To celebrate International Women’s Day About Manchester takes a look at the life of Hannah Mitchell, suffragette and Manchester councillor
Hannah was was born on 11 February 1872 at Alport Farm in Derbyshire, a remote area of the Peak District. not far from the Snake Inn on the road from Manchester to Sheffield.She was the fourth of six children of poor farming parents, but was proud to recall in later life as a Non Conformist that one of her father’s barns was used for religious services by the local victims of the act of uniformity.
Her mother was often the victim of rages and it was the young Hannah who would fall victim to them, subjected to frequent scoldings and beatings.Her father and uncle had taught her to read and write but her mother had no sympathy with her daughter’s desire for education and forced her to darn her brothers’ stockings in the evenings while they read or played cards or dominoes.
Hannah was understandably a shy girl and was denied the promised year of school that her sister was given.She finally fled the family home in 1885 when Hannah snatched from her mother the stick with which she was being beaten and dared her to strike again. She went to live with a brother and his wife, and then later took lodgings.
The young Hannah Webster earned her living in a variety of low-paid jobs including domestic service and dressmaking. She met her husband, Frank, a shop assistant and they married in 1895.After the difficult birth if her only son, he would supplement her husband’s wages by bringing in home based jobs and lodgers.However her desire for education grew along with her admiration for socialism, disliking the ways in which domesticity intruded on her need for solitude, time for study, and opportunities for a wider life and began to develop a regard for freedom for women, resenting the hours her husband expected her to spend cooking dinners and baking home-made cakes, potted meat, and pies.
She began to speak at the first meetings of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and joined the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded in 1903 by Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter, Christabel.She was one of the first half dozen women to join, becoming a part time organiser.She was at the heart of the organisation for a time, haranguing Winston Churchill and interrupting his speech with the inquiry,” will the Liberal Government gives votes to women”.Winston allowed her to come up to the platform and make a short statement.”Let her tell us what she wants” he told the audience.
In 1908, she attended a meeting at Belle Vue, intending to interrupt John Burns, disguised in an outfit of green tweed and a hat with green trimmings, not the usual suffrage uniform of the dingy brown sparrow.She was spotted along with Adela Pankhurst after their usual interjection and fined half a crown.Refusing to pay she was sent to Strangeways for three days and was most upset when her husband paid the fine
Her work there contributed to a nervous breakdown and she would shortly after fall out with the Pankhurst’s when no of them made contact during her illness.She resigned from the WSPU and joined a breakaway group, the Women’s Freedom League, headed by Mrs Charlotte Despard
During the the First World War, she became a pacifist supporting such anti-war organizations as the ILP No Conscription Fellowship and the Women’s International League but once the war was over she threw herself into public life.She was elected to Manchester City Council in 1924 as a member for Newton Heath, her committee work included working on the pensions and public health boards and was appointed a magistrate two years later.She served on the council for eleven years.Her proudest moment, she would later write, was getting a public wash house which she struggled to get built to make working class women’s lives easier. She would also in that time realise her childhood ambition to be a writer.Under the pseudonym Daisy Nook, she began to write sketches in the Lancashire dialect for the Northern Voice, a small paper run by the ILP. She also wrote for the Manchester Guardian and began working on her autobiography. She failed to find a publisher, instead instalments of her life were printed in the Northern Voice.
Hannah died at her home at Ingman Street in Newton Heath on the 22nd October 1956.Her autobiography was finally published twelve years later, edited by her grandson Geoffrey.She called herself suffrage and rebel said a review of the book, who had thrown herself into the dual struggle of gaining political justice for women and social justice for the underpaid workers.
Today a foundation is named after her which campaigns for for democratic government in the North of England including an elected regional assembly.
Her desire for ‘beauty in civic life’ blossomed in her work on public libraries, parks and gardens.She is an inspiration for us today.