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Hannah Mitchell (born Hannah Maria Webster; 1872–1956) was an English suffragette and socialist.[1] Born into a poor farming family in Derbyshire, Mitchell left home at a young age to work as a seamstress in Bolton, were she became involved in the socialist movement. She worked for many years in organisations related to socialism, women's suffrage and pacifism. After the First World War she was elected to Manchester City Council and worked as a magistrate.

Washington, D.C. Aug. 12, 1913
Hannah Mitchell with Alice Crossley, August 12, 1913




Early life

Hannah Webster was born on 11 February 1872 in a farmhouse in Hope Woodlands, in the Derbyshire Peak District.[2] The daughter of a farmer, she was the fourth of six children.[3] She was not permitted a formal education, although her father taught her to read.[4] She stayed at home performing domestic duties with her mother, with whom she did not get on.[5] She was expected to look after her father and brothers, which she resented.[6] Early on she became acutely aware of gender inequality in the domestic sphere. She also observed the seemingly inevitable early marriages of girls around her to "farm lads", in order to avoid having children out of wedlock, and was keen to avoid the same fate.[7] She later said in her autobiography that her mother was a bad-tempered and violent woman who sometimes made her children sleep in the barn.[8] When she was 13 she became an apprentice dressmaker, to earn extra money for her impoverished family.[9] At the age of 14, after an argument with her mother, she left home and went to live in Bolton, Lancashire, where she found work as a dressmaker and in domestic service.[10][11]

Marriage and socialism

In Bolton, she started improving her education, originally hoping to become a teacher.[12] One job she had was in the household of a schoolmaster, who allowed her to borrow his books.[13] She became involved in the socialist movement and attended The Labour Church.[14][15] She was particularly influenced by Robert Blatchford's newspaper The Clarion.[16] At one meeting she attended, she heard Katharine Glasier speak.[17] In the house where she lodged, she met a tailor's cutter called Gibbon Mitchell.[18] Although she was cautious about marriage, from her observations of her family members, the young couple both longed for their own home.[19] They married in 1895 and she gave birth to a son.[20] Because of the difficulty of this birth and the reluctance to bring more children into poverty, Mitchell resolved to have no more.[21] She and her husband agreed to use birth control and had no further children.[22] As well as their son, the Mitchells also cared for an orphaned niece.[23]

She soon found herself disillusioned by marriage. Although her husband initially agreed to her requests for an equal division of labour in their household, she found that reality did not quite live up to this ideal. She continued to work as a seamstress to supplement Gibbon's meagre earnings, and found the rest of her time taken up with household chores.[24] Like other women in the socialist movement, Mitchell struggled to convince male socialists of the importance of feminist issues.[25]

Mitchell began to speak publicly at meetings of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).[26] She joined, and worked as a part-time organiser for, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).[27] She toured the country making speeches, and campaigned for women's suffrage at by-elections.[28] In 1907 she suffered a nervous breakdown which her doctor put down to overwork and malnourishment.[29] While she was recovering, Charlotte Despard visited her and gave her money for food.[30] In her autobiography she mentioned the hurt that she felt when none of the Pankhursts contacted her during her recovery.[31] In 1908 she left the WSPU, and joined Despard's new Women's Freedom League.[32]

During the First World War, Mitchell supported the pacifist movement volunteering for organisations such as the ILP No Conscription Fellowship and the Women's International League.[33] In 1918 she started to work with the ILP again and in 1924 they nominated her as a member of Manchester City Council.[34][35] She was elected and served until 1935.[36] She became a magistrate in 1926, and for the next 11 years.[37]

Later life

On 9 May 1939, Mitchell helped to organise a meeting of 40 ex-suffragettes in Manchester.[38] Towards the end of the Second World War, she began work on her autobiography, which remained unpublished in her lifetime.[39] After the war, she began writing for The Northern Voice and Manchester City News.[40] Mitchell died on 22 October 1956 at home in Manchester.[41] Her autobiography, The Hard Way Up, the Autobiography of Hannah Mitchell, Suffragette and Rebel, was edited by her grandson and published in 1968.[42] There is a blue plaque dedicated to her on the wall of the house that she lived in with her family in Ashton-under-Lyne between 1900 and 1910.[43]


  1. ^ Routledge, p. 317
  2. ^ Purvis
  3. ^ Rosen, p. 39
  4. ^ Purvis
  5. ^ Rappaport, p.447
  6. ^ Rowbotham, p.91
  7. ^ Stanley Holton, p. 94
  8. ^ Perkin, p.115
  9. ^ Rosen, p.40
  10. ^ Purvis
  11. ^ Rappaport, p.447
  12. ^ Stanley Holton, p. 94
  13. ^ Stanley Holton, p. 95
  14. ^ Purvis
  15. ^ Rappaport, p.447
  16. ^ Routledge, p. 317
  17. ^ Rowbotham, p.92
  18. ^ Rosen, p.40
  19. ^ Rosen, p.40
  20. ^ Stanley Holton, p. 93
  21. ^ Rosen, p. 41
  22. ^ Rappaport, p.447
  23. ^ Crawford, p. 416
  24. ^ Rosen, p.41
  25. ^ Rowbotham, p.92
  26. ^ Purvis
  27. ^ Purvis
  28. ^ Crawford, p. 417
  29. ^ Crawford, p. 417
  30. ^ Crawford, p. 417
  31. ^ Purvis
  32. ^ Purvis
  33. ^ Crawford, p. 417
  34. ^ Routledge, p. 318
  35. ^ Crawford, p. 417
  36. ^ Purvis
  37. ^ Purvis
  38. ^ Purvis
  39. ^ Purvis
  40. ^ Routledge, p. 318
  41. ^ Purvis
  42. ^ Purvis
  43. ^ "Blue Plaque — Hannah Maria Mitchell". Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council. Retrieved 2009-09-03.  



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