Fanny Deakin (1883–1968) was a lifelong activist from Silverdale in the North Staffordshire coalfield. Of the five children born to her marriage with Noah Deakin, only one survived into adulthood. This experience, typical of that of many working class communities, led to lifetime campaigning for better maternity services. But her political involvement incorporated membership of the Independent Labour Party, the Labour Party and, later, the Communist Party. Her political experience was shaped by disputes in local collieries and, above all, by the 1926 General Strike where Fanny was involved in leading processions, holding protests and speaking at large gatherings. Her motivation was summed up as ‘Fighting for the Mothers’.
Her local political engagement began in 1917 and she became the first woman to be elected to the local Urban District Council and was later elected to Town and County Councils. In 1941 she became the first Communist in the country to be appointed an Alderman in Newcastle-under-Lyme and later for Staffordshire County Council.
In 1927 Fanny, along with British women Beth Turner, Rose Smith, Lily Webb and Florence Durham, visited the Soviet Union – a visit funded by local collections. Her 1927 experiences were written up in Women in Russia published by the Communist Party in 1928. Fanny visited Leningrad, Moscow, Kharkov and Baku in order to learn about health services, kindergartens, birth control and abortion. She also visited coalfields in the Don Basin and the newly developed oilfields in Azerbaijan. Fanny returned to the Soviet Union in 1930. Following these visits and on account of the post that she received from the Soviet Union, she became known as ‘Red Fanny’.
In 1931 she was the only woman in the delegation from the National Unemployed Workers Movement who went to see Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. She demanded that local councils give free milk to pregnant women and children under five – a demand that was partly met in that year.
In 1931 her husband Noah suffered a serious injury in Leycett Colliery and had to spend months in hospital. He spent the rest of his life with poor health and in constant pain. Fanny campaigned to obtain enhanced compensation both for Noah and for other miners.
At a time when she was nursing Noah she was found guilty of perjury – having provided an alibi for a political comrade on a charge of ‘incitement to riot’ – and spent nine months in Winson Green Prison in Birmingham. As a result of this incarceration, she lost her Council seat owing to non-attendance, but was re-elected immediately.
She maintained her campaigning focus on the health and welfare of women and children and in 1947 when she was the chair of the Maternity & Welfare Committee presided over the opening of a Maternity Hospital which was named after her as a consequence of her lifelong struggle for better conditions.
After the death of her husband in 1951 Fanny withdrew from public life and she died in 1968. But her life was immortalised in 1991 in the community play Go See Fanny Deakin which was written by Joyce Holliday and directed by Robert Rae. This community production followed many years of research and two years of local fundraising.
At her, non-religious, funeral ceremony the Harry Lauder song ‘Keep Right on to the End of the Road’ was played.
The Working Class Movement Library has material to come in and read on the life of Fanny Deakin. The people’s history of the Potteries and surrounding districts has a chapter on Fanny Deakin written by Joyce Holliday [WEA Box 2] and the Library has a copy of the special edition of the Evening Sentinel to commemorate Go See Fanny Deakin [Oversized – Box 2 (Women Folder)] Finally, we have a copy of Women in Russia [AG – CPGB Box 15].