Named in honour of Annie Besant (nee Wood) (October 1, 1847 – September 20, 1933), a renowned women’s rights and political activist. She was an ardent supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule. In 1867 she married Frank Besant, a clergyman, but her increasingly outspoken views against religion led to the couple seeking a legal separation six years later – she later became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society. She is perhaps best known for drawing attention to the plight of women working in East End match factories. She and fellow socialist Herbert Burrows set up a union at Bryant and May’s match factory in Bow. The women there were poorly paid and prone to industrial illnesses, like the bone-rotting Phossy jaw, which was caused by the chemicals used in match manufacture. Strike action in 1888 led to the gradual improvement in workers’ rights. She was also elected to the London School Board for Tower Hamlets, topping the poll, even though few women were qualified to vote at that time.
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