Meet the local historian resurrecting the stories of Leicester suffragettes

When you think of a Leicester suffragette, the first name that comes to mind is likely Alice Hawkins.

Photo of the Alice Hawkins statue in Green Dragon Square by Kiran Parmer

Alice Hawkins was a working-class campaigner who fought for women's rights and working conditions in Leicester. But Hawkins is not the only Leicester-born suffragette to challenge the patriarchal status quo. 

In March 2023, we published an article on the Leicester Pimpernel Lilian Lenton. Famed for her daring escapes, Lenton's story and many other Leicester suffragettes remain largely untold.

We spoke to Leicester historian and archivist Jess Jenkins, who published her book Exploring Women's Suffrage through 50 Historic Treasures in 2007. She has dedicated her life to Leicester's history but spoke candidly about her recent interest in the suffragette movement. 

"I've been an archivist for 30 odd years at the Record Office for Leicestershire, and to be honest, for a lot of the period, I wasn't that interested in suffragettes and suffragists, which is awful really, because I took it all for granted. 

"I took having an education, going to having a degree, choosing the profession I wanted, not having to give up my job when I got married, all of that. I just took it for granted and wasn't particularly interested in suffragettes. 

"But then, in 2007, we realised that it was the centenary of the formation of the Leicester branch of the Women's Social and Political Union. And I volunteered to do an exhibition. And so I found myself leafing through local newspapers of the time. I knew about Alice Hawkins. I'd heard of her, but nobody else, nothing else from the local area".

What surprised Jenkins the most was the number of female writers who wrote for publications like the Leicester Pioneer. With her research findings, Jenkins wrote a book that started her interest in the Leicester suffrage movement. She discovered countless activists and campaigners lost to history, including Lilian Lenton.

"I've discovered all sorts of interesting people. I was thrilled because I went to London, and in the police records, there was Elizabeth Frisby of Leicester being put into prison. And, of course, I only knew of her because she was the first woman Mayor of Leicester. So it was thrilling to discover this sort of thing.

"About the same time as I was getting involved in all this. The National Portrait Gallery released details of those secret photographs that the police took in prison, which were very interesting and little known at the time. And, of course, there's a magnificent one of Lilian Linton. It's a very glamorous picture of her with long hair. This really caught media attention, so that's when I first became aware of her".

When asked about the most thrilling parts of Lenton's story, Jenkins raised a defining moment in the suffragette's life: her near-death experience. 

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