‘The Twelve’

For hundreds of years Cambridge was an all-male institution. Then the women arrived, and changed everything. This blog tells the interconnected stories of some of the women who ‘invaded’ this ancient university town as students and brides in the 1870s and 1880s. They had to fight for their rightful place in this highly traditional, predominantly male society, and so they formed close social networks, clubs and discussion groups.

The Ladies Dining Society met regularly, once or twice a term, in Cambridge and elsewhere from 1890 until the outbreak of war in 1914. They were ‘a remarkable group’ according to John Maynard Keynes, and the fact that their club lasted for so many years shows its importance to the twelve members: Caroline Jebb, Mary Paley Marshall, Ida Darwin,Eleanor Sidgwick, Kathleen Lyttelton, Ellen Wordsworth Darwin, Mary Ward, Louise Creighton, Margaret Verrall, Maud Darwin, Fanny Prothero and Eliza Von Hügel. Over the years these women would contribute to women’s suffrage, higher education, journalism, social welfare and mental health reform. Virginia Woolf once called Cambridge “that detestable place”, but these women and their friends helped to make it a better place, and their influence went far beyond college walls.

See also my entries on the Ladies’ Dining Society, Caroline Jebb and Mary Ward in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  and the recent Wikipedia article about the group. My ‘Ladies’ Dining Society’ website also includes some recent essays, literary reviews and articles of mine, and a few excellent guest posts by knowledgeable friends (see archives on the righthand side). Your thoughts and comments about the Ladies Dining Society are much appreciated: please get in touch here.

Ann Kennedy Smith (all rights reserved)