Annie Erskine Robinson ~ Suffragist, Socialist and Pacifist

Annie Erskine Robinson – Suffragist, Socialist and Pacifist was born 8 June 1874 in Montrose. Her father was a down at heel laird’s son and her mother a schoolteacher. Early life was economically hard for Annie Erskine. However, despite hardship she enrolled as a trainee teacher in Edinburgh and achieved an LLA from St. Andrews University in 1901. First teaching appointments were in Dundee and then Lochgelly, Fife. Annie Erskine at this time began to become involved in the Independent Labour Party and the Women’s Labour League. In 1908, she married a tramway office clerk, Samuel Robinson (1869/70-1937), who was also a Labour Party activist. Together they moved to Manchester. That same year Annie Erskine Robinson was arrested and imprisoned (Holloway Prison) for her part in a suffrage demonstration in London. The Dundee branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) made her an honorary secretary. Later when the WSPU attempted to smuggle a group of women into the House of Commons using a furniture van as a cover, Annie Erskine was one of the group caught in the act. Again she was imprisoned.

With the drift of the WSPU to the right, Annie Erskine Robinson moved into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) – a less militant organisation than the WSPU. The NUWSS had a policy in which Labour Party candidates were supported and Annie Erskine Robinson became central to the organisation of this strategy. She kept up her links with Scotland by making frequent trips north, especially to campaign in the Midlothian and South Lanark by-elections.

When the First World War broke out in 1914 the NUWSS was split. Annie Erskine Robinson was with the minority group that opposed the war and helped found the Women’s International league for Peace and Freedom (WIL). This organisation also campaigned for improved conditions for women munitions workers as well as against violence. Other work involved exposing the profiteers and those making huge profits out of the war. Although her marriage was not emotionally successful Annie Erskine Robinson had two daughters – Helen and Cathie. Keir Hardie was godfather to Helen. Marriage problems took their toll and in 1916 she collapsed. The burden of keeping the family together (her husband rarely was in employment and lived an uncouth life) proved too much. By 1918, she did have a full-time position within the WIL as an organiser in Manchester.

She was directly involved in the 1919 Peace Conference and was also part of a delegation to Ireland during the Black and Tan terrors. Alongside Ellen Wilkinson, Annie Erskine Robinson gave evidence in 1921 to an American Commission looking at the Irish situation. Annie Erskine Robinson rose within the Labour Party ranks, becoming vice-Chair of the party in Manchester and contesting two un-winnable council seats. The depression of the twenties made life difficult for left-wing organisations to gain funds and the WIL had to release her from employment in 1922. She then embarked on a lecture tour of the United States of America. After a brief period of working for the WIL in Amsterdam, she went back to teaching, taking up a post in Newburgh, Fife. Annie Erskine Robinson died on 29 September 1925 in Perth Royal Infirmary. A memorial fund was raised to help support her daughter’s education.