By Alem T
Rita was born in Romania in 1927. She emigrated to the UK with her parents in 1938. After attending the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge she studied modern languages (French & Russian) at Oxford (LMH) & obtained her MA in 1948. She spent the next year in Paris boarding with Russian-speaking Armenians & attending the Ecole Nationale des Langues Orientales Vivantes, obtaining a Diploma in Russian.
Her first job was in the Press Library of Chatham House. She worked there until 1956 when she joined Richard & Sylvia in Addis Ababa. She started work at the National Library of Ethiopia, & began correspondence courses in Librarianship. She married Richard in 1957 & had two children: Alula Andrew & Helen Sylvia. (Both of them now have two children each) Alula was born on 27 September 1960 exactly two years after Sylvia’s death. She resumed her courses, interrupted by childbearing, & was awarded the Associateship of the Library Association (ALA) in 1964. (She was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 1987).
Thereafter, most of Rita’s working life was spent in academic librarianship. She became University Librarian of Haile Sellassie I University, a post she held for a decade. When, in 1976, the family returned to London, as the revolutionary situation did not lend itself to the children’s education, she was appointed Head of Library Services of the City of London Polytechnic & remained in charge for eleven years until she & Richard returned to Ethiopia.
During this period, she was instrumental in acquiring the library of the Fawcett Society for the Polytechnic. The Fawcett Library later formed the core of the present Women’s Library, erected on the site of the Old Castle Street Baths. Through the negotiations with the Fawcett Society she became involved with that wing of the women’s movement & came to know Mary Stott & other stalwarts of the Society.
She & Richard returned to Ethiopia in 1987, leaving the children at universities in the UK. Rita undertook library consultancies, & edited academic books & university theses. She devoted more energy than before to voluntary work & was Chair, United World Colleges National Committee – Ethiopia; Chair, Programme Committee, Society of Friends of the Institute of Ethiopian; Board member, Ethiopian Gemini Trust.
As stated above, she served as a librarian at Haileselassie I University (now Addis Ababa University) & at the National Library, & she is survived by two children – Alula Pankhurst and Helen Pankhurst.
The Pankhurst family is known in Ethiopia as a loyal friend of Ethiopia since the time of Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in the late 1930s.
In recognition of their positive contribution & friendship to Ethiopia, they were awarded honorary citizenship.
Rita Pankhurst passed away on 30 May 2019 & Richard Pankhurst also passed away on 16 February 2017 & are laid to rest at Kiddist Selassie Menbere Tsebaot Church cemetery, which is reserved for prominent Ethiopian patriot and important figures who contributed to Ethiopia.
Her publications on Sylvia & matters related to women are:
“Collection development and women’s heritage: the case of the Fawcett Library”. Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 10 no.3, pp.225-239 (1987)
“Sylvia Pankhurst in perspective: some comments on Patricia Romero’s biography E. Sylvia Pankhurst: Portrait of a Radical” in Women’s Studies International Forum, vol.11, no.3, pp.245-262 (1988)
“Senedu Gabru: A role model for Ethiopian women?” in Tsehai Berhane-Selassie (ed.) Gender Issues in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies, pp. 71-87 (1991).
“Women of power in Ethiopian history and legend” Salamta, vol.13 no.1, pp.25-30 (1996)
“Forgotten women in Ethiopian history” CERTWID [Center for Research, Training and Information on Women in Development] Informs, vol. 6, no.2, pp.13-16 (2001)