Kate Sharpley

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Kate Sharpley
Born 1895
Died 1978 (aged 82–83)

Kate Sharpley (1895–1978) was a Deptford-born anarchist and anti-World War I activist. She is chiefly known today through the work of the library named in her honour.

Munitions and Queen Mary[edit]

During the war she left her job with a baker and worked in a Woolwich munitions factory. She was among the first people active in the shop stewards movement. Her father and brother were killed in action and her boyfriend (active in the anarcho-syndicalistic Horse Transport Union) was listed as missing believed killed. She suspected, though she had no proof, that he had been shot for mutiny. At the age of 22, when called to receive her family's medals from Queen Mary (wife of George V) she threw the medals back at her, saying "if you like them so much you can have them". The Queen's face was scratched, Kate Sharpley was beaten by police, and imprisoned for a few days. No charges were brought against her for her criminal assault. She was, however, fired from her job at the factory.

Linking generations[edit]

She married in 1922 and dropped out of anarchist activities until a chance encounter with Albert Meltzer at a train station during the Battle of Lewisham. She came to his attention by saying "if I'd been able to get on that platform fast enough I'd have waded in with my stick" and then castigating members of a Trotskyist party over Trotsky's suppression of the Kronstadt uprising.

This incident led to her meeting and inspiring many younger activists. When asked what advice she had for them she was upbeat: "The kids today are doing better than we did. They wouldn't let the sods get away now with what they got away with me then". She was described as "like a telephone call from the past" (Meltzer, p. 291), with her first-hand knowledge of people like Sylvia Pankhurst.

After her death, when Brixton anarchists came to name the archives they had collected from the movement, her name was chosen in preference to a more famous one. The Kate Sharpley Library maintains an archive of original anarchist documents and publishes books and pamphlets based on those materials.