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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

Pictures from a Library
37: ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Women’: Enriqueta Rylands and Her Library
Stella Halkyard
6 FEBRUARY 2018 marks the centenary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act, a significant step in the history of British women’s suffrage and that of working class men. For the first time women over the age of thirty, who were householders or occupants of property with an annual rent of more than five pounds, were empowered to vote in elections and to participate in the democratic process. Had Enriqueta Rylands, founder of the John Rylands Library, survived to 1918 she would undoubtedly have met the property qualification. Never a suffragette, unlike some of her more famous Mancunian sisters, she nevertheless was a formidable woman who was ‘the sole executor of her own purpose’ (D.A. Farnie). What power she had, she used to generate cultural capital and in doing so became the first woman to be admitted to the Freedom of the City of Manchester in 1899.

Born into the colonial society of Havana in 1843, Enriqueta was the daughter of a businessman, Stephen Cattley Tennant, a partner in a Liverpool mercantile firm and his Cuban wife, Juana Camila Dalcour. Little documentary evidence survives to tell us the story of Enriqueta’s life. Her papers were destroyed on her death, in keeping with her wishes and information about the early part of her life is especially scarce. By the age of twelve she was an orphan, yet underwent the genteel education of a lady in a convent school in New York and finishing schools in Paris and London. How she came to Manchester isn’t clear ...

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