‘No women at Cambridge’: the 1897 protests

Part 1 The men in the photograph

On the morning of 21 May 1897, all along King’s Parade, thousands of men stand waiting. The view from a first-floor window shows a sea of straw boaters stretching into the distance. Most of the men in this photograph are Cambridge University undergraduates, some looking nonchalant with their hands in their pockets, others pressing against the railings that surround the Senate House. There are also serious-looking older men in dark suits and bowler hats in this vast crowd, and boys in flat caps who smile up at the camera. ‘The scene will never be forgotten’, one onlooker wrote, recalling ‘the excitement of the undergraduates who assembled in great numbers, the spectators at every window and on the tops of houses and St Mary’s Church, and fireworks in the Senate House Yard’. We can imagine the chatter and shouting to friends, the whistles and catcalls: a festive mood, that later would turn into ugly, anti-women violence.

The tensions had been building for months. The previous year, a special University Syndicate was appointed to discuss the case for Cambridge degrees to be awarded to suitably qualified women students. Since 1881, the two ‘ladies’ colleges’ of Newnham and Girton had awarded their own certificates to students who had fulfilled the University’s degree requirements and taken its final ‘Tripos’ exams. But by the 1890s many women were finding it difficult to compete in the professional workplace, where B.A.s and M.A.s were expected. Girton and Newnham students had already proved women’s intellectual ability, especially with the outstanding results of Agnata Frances Ramsay and Philippa Fawcett (see my ‘Locked out of the library’ post). The conferring of the title of degree would be ‘to the University at least unharmful’, the Principal of Newnham College Eleanor Sidgwick wrote, ‘and to women an unmixed gain’.

To begin with, the upcoming vote was discussed behind closed academic doors, with those in favour and against women’s degrees expressing their views in polite speeches. But soon the dons’ disagreements became a topic of polarised public debate, and daily newspapers ‘reported each thrust and counter-thrust in a fashion reminiscent of war-reporting’, the historian Rita McWilliams-Tullberg writes. The Times and the Morning Post did not need to give any reasons why women should be excluded from the responsibilities and benefits of the University: it was simply held to be self-evident, as shown by Oxford’s recent refusal to change its statutes. Many former Cambridge students (known as the M.A.s) suspected that giving women degrees would change the fundamental character of the ancient university and be ‘the thin end of the wedge’, leading to further invasions of male-held privilege.

The fact that the Cambridge vote was carefully worded to grant women the titles of degrees, and nothing more, made little difference to men like the Professor of Political Economy, Alfred Marshall. Despite his wife Mary Paley Marshall‘s ongoing teaching commitments at Newnham, and his own support for women’s education twenty years earlier, Marshall now wanted to have no women at Cambridge, and in 1897 he seized the chance to get excitable young men on his side. ‘Some opponents of the College used their influence with the undergraduates, and especially the athletic element,’ the historian Alice Gardner wrote in 1921, and ‘the voice of “sweet reasonableness” was drowned in angry clamour’. The views of undergraduates, athletic or otherwise, were not usually taken into account by their professors, but now male anger became a politically useful tool. Meetings were held and posters and daily flysheets printed and displayed around the town, with inflammatory slogans such as “Down with Girtonites! Non plus the Newnhamites!!”

Like the Trump supporters who attacked the United States Capitol in January 2021, many Cambridge men in 1897 – undergraduates and professors, as well as the non-resident M.A.s – had convinced themselves that others were about to steal something that rightfully belonged to them. When, in the afternoon of 21 May 1897, it was announced that the move to award women degrees had been defeated by a huge majority, 1713 votes to 662, the huge roar of male voices could be heard for miles around. ‘Pandemonium broke loose’, the eye-witness recalls, and a hail of fireworks and rotten eggs were thrown at the dons in celebration, and crude effigies of women students were torn down and pulled apart. Students perching on the roof of Newnham College, waiting to hear the news, heard the shouting grow louder and more threatening as a mob ran towards Newnham and attempted to break down the gates of the college. Only the firm words of Eleanor Sidgwick, as she and other women staff stood guarding the gates, stopped the men in their tracks.

In May 1897 most of the visible damage was done to property, with boards and shutters torn from shop windows to build a huge bonfire in Market Square. The damage done to the confidence of the women’s colleges was harder to repair. Although everything continued much the same as before, the Newnham and Girton college leaders could not forget the precariousness of their existence, and they became extra-vigilant about their students not giving offence or making any demands. It meant that for many more years the best women teachers, scholars and staff would continue to be excluded from research and participation in Cambridge University, at an ongoing cost to the university itself for another fifty years.

© Ann Kennedy Smith, January 2022, all rights reserved. Part 2, The women in the photograph, to follow shortly.

Sources

‘Crowds gather…’ : Cambridge University Library (UA Phot. 174/3) https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/PH-UA-PHOT-00174-00003/1

Alice Gardner, A Short History of Newnham College Cambridge (1921)

Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘The Road to the Senate House, TLS October 2019: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/road-senate-house-women-cambridge/

Rita McWilliams-Tullberg Women At Cambridge (CUP, 1998)

Gill Sutherland, ‘History of Newnham’, https://newn.cam.ac.uk/about/history/history-of-newnham/

‘The Rising Tide: Women At Cambridge’: https://www.cam.ac.uk/TheRisingTide

‘No Gowns for the Girtonites!’: Cambridge University Library https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/PR-UA-01897-POSTER/1

My books of the year 2021

Twelve of the biographies and memoirs I have enjoyed reading and reviewing in 2021. Thank you for reading the blog this year, and wishing you a very Happy New Year for 2022.

Burning Man: The Ascent of D. H. Lawrence (Bloomsbury, 2021) by Frances Wilson is a picaresque and immersive biography that paints a brilliant cinematographic picture of a decade of D.H. Lawrence’s life, from 1915 to 1925. (I wrote about the book, and Lawrence’s women friends and supporters, in my blogpost here). I also enjoyed re-reading Frances Wilson’s passionate and brilliant early biography, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth (Faber), reissued in a beautiful paperback edition earlier this year. It’s timely as Dorothy Wordsworth was born 250 years ago this month, and a recent Guardian editorial celebrated her life and writing as a ‘rare achievement’, not just for inspiring her famous brother’s poems, but as a first-rate nature writer in her own right.

Dorothy Wordsworth was a great walker in her younger days and walked for miles in the Lake District, Scotland and mainland Europe. I enjoyed Windswept: Walking in the footsteps of remarkable women by Annabel Abbs (Two Roads Books) a powerful memoir-biography about how walking in nature changed the lives and inspired the writing of writers including Nan Shepherd, Simone de Beauvoir, Gwen John and the author herself. Another book about women who travelled far from home is Undreamed Shores (Granta) by Frances Larson. ‘They went from the periphery into the unknown’, Larson writes, ‘and I doubt that any of them felt fully at home in England again.’ It’s a compelling group biography tracing the lives of five pioneering anthropologists who were among the first to study anthropology at Oxford University. My TLS review is here. I also loved Emily Midorikawa’s Out of the Shadows: six visionary Victorian women in search of a public voice (Counterpoint Press, 2021), a beautifully written, absorbing group biography that offers new insights into how six enterprising women succeeded in making spiritualism the means of gaining power, money and influence. More on this book, and the American Caroline Jebb’s trenchant views of the Cambridge University spiritualists of the 1870s, in my blogpost here.

Ding Dong! Avon Calling! by Katina Manko (OUP, 2021) is a well-written and perceptive American business history that takes seriously the ambitions and achievements of Avon Inc.’s vast, all-female network of saleswomen from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Avon celebrated these women as entrepreneurs, while systematically excluding them from the company’s senior management. I wrote about it for the 24 September TLS here. I highly recommend Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored In An Economy Built For Men by the Swedish economist Katrine Marçal (Harper Collins). Wittily translated by Alex Fleming, Marçal’s book is a fresh and highly readable account of how women’s brilliant ideas (from the wheelie suitcase to bra technology for spacesuits) have been overlooked through history until men decided to make these ideas their own, at a cost to the world’s economy. Kathleen Dixon Donnelly’s multi-volume series Such Friends: The Literary 1920s presents colourful, diary-like snippets, skilfully woven together, from the daily lives of writers, poets and artists of the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Bloomsbury Group, the Americans in Paris, and the Algonquin Round Table in New York. There are excerpts on her ‘Such Friends’ blog here.

My favourite literary memoir this year was Marina Warner’s evocative Inventory of a Life Mislaid: An Unreliable Memoir (Harper Collins; published as Esmond and Ilia: An Unreliable Memoir in the USA). It’s a richly detailed, sharp and sympathetic memoir, beautifully illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer, that uses treasured mementoes to connect family secrets to Britain’s colonial past, and offers insights into how Warner became a writer. My review is in the 26 March TLS here; I also wrote about Warner’s Cambridge connections in my March blogpost, ‘The Cambridge bookshop’. In November 2021 there was a welcome reissue by Faber of Virginia Cowles’s Looking For Trouble, a wonderfully fresh and vivid memoir of this remarkable, but nowadays little-known, woman war correspondent. A bestseller when it was first published in 1941, Looking For Trouble showcases Cowles’s great courage and ability to write, no matter what dangerous situation she found herself in. She is one of the six women wartime reporters featured in Judith Mackrell’s new group biography Going With The Boys (Pan Macmillan; published in the USA The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II), an entertaining and well-researched book highlighting the lives and work of Martha Gellhorn, Clare Hollingworth, Helen Kirkpatrick, Sigrid Schultz and Lee Miller. Mackrell, a Guardian journalist, is the guest in the latest ‘Lost Ladies of Lit’ podcast, a wonderful series about ‘forgotten’ women writers which I can thoroughly recommend (I was honoured to be a ‘Lost Ladies’ guest myself in April this year, discussing Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs).

Last, but certainly not least, is Constance Ruzich’s International Poetry of The First World War (Bloomsbury Academic; forthcoming in paperback in April 2022). As I noted in my previous blogpost, it’s an anthology that draws together a diverse range of often overlooked poetic voices, revealing a more complex picture of the First World War and its aftermath. I particularly valued the careful research that went into the biographical notes accompanying each poem, revealing the personal stories of women and men, combatants and noncombatants and those for and against the war. There is more on Ruzich’s blog ‘Behind Their Lines’, here: and it would be wonderful if, in future years, there might be a film or play about the early jazz musician, bandleader and war hero, Lieut. James Rees Europe, pictured below.

© Ann Kennedy Smith, 28 December 2021

Forgotten Poems of the Great War

‘All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory’, Viet Thanh Nguyen

One of the most moving books I read in 2021 was Constance Ruzich’s anthology, International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices (Bloomsbury) which I mentioned in my previous blogpost, ‘Lost Voices’. It’s a collection of 150 poems that draws together an international range of compelling voices, revealing a wider, more complex conversation about the war than we have become familiar with in the UK through the poetry of Siegried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. International Poetry of the First World War is structured in six thematic sections (‘Soldiers’ Lives’, ‘Minds at War’, ‘Noncombatants’, ‘Making Sense of War’, ‘Remembering The Dead’ and ‘Aftermath’) and men’s and women’s experiences are featured in each section. The poems range from Rupert Brooke’s rarely anthologized, moving ‘Fragment’, which he jotted in a notebook on the troopship he and his company sailed on to the Dardanelles, to ‘High Wood’, by John Stanley Purvis, who fought in the Battle of the Somme. Written in 1917, his poem already grimly predicts the throngs of tourists who would soon be buying souvenirs and dropping litter on this and other First World War battlefields (‘And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide/ Refreshments at a reasonable rate.’)

International Poetry of the First World War features a wide range of compelling and diverse voices, several of which also feature in Ruzich’s blog, Behind Their Lines: Poetry of the Great War. In a 2020 interview in The Modernist Review she describes how ‘in the writings of French, German, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, American, Australian, Canadian, and Russian poets (among others), I discovered a richer and more complex conversation about the war than I had previously known’, and the poems collected in this anthology bear this out. ‘Standing To/In Bereitschaft’ by Anton Schnack (‘I shall go into death as into a doorway filled with summer coolness…’) is translated by Patrick Bridgwater, who compares the German poet’s work to that of Wilfred Owen.

The biographical notes that follow each poem offer valuable context, and shine light on the lives of poets who are little known today. James Reese Europe (known as Jim Europe) was one of the most popular bandleaders in America before the war, the first to conduct a Black orchestra at Carnegie Hall, playing ragtime and early jazz. In 1917 he became the first Black American officer to lead his troops into war, and, as well as serving as a machine-gunner on the Western Front, he put together a popular military band known as the ‘Harlem Hell Fighters’ of the the 369th Infantry. He wrote the lyrics of the poem included here, ‘On Patrol in No Man’s Land’, while recovering in a field hospital from a gas attack. It’s a droll take on the terrifying experience he had just undergone: ‘What’s the time, nine, all in line,/ Alright boys, now take it slow/ Are you ready? steady! very good, Eddy,/ Over the top let’s go/.’

Europe’s words were set to music by Noble Sissle, and the Hell Fighters performed it all over wartime France, with Jim Europe’s musicians simulating the sounds of artillery explosions and machine-gun fire. Back in New York, it was recorded on the Pathé label in March 1919. Two years earlier Europe had said ‘if I live to come back, I will startle the world with my music’, but sadly he never got the chance. In May 1919 he was stabbed backstage by one of his own musicians during a concert, and later died. He was the first Black American to be given a public funeral in New York City, yet nowadays his contribution to music has largely been forgotten.

As Andrew Motion has said, “less familiar voices offer new perspectives” and Ruzich’s book acknowledges a range of experiences other than the one familiar to us of soldiers fighting on the Western Front. Poems by noncombatants include “Burning Beehives” by the poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac. The poem is based on a report of the pointless destruction of a priest’s beehives in a French village. It uses dark humour and pathos to make its point: ‘”But why ever are you burning my bees?”/The curé of Fraimbois asked the German brute./”That’s war!” replied the General. – Yes, war as waged/ By the horde on the buzz and pride of freedom.’

The poem ends on an uplifting description of the French cavalry humming their national anthem, the Marseillaise, sounding like a swarm of bees. The men of France are ‘prepared to die/ For beehives and to save the honey of the world’ Rostand writes, perhaps mocking his own attempt at heroic poetry, like his romantic hero Cyrano. Rostand died in 1918, a victim of the influenza pandemic, and he is buried in Marseille’s city cemetery.

 As Ruzich points out, ‘women bore witness to new technologies of war, the assault on the environment, and the suffering of the wounded’. The Indian political activist and suffragist Sarojini Naidu, who in the late 1890s studied at Girton College, Cambridge, was a poet known as ‘the nightingale of India’. Her passionate poem ‘The Gift of India’ draws on the heroic sacrifices made by over one million Indian troops who served in the British army in World War I. Nearly 75,000 died on foreign fields, and over 70,000 were wounded. She asks the British to ‘Remember the blood of thy martyred sons!’ and honour the Indian soldiers’ heroism – implicitly, by granting India independence. Naidu was elected the President of the Indian National Congress in 1925, and became India’s first woman Governor in 1947.

With a more cynical eye, the American writer Dorothy Parker’s “Penelope” describes the invisibility of women’s war sacrifices, while Rose Macaulay’s ‘Spreading manure’ is more down to earth, describing the tedious exertions of a Land Army girl: ‘I think no soldier is so cold as we,/ Sitting in the Flanders mud.’ The poet Frances Cornford was Ida Darwin’s niece and a close friend of Rupert Brooke’s, grieving his death in 1915 and naming her son Rupert John Cornford after Brooke (he also became a poet, and died fighting against Franco’s troops in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.) But the poem by Frances Cornford that is included here is ‘Féri Bekassy’ (originally titled simply ‘Féri Dead 1915’) about her friend, the Hungarian poet and scholar Férenc Békássy, who was a student at King’s College, Cambridge before the war.

Békássy joined the Austro-Hungarian army soon after war was declared, and wrote the poem ‘1914’, also included in this anthology, before being killed in action on 25 June 1915. Cornford’s poem makes gentle fun of her friend: ‘Say, on that Galician plain,/Are you arguing again?/ Does a trench or ruined tree/ Hear your – “O, I don’t agree!”’. As Ruzich points out in her blog, ‘These were the lovely absurdities that made him a dear friend; he is remembered as a man and not as an idealized warrior’. Significantly, Frances Cornford chooses to ignore the fact that her two dearest poet-friends, Brooke and Békássy, fought on opposite sides of the war. In a side chapel of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge there is a wall commemorating the many members of the college killed in the Great War, including Rupert Brooke. On another wall there is just one name, that of Férenc Békássy, carved at John Maynard Keynes’s request, but in a separate space. In Ruzich’s wonderful book, many of those historical absences fall away, and the voices of forgotten poets of the First World War are no longer lost to our collective memory.

© Ann Kennedy Smith, 21 December 2021

The paperback of International Poetry of the First World War is forthcoming in April 2022, and available for pre-order from Bloomsbury now. My next blogpost will be about my other Books of the Year 2021 – eleven books that I enjoyed reading and reviewing this year.

Love in the pandemic, December 1891

Francis J.H. Jenkinson by John Singer Sargent (1915), Cambridge University Library

I have just reposted last year’s pandemic-inspired blogpost (see below). It’s about how, in December 1891, Prince Albert Victor and Princess Mary of Teck announced their engagement, as a third outbreak of the so-called ‘Russian flu’ struck Britain. It coincided with a personal crisis in the life of Francis Jenkinson, Cambridge University Librarian, and the fears and uncertainty of the time may have persuaded him to risk everything for the sake of the woman he loved.

Francis Jenkinson and the quiet storm

Francis Jenkinson and the quiet storm

This pandemic-inspired blogpost tells the story of how, in December 1891, a third outbreak of the so-called ‘Russian flu’ in Britain brought about a personal crisis in the life of Francis Jenkinson, Cambridge University Librarian 1889-1923.

Jenkinson

In December 1891, Francis Jenkinson, 38, confided in his friend Ida Darwin a momentous piece of news. He had fallen in love with Mildred Wetton, a twenty-eight year old governess who worked in London, and they were considering becoming engaged to be married. It was a secret love that no one else must know about for the time being, and Ida would understand why.

Jenkinson’s position as Cambridge University Librarian was the job he had been born to do. He had been mentored by a previous holder of the post, Henry Bradshaw, and knew the contents of every book in the library, still in its original location in the Schools building near King’s College. The Old Library was ‘a chaotic but atmospheric medley of disparate rooms, uneven floors and dark places for which readers could borrow lamps to light their way’ (Whitelock). In this dark place, Jenkinson had a warmth and generosity that made him as popular with his colleagues as he was with scholars and students. He also had what seemed an uncanny, almost symbiotic connection with the library itself. One friend recalled how ‘he would rise from his bed when his subconscious mind told him there was a window left open, and go down in the small hours to shut it’ (H.F. Stewart). But during the darkest part of the winter of 1891-92, Jenkinson seriously considered giving it all up for love.

When Jenkinson was appointed Cambridge University Librarian two years previously he was delighted, but it was also a time of great personal sadness for him. His first wife, Marian Sydney Wetton, had died suddenly aged thirty in January 1888, just six months after they married. Marian was one of seven sisters from a musical family who lived in Surrey, and her older sister Jennie was married to Jenkinson’s close friend, the Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, who was also the organist at Trinity College. After Marian’s death, Jennie Stanford and her unmarried sisters remained in regular contact with Jenkinson, often dropping in at his home on Brookside, near the Fitzwilliam Museum, to play the piano and sing together. Francis and Mildred Wetton had become close in their shared grief.

Twenty-seven-year-old Prince Albert Victor was the eldest child of the Prince and Princess of Wales. What Queen Victoria privately described as her grandson’s ‘dissipated life’ began while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge in the early 1880s. It’s not known what Francis Jenkinson thought of him, but one nameless tutor complained that the Trinity College’s royal student ‘hardly knows the meaning of the words to read‘ (Magnus, 178). No one knew what to do about irrepressible Eddy, the future king. After an unsuccessful stint in the army and lengthy trips overseas, it was decided that what the Prince needed was to find a sensible wife and settle down. It was decided that his distant cousin, Princess Mary of Teck would fit the bill perfectly, and their marriage date was set for 27 February 1892.

Albert_Victor_late_1880s
Prince Albert Victor, late 1880s

The royal engagement was the good news story that the nation badly needed. That winter the papers were full of reports of a new wave of influenza that was killing people in Britain in ever larger numbers. The country was in the grip of the second of two epidemics that followed on the heels of the so-called ‘Russian flu’ of 1889-90, the pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands worldwide. Everyone was affected by fears of contagion. Winston Churchill was a fifteen-year old schoolboy at Harrow, when he wrote a poem called ‘The Influenza’ about the flu in 1890: ‘The rich, the poor, the high, the low/Alike the various symptoms know/ Alike before it droop.’

As the medical historian Mark Honigsbaum writes in his essay ‘The Great Dread: Cultural and Psychological Impacts and Responses to the ‘Russian’ Influenza in the United Kingdom, 1889–1893’,

the Russian flu was extensively documented and seen to spread rapidly between European capitals via international rail, road and shipping connections in a westward progression that was the subject of widespread commentary in both the daily and periodical press.

According to a report published by the Wellcome Institute, the winter of 1891-1892 was characterized by ‘a marked excess of deaths from influenza and pneumonia.’ It was a frightening time for people of all social classes, as the young Churchill was aware.

During December 1891 Ida Darwin was worried about the influenza infecting her husband Horace, so often poorly with mysterious illnesses, and their small children as well as their household staff, who one by one were falling ill. She also knew that, if word about Jenkinson’s engagement got out, it would cause a scandal in Cambridge that would be almost as shocking as Albert Victor’s rumoured visits to Cleveland Street. Under the Marriage Act of 1835, it was still illegal in the United Kingdom and colonies for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife. In his book, Marianne Thornton 17971887: A Domestic Biography (1956) E.M. Forster wrote about how much unhappiness this law caused, describing it as  ‘yet another example of the cruelty and stupidity of the English Law in matters of sex’ (see my article here). Throughout the Victorian period the issue continued to be hotly debated every year in parliament, but Anglican bishops in the Lords helped to ensure that the prohibition remained until the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907.

In 1891 Ida knew that, despite Francis and Mildred’s hopes, the law was unlikely to change imminently. The Jenkinsons would have to go abroad to marry, and would be ostracized if they ever returned to England, and any children they might have would be considered illegitimate in the eyes of the law. Also, Ida feared that if others heard rumours of the engagement Jenkinson would lose his job as University Librarian. The situation would have to be managed in the most inconspicuous way possible. Ida needed to stay at home to care for her household, and so was not able to go to Brookside to see Francis in person, and persuade him to rethink his engagement. So she did the only thing she could; she wrote to him, hoping that she could change his mind.

All through December and into January, letters flew back and forth, sometimes several times a day, between Brookside and the Orchard. The normally mild-mannered, bookish Jenkinson raged against the Anglican Church and its bishops, while Ida remained calm and sympathetic, soothing him like a feverish child. The only other people who knew about the crisis were two family members who could be trusted to be discreet: his sister Nelly Jenkinson, and his distant cousin Daisy Stewart who lived in Grantchester. Daisy had grown up in Edinburgh, but now worked as a music tutor in Cambridge. She had been in love with Francis for years, but accepted that he saw her only as a good friend. She hated to see him so unhappy.

Why did Jenkinson behave so recklessly, and risk losing the job he had worked so hard for? I think that the answer might lie in how the repeated flu epidemics affected the way that people thought during this time of national crisis. Jenkinson’s appointment as University Librarian in 1889 had coincided with the ‘Russian flu’ pandemic, which was the first recorded outbreak of influenza in England since 1848. Four million Britons fell ill and 127,000 died, and the country was hit be another major wave of flu in May 1891. In December of that year, as the third epidemic reached Cambridge, Jenkinson must have wondered if he would live to do the work that he wanted to do. Overwork and anxiety were considered to be contributing factors in those who caught the flu, and for all his energy, Jenkinson had frequent bouts of illness. In 1890 The Times warned that the influenza’s impact on the imagination was ‘disproportionate to its actual destructiveness’ (Honigsbaum), but the fear that gripped everyone was very real. The number of deaths peaked in London in the third week of January 1892, when it was recorded that over five hundred people died of influenza and pneumonia.

The poor suffered most, of course, but no one was safe. Prince Albert Victor became ill with flu symptoms at a shooting party at Sandringham in early January 1892. Pneumonia set in, and he died on 14 January 1892, one week after his 28th birthday. There would be no royal wedding that year, and the nation went into a prolonged period of mourning. In the months following Albert Victor’s death, his younger brother George, the Duke of York, became close to Mary, his (almost) sister-in-law. Because she and Albert had not married, there was no taboo on their love, and just over a year later, in May 1893, George and Mary married with Queen Victoria’s blessing. In 1910 he was crowned George V, and she became Queen Mary: the present Queen is their granddaughter. Some recent historians have rather unkindly suggested that Albert Victor’s early death was ‘a merciful act of providence’ (Magnus, 239) allowing his sober brother and his equally responsible wife to steer the country through the crises of World War One and the depression of the 1920s and early 1930s.

By the middle of January 1892 in Cambridge, there was a gap in the storm clouds for Ida, as her household slowly recovered from the flu. Now she decided to take action about Jenkinson. First, she wrote to Mildred, who replied with a subdued note of thanks and promised not to visit Brookside for a while. Then she wrote to Mildred’s older sister Jennie to tell her of the possible engagement. Jennie’s husband Charles Stanford’s mother and two of aunts had died of the flu just a few weeks before, and Jennie herself had been very ill, so it’s likely that Ida did not want to involve them earlier. But now the Stanfords took charge. It’s likely that they persuaded Francis to give up his plans to marry Mildred, and their secret engagement was quietly dropped.

The storm had passed, and most of Francis and Mildred’s friends, family and work colleagues never even knew that it had happened. Jenkinson would continue to work as University Librarian for the next thirty years, until shortly before his death in 1923. His contribution to the library was immense. He sorted and catalogued valuable acquisitions, including 140,000 fragments of the ancient Cairo Genizah and the contents of Lord Acton’s library.

Francis_J._H._Jenkinson,_1915
Francis J.H. Jenkinson by John Singer Sargent (1915), Cambridge University LibraryF

Jenkinson was known for his support for women’s rights, and he appointed one of the University’s first woman librarians, the Sanskrit scholar and former Girton student, C.M. (Caroline Mary) Ridding. In 1910 he was sent a collection of suffrage posters, which he carefully preserved in the library’s archives. This rare collection was recently displayed at the UL to mark 100 years since some British women got the vote (read more here). Unusually for the time, Jenkinson was passionately interested in collecting ephemeral matter such as flyers, postcards, and posters. He felt that such “unconsidered trifles” told stories about people’s lives that would be lost otherwise. During the First World War he gathered a huge collection of this so-called ‘disposable’ literature, and his War Reserve Collection is now an invaluable source for researchers. In 1915 the American artist John Singer Sargent was commissioned to paint Jenkinson’s portrait to mark his twenty-five years as University Librarian, and this beautiful painting still hangs in the library today.

In 1902 Jenkinson married his ‘dear friend’ Daisy Stewart, and the couple spent over twenty happy years together, travelling to the Alps with Ida and Horace and marking Mozart’s birthday with a piano concert at Brookside on 27 January every year. Mildred Wetton never married, but continued to teach English literature, and eventually she became headmistress of her own private school in Kensington. In his biography Francis Jenkinson (1926) Hugh F. Stewart reflects that, until his second marriage, his brother-in-law lived a solitary life on Brookside, ‘save for the occasional presence of his sister, or of a sister-in-law, or of a scholar on bibliography intent.’ Perhaps this casual mention of ‘a sister-in-law’ is a quiet acknowledgement of Mildred Wetton’s ephemeral, but important, place in Jenkinson’s life.

©Ann Kennedy Smith, December 2021 (all rights reserved)

Notes: My warm thanks to Frank Bowles, Karen Davies, Carolyn Ferguson, Eve Smith and Jill Whitelock for their help. Any errors are my own.

Online sources (all accessed 2 April 2020):

Karen Bourrier ‘If this be error: marrying the sister of a deceased wife was illegal in Victorian England’ History Today, 11 April 2018, https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/if-be-error

Stephen Gaselee, ‘Francis Jenkinson, 1853-1923: an address to the Bibliographical Society, 15 Oct. 1923’, Trans. Bibliog. Soc. . N.S.; v. 4, no. 3, Oxford, 1923

Mark Honigsbaum,  ‘The Great Dread: Cultural and Psychological Impacts and Responses to the ‘Russian’ Influenza in the United Kingdom, 1889–1893’, Social History of Medicine, Vol 23, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 299–319 https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkq011

Mark Nicholls, ‘A Reason for Remembering: Francis Jenkinson and the War Reserve Collection’, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41154886?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Jill Whitelock, ‘M.R. James and the ghosts of the old University Library’, Cambridge University Library Special Collections blogpost https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=18923

‘Albert Victor, Prince, duke of Clarence and Avondale (1864–1892)’ and ‘Jenkinson, Francis John Henry (1853–1923)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://www.oxforddnb.com/

‘Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health, London 1892’, https://wellcomelibrary.org/moh/report/b18252412/1#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=4&z=-0.3124%2C1.3883%2C0.6249%2C0.2439

‘The modern library’ on Cambridge University Library’s website; https://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/about-library/historical-sketch/modern-library

‘Francis John Henry Jenkinson’ memorial on Trinity College Chapel website http://trinitycollegechapel.com/about/memorials/brasses/jenkinson/

‘Mr F.J.H. Jenkinson’, obituary in The Times, 22 Sep. 1923.

Books: Margaret Clifford Jenkinson, A Fragrance of Sweet Memories [Reminiscences of Francis Jenkinson], unpublished memoir, Cambridge University Library; P. Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (1964); H. F. Stewart, Francis Jenkinson: a memoir (1926); Francis John Henry Jenkinson by H.W. S[impkinson], Marlborough , 1923 [1 v.] ; 19 cm. Repr. from The Marlburian, 28 Nov. 1923.

Cambridge University Library Archives: Jenkinson, FJH to Ida Darwin, MS Add 9368.1: 16513 & ff.; letters from Jenkinson, Margaret Clifford ‘Daisy’ (1858-1933) née Stewart to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/40; from Jenkinson, Eleanor Louisa ‘Nelly’ (1855-1948) to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/42; Wetton, Mildred to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/70; Stanford, Jennie to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/67; FJH Jenkinson’s diaries and letters held at Cambridge University Library.