Nannie [Agnes Henderson] Brown



Brown, Agnes Henderson [Nannie] suffragist, was born at 125 Princes Street, Edinburgh, on 12 April 1866, the youngest child of William Brown, master fruiterer, and his wife, Jessie Henderson. She was generally known as Nannie Brown, and had two brothers and one sister, Jessie. Nannie's father was sympathetic to the suffrage movement. William Brown was gaoled for his part in that campaign, wrote a book about his experiences in prison, and is said to have passed on his public-spiritedness to his two daughters.

Nannie Brown's early public activities were associated with the suffrage movement and the Women's Freedom League. She was one of only six women who participated in the historic march of the ‘Brown Women’ from Edinburgh to London. The march, which was organized by the Women's Freedom League in 1912, lasted for five weeks. Given her father's support for the suffrage movement, it is unsurprising that Nannie Brown favoured admitting men to the Women's Freedom League, and in 1913 she became the honorary secretary of the Northern Men's Federation for Women's Suffrage.

From 1917 Nannie Brown was associated with the Scottish Women's Rural Institutes (SWRI), playing a leading role in organizing the movement on a Scotland-wide level. When the SWRI was included in the work of the board of agriculture for Scotland, she served as a member of the board's staff. After the SWRI division was cut out of the board's work, she continued to work for the south-eastern area. However, ill health forced her to retire from this work in 1928, although she continued as honorary adviser to the area. She was also, in 1918, one of the fourteen founder members of the Scottish Council of Women's Citizens' Associations whose aim was to promote civic awareness among women and to gain greater representation of women in public affairs and equality of treatment with men.

However, Nannie Brown's activities were not confined to the endless round of meetings associated with formal organizations; she was a prodigious writer of articles, stories, lectures, and plays, an active participant in and promoter of amateur dramatics in Edinburgh, and, with her sister, a leading member of the Edinburgh Dickens Fellowship. Her pioneering spirit was also manifested in other areas; according to one of her obituaries, she was one of the first women who learned to type and, with her sister, Jessie, among the first women to be seen riding a bicycle in Scotland.

When in later years she became too frail to venture far afield, her house in Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, became a centre where any and every SWRI member could find advice and hospitality. Indeed, the home which she shared with Jessie in Castle Terrace became something of a cultural centre after the First World War. They would hold ‘Scots evenings’ or ‘Dickens evenings’, at which stories, songs, and sketches were performed.

Nannie Brown died on 1 December 1943 at 3 Blackford Road, Edinburgh.


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Eleanor Gordon, ‘Brown, Agnes Henderson (1866–1943)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007 [, accessed 30 May 2014]

Agnes Henderson Brown (1866–1943): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/63840

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