Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Anne Knight

1786 – 1862

Anne was the third of the eight children born to Chelmsford wholesale grocer William Knight and Priscilla née Allen. The Knights were related to several of the leading Quaker families in Britain. Anne never married and her letters reveal a marked distaste for what she once called “these marriage contrarieties”. Several acquaintances remembered her as a woman “of singular appearance”.

In 1824 she went with some Quaker companions on her first Continental tour. By this time she had acquired a good knowledge of French and German and made friendships with Quakers in France and Germany that lasted until her death. She supported full and immediate abolition of the slave trade without compensation for the slave owners. She also supported free trade and universal suffrage and campaigned fervently for women’s rights. Her sympathies were also with the European nationalist and republican movements.

By 1830 she was deeply involved in the attempt by Quakers to end slavery and spent much of her time arranging public meetings, distributing leaflets and organising petitions. As a member of the Chelmsford Ladies Anti-Slavery Society she worked with Thomas Clarkson, Joseph Sturge, Richard and Hanneah Webb and Elizabeth Pease. During this time she went to France several times. She asked George Thompson, a famous abolitionist orator, to undertake a speaking tour in France in 1834. He declined as he was too busy, so she undertook the tour herself addressing several French scientific congresses and numerous smaller gatherings. It appears that it was during this time that she began to consider what the role of women in reform activity should be.

Anne allied herself with the extreme wing of abolitionism and carried on correspondence with William Lloyd Garrison and his supporters in America. The World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 gave her the opportunity to meet American abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Lucretia Mott. The fact that the Convention refused to seat the American female delegates, and the heated debates and discussion that resulted from that refusal, convinced Anne that there was a pressing need to campaign for women’s rights. The movement for women’s suffrage in Britain has been dated from the exclusion of women from the floor of this conference, as it made them realise that they were marginalised within the movement and limited in activities within the public sphere.

In the 1840s her first published statements appeared. They were fiercely feminist. She composed and had printed handbills and pamphlets often written in the style of an open letter to a public figure, who she felt had shown a lack of principle. She also had gummed labels printed on brightly coloured paper with miniature essays or bits of poetry. These labels could be affixed to the outside of letters. The so called “first leaflet on women’s suffrage” is one of these labels. Although sympathetic to and active in the Chartist movement she became disillusioned because of their lack of support for women’s suffrage and challenged them to include voting rights for women in the People’s Charter. She was critical of the charter because it used the term “universal suffrage” when it meant the vote for men only.

In a letter to the Brighton Herald on 9th February 1850 she attacked the Chartist columnist who had suggested that the struggle for women’s rights was less important than the class struggle. She helped to inspire the Sheffield Female Reform Association, the first association for women’s suffrage, which had its inaugural meeting in Sheffield in 1851.

In the late 1850’s she moved to Waldersbach near Strasbourg. Anne chose this village because it was the home of Pastor Jean-Fréderéric Oberlin, a saintly philanthropist who worked to improve the living conditions of the people of his parish and whom she greatly admired. She lodged in the home of his grandson where she died on 4 November 1862.

The placard that she is holding in the picture reads:
By tortured millions
By the Divine Redeemer
Enfranchise Humanity
Bid the Outraged World
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Further Reading and Credits

Photograph reproduced by kind permission from the copyright holders The Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London.