This post is inspired by an event which I attended yesterday. During this event every participant was required to tell us their most inspirational person (Dead or Alive). Out of a room of nearly 40 people, only 4 said a woman. Eva Peron, Marilyn Monroe, and Emmeline Pankhurst were all well known, however mine was a little more out of the box.
I chose Hannah Mitchell. No one had heard of her, as I was consistently told by the group of people I was working along side. But I believe she is worthy of more recognition than people like Monroe, as she fought to get where she was.
Born to a poor farming family, Mitchell was expected to amount to little within her lifetime. Possessing no formal education – though her father taught her to read – she was expected to remain in the domestic sphere, caring for her family and performing household chores. From a very early age Mitchell saw the inequality in this, which some have argued encouraged her commitment to feminist issues.
Once married, Mitchell worked in dress making in order to subsidise her husbands low income, however she also became responsible for the household – despite her insistence that the labour should be shared. Mitchell had begun to get involved within the socialist movement from an early age and following her experience in the home, became convinced that feminist issues had a place in the socialist agenda. She spoke at meetings of the Independent Labour Party , became involved in WSPU – aiding Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and worked herself into a nervous breakdown campaigning for what she believed.
She was immensely proud of her working class roots, though she eventually became a member of Manchester City Council and a Magistrate she consistently worked for working class issues and rights, including new public wash houses in working class areas which would be ‘greatly appreciated by women’. Her autobiography ‘The Hard Way Up’ remained unpublished during her own lifetime but was published in 1968, and is now considered a classic account of a working class woman’s political activism.
The fact that no one had heard of Hannah Mitchell did rather astound me, given her own struggle to break from the bonds of working class women’s duties. However it is perhaps unsurprising. Women like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison – from middle-class backgrounds – were more in the public eye and considered to be breaking from the lady-like image which working class women were not afforded.
This meant that the actions of women such as Hannah Mitchell – though more remarkable – were swept under the carpet, and never taught to generations who shall instead idolise film stars, business figure heads – like Michael O’Leary (The CEO of Ryanair), and people who are famous because they just are. I say that this is wrong, and people need to begin to look under the carpet and discover a truly inspirational and remarkable person (Male or Female), who achieved something remarkable against their own personal circumstances.