Sylvia Pankhurst’s Typewriter

Posted by on August 30, 2017 in Featured, News, News and events | 0 comments

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Typewriter

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Typewriter is currently being featured as part of A History of Lancashire in 70 Objects. You can find it on display in the Pankhurst Museum.

Born in Old Trafford, Sylvia Pankhurst was one of Manchester’s most disruptive daughters. Daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the British suffragette movement, she was introduced at the age of 14 to the women’s suffrage campaign. Dr Helen Pankhurst, Sylvia’s granddaughter, gives us an insight into her life as an activist and writer…

“For any campaigner – and Sylvia Pankhurst was nothing if not tireless in this regard – communication tools are the most precious of possessions.

Although we do not know how or when exactly this particular Underwood typewriter came into Sylvia’s life, my father thought she had it by the time she wrote, The Suffragette Movement, in 1931. It might have been at work directly before, and if not, it will have served her during the documentation of the numerous social, political and economic initiatives she was involved in.  These included addressing the practical needs of women in the East End of London; activism against World War One; engagement in socialism and arguments with Lenin; early warnings about the rise of Fascism; work as an internationalist and an anti-imperialist, and her subsequent activism for and in Ethiopia. 

If you look carefully at the typebars and keys of the typewriter – the part that transcribe the letters onto paper – you can see how much this one was used.  Not surprising given all the causes only some of which are summarised above. Moreover, during her lifetime, Sylvia wrote more than 20 books as well as editing and contributing articles for a series of newspapers namely The Women’s Dreadnought, The Worker’s Dreadnought, New Times and Ethiopia News and the Ethiopia Observer.

It’s only a typewriter, and with twenty-first century eyes a clunky, inefficient yet strangely beautiful one. How much more Sylvia could have achieved with the tools currently available to us – for example with a laptop or even a mobile! And yet we need to give thanks to the humble typewriter which in her own lifetime allowed her to disseminate her views and contributed to the impact she made. Furthermore, the technology was such that it has allowed her words and deeds to be captured in ways that have endured. It has stood the test of time, and is therefore available for posterity – for current and future generations.”

Follow Dr Helen Pankhurst on Twitter: @HelenPankhurst