Each year, the NEU Annie Higdon award is presented to a member, or team of members, in recognition and celebration of their work to challenge sexism and engage women in the union movement.
Nominations closed on 31 January 2021.
Who was Annie Higdon?
Annie came from a working-class family in Cheshire. She became a school teacher before she married, and later became headmistress at Wood Dalling, a village school in Norfolk. Her husband held a junior position though most of the documents, books and blogs about the pair do not acknowledge this.
Annie and her husband challenged authorities and pushed for improvements to the school building and learning environment. School governors resented the couple repeatedly raising concerns over the children’s welfare and organised a transfer to another Norfolk school; Burston. Annie’s final entry into the school log was expunged from the records because they it was considered to be political and inflammatory.
Popular with the community and the children of her new school, Annie lobbied the education authority for school improvements, including tackling damp cold classrooms and other unhygienic conditions. She and her husband clashed with the parish rector and school board. In 1914 the Higdons were dismissed (from their teaching posts) after accusations that Annie had lit a fire without permission and failed to curtsy to the rector’s wife.
Violet Potter, a student of the school, organised 66 children to walk out of school in protest. The pupils of Burston School marched around the village with cards hanging around their necks saying “WE WANT OUR TEACHERS BACK”. The banner at the head of the march said just one word: “JUSTICE”.
Refusing to go back to the school, the children were educated in makeshift school rooms around the village. Supported by the wider labour movement, as word of their struggle spread, supporters donated funds for a new, independent schoolhouse. Annie continued to dispute her dismissal for over 25 years. There has never been an official resolution to the dispute.