst, were arrested after repeatedly asking whether or not the new Labour government would support women’s suffrage. They were the first of the movement to actively use civil disobedience to make their grievances heard. The fallout saw large press coverage of their arrest with the women being branded ‘The Militant Suffragettes’.
It’s always inspiring to hear of such cases and the struggle activists from yesteryear went through to achieve women’s suffrage. Much of the time it can feel as though the information we’re being given about civil rights history is repetitive and tired, however Kate Conolly’s talk provided us with a fresh insight into division within the feminist movements in its infancy. She highlighted why Sylvia stands out among her peers as an intersectional figure who cared not just for women’s votes but also for the votes of women of colour and working class backgrounds. She also illustrated Sylvia as a figure who put her morals before her family when they adopted a distinctly elitist view of campaigning for women’s suffrage. Conolly linked all the points to the modern day during the question and answer section which followed her lecture. She gave examples of the same lack of intersectionality in considerably more modern cases. She impressed us when she linked the elitist pro-World War One suffragettes Emmeline and Christabel to contemporary feminsit figures such as Cherie Blaire who supported the Iraq war.
I believe that Conolly gave us an exemplary lecture and personally found her talk thought provoking and inspiring.