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.

Locked out of the Library

Stanley Library, Girton College: illustration in Girton College by E.E.Constance Jones (1913)

Last week, Cambridge University Library (the U.L.) unlocked its (physical) doors and welcomed its first visitors back into its reading rooms, book stacks and archives (during lockdown its librarians continued the UL’s online and book-borrowing services for readers). ‘The library is made by its readers’, the UL Librarian Dr Jessica Gardner has generously said. She is only the second female in the history of the institution to hold this prestigious role; there will be challenges for her and all UL staff, as the continuing Covid-19 pandemic means that the reopened physical library will have to change. At the moment time slots will need to be booked in advance, and certain library services and spaces are limited. These restrictions are, of course, necessary to protect the safety of library staff and users. This blogpost is about a time when, for less valid reasons, women were locked out of the library, and how one remarkable group tried to gain entry in 1891.

For many years the University Library was ‘a contested space’ for women at Cambridge, as Dr Jill Whitelock, Head of Special Collections at the University Library, puts it. She has been researching how the control of access to the UL, alongside the university’s lecture halls and laboratories, was bound up with the status of women at Cambridge between 1869 and 1923. She gave a fascinating talk, ‘Lock up your libraries’, as part of the U.L.’s ‘The Rising Tide’ exhibition and events in 2019-20, and I am very grateful to her for alerting me to a remarkable letter that was sent to the University Library Syndicate in November 1891, and for sending me a copy of it.

Nowadays, the U.L. is based in the spacious Gilbert Scott-designed building that opened in 1934 in the west of the city (see Whitelock’s blogpost ‘The abandoned library’ here). Before 1934 the University’s library was situated in the ‘Old Schools’ building, by the Senate House. 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,’ as Whitelock writes in ‘M. R. James and the ghosts of the old University Library’ here. It was chiefly a space for male academics and researchers, but Whitelock’s research shows that there were also women readers using the university library long before the first ‘ladies’ college’, Girton, was established in 1869. These included a ‘Miss Henslow’, one of the daughters of Professor Joseph Stevens Henslow who had taught Charles Darwin in the 1820s. Miss Henslow was probably Frances Harriet (later Mrs Hooker), who in 1851 married Darwin’s friend Joseph Hooker; her translation of Maout and Decaisnes’ A General System of Botany, Descriptive and Analytical from French into English was published in 1873 and can be consulted in the UL’s Rare Books Reading Room (MD.40.65).       

Girton College was founded in 1869, Newnham College two years later. That year, following a vote by the Syndicate, the first woman reader’s card was issued to Ella Bulley (who would become renowned later as the scholar and archeologist Ella S. Armitage). In 1871 she was one of Newnham’s ‘first five’ students who lived in the college’s earliest premises, a rented house in Regent Street. Because she was 30 years old, she was permitted a year-long card (all of the library’s readers then had to be over 21). Three years later, she would become Newnham’s first research student and, after her marriage to Reverend Elkanah Armitage, with whom she had two children, she continued her academic work, teaching at Owens College in Manchester (which became part of the University of Manchester) and publishing several books on medieval history. Her library card was preserved by the UL and was displayed in ‘The Rising Tide’ exhibition of 2019-20, curated by Dr Lucy Delap and Dr Ben Griffin.  

(Ella Bulley, U.L. library card, 1871)

One of the other five students was Mary Paley Marshall (then Mary Paley) who took charge of the small collection of books that students could borrow. She was, in effect, Newnham College’s first librarian. In 1874 she became the first of two women to take the Cambridge Tripos (final year exams) in Moral Sciences, along with Ella’s younger sister Amy Bulley. A year later Paley Marshall became Newnham’s first resident lecturer, teaching Political Economy ‘from a philanthropic woman’s point of view’, as a former student, Winnie Seebohm wrote.

By the 1880s, women at Cambridge seemed to be gaining ground. In 1881 female students gained the right to take the Tripos exams on equal terms to the male students (see my blogpost here), and in 1887 the University Library’s age restriction for readers was dropped, allowing women under 21 to use the library for the first time.

Coincidentally, this was also the year that a Cambridge student made the national headlines. In 1887 Agnata Frances Ramsay (later Butler) of Girton College was the only student to be placed in the first class of the Classical Tripos. Three years later, Newnham College was in the spotlight when Philippa Fawcett, Millicent Fawcett’s daughter, outperformed all of the male students in the 1890 Mathematics Tripos. Their success in the two subjects that were traditionally considered as the preserve of men,Classics and Mathematics, caused a sensation. Women had now proved that their intellectual ability was equal to that of their male counterparts at Cambridge, and conservative forces at the University were becoming uneasy that they would invade other, traditionally male, spaces.

This was reflected in a tightening of the rules permitting access to the University Library. The hours that readers who were ‘non-members’ (which included women) could use it were reduced from 10 until 2pm (from 4pm previously), and in autumn 1891 it was proposed that a fee should be introduced. ‘Non-members’ would now be permitted to use the library only from 10am until 2pm, and were restricted to certain areas. As Rita McWilliams-Tullberg points out in Women At Cambridge (1998), this restriction ‘was most hardly felt by the staffs of the women’s colleges who, whatever their degree of scholarship, could only use one of the world’s finest libraries on the same conditions as members of the general public’ (p. 156).

By this time Girton and Newnham had been established for over twenty years, and their academic success had been proven by the excellent exam results of their students, as well as the research record of their lecturers and tutors, who had published books and papers but could now only use the library on extremely limited terms. In November 1891, exactly twenty years after Ella Bulley’s reader’s card was issued, a petition in the form of a letter was delivered to the University Library Syndicate. The letter politely asked for the new library rules to be reconsidered, and was signed by twenty-four women who described themselves as ‘former Students of Girton and Newnham Colleges who have obtained places in Various Triposes’. They respectfully requested permission ‘to work in the Library with the same freedom as heretofore’, explaining politely that for ‘some of us who have morning engagements’ (that is, teaching students) the reduced hours meant that it would now be almost impossible for them to use the library for their research.


In ‘History of the Library’, vol. V, 1886-1900, UL classmark ULIB 6/5/5

The letter was signed by lecturers and librarians, researchers and laboratory demonstrators, star students and scholars from the first twenty years of Girton and Newnham. They include the linguists Margaret Janson Tuke (Dame Margaret Tuke, D.B.E.), the Newnham lecturer who would later found Bedford College in 1907 (now merged with Royal Holloway, University of London) and Bertha Skeat, the first resident lecturer at the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers (now Hughes Hall).

Scientists who signed the letter include Ida Freund, who was the first woman to become a chemistry lecturer in the UK; Dorothea F.M. Pertz, who had co-published papers on geotropism and heliotropism in plants with Francis Darwin; and the botanist and geneticist Edith Rebecca Saunders, who would work closely with Bateson after 1897. ‘Saunders had several years of independent research under her belt when she started to collaborate with William Bateson,’ writes Susannah Gibson in The Spirit of Inquiry (2019) ‘she was not a junior colleague, but very much his equal.’ Saunders conducted her groundbreaking plant experiments at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and with Bateson co-founded the Genetics Society in 1919. Christine Alexander, librarian of Cambridge University’s Plant Sciences Department, has compiled a fascinating online collection about Saunders’ influential work.

The 1891 group also included Newnham’s most famous student, Philippa Fawcett (Mathematics tripos Parts 1 & II 1890-1), as well as one of the first women to sit for the Tripos almost 20 years previously, Mary Paley Marshall (Moral Sciences Tripos 1874). She was now back in Cambridge after some years teaching male and female students at Oxford and the newly founded Bristol University, where 30 years later she would be awarded an honorary doctorate for her contribution (see post here). The letter is also signed by two of her fellow Ladies’ Dining Society members and ‘sometime’ Newnham lecturers Ellen Wordsworth Darwin and Mary Ward; like Paley Marshall, they were active in promoting higher education and suffrage for women, and continued to research and write as well as teach students.

The letter is also signed by E.E. Constance Jones, then a lecturer in Moral Sciences at Girton College, and would become the college Mistress (head) from 1903 until 1916. One of the two women who organized the petition was Girton historian Ellen A. Mc Arthur (Hist. Tripos 1885), who would become the first woman to receive a D.Litt. degree from the University of Dublin based on her academic publications (see my ‘Steamboat Ladies’ post here). The other person who arranged the letter was the Newnham historian and lecturer Mary Bateson, a sister of William Bateson. Their mother Anna Bateson, and sister Anna, co-founded the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association in 1884, and Mary was also an active suffragist.  She became a Newnham Fellow in 1903, was instrumental in the foundation of the College’s first research fellowships, and worked closely with the legal historian F.W. Maitland.

The 1891 petition offers a snapshot of twenty-four extraordinary women from two Cambridge colleges who had studied, researched, taught and published during the previous twenty years. It is ironic that their books were welcomed by the U.L. even though they were not – including Paley Marshall’s The Economics of Industry (1879), co-written with Alfred Marshall, and E.E. Constance Jones’s Elements of logic as a science of propositions (1890). Her An introduction to general logic would be acquired in 1892 and W. Cunningham and Ellen McArthur’s Outlines of English Industrial History in 1895. These and many more of their books and scholarly papers can still be consulted there today.

In 1891 these women had already achieved much – and would go on to do much more – but it was a period when the tide had turned against Cambridge women who dared to excel. Their request for greater access to the library fell on deaf ears, and the Syndicate’s policy became more, not less restrictive. In May 1897, after thousands gathered outside the Senate House to protest against the vote to allow women degrees, the U.L. Librarian Francis Jenkinson confirmed that non-members’ access to the library would be limited until midday only.

So, locked out of the University Library as they were, staff and supporters of Girton and Newnham raised funds to build up their own magnificent college libraries, which today have around 100,000 books each. Tennyson, Ruskin and George Eliot were early supporters of Girton College Library, and there is more about the history of Newnham College’s library here. In 1923, Cambridge women finally won the right to become readers at the U.L. on the same terms as the men.

Like the UK’s other major research libraries, the U.L. did not close during lockdown (see this excellent LRB article by Bodleian Librarian, Richard Ovenden). While the building was closed to protect staff and readers, Cambridge University Librarians shifted their work online, making many more collections available digitally and using their research skills to support researchers. The physical Library has begun to re-open safely this month thanks to the hard work put in during the past months by its staff, who continue to help readers to have ongoing access to the collections in all their forms.

©Ann Kennedy Smith, 19 August 2020. All rights reserved.



Girton College by E.E.Constance Jones (1913); available at the UL (Cam.c.913.2)

SOURCES: My thanks to Jill Whitelock and Carolyn Ferguson for their generous help. Any remaining errors are my own. Christine Alexander ‘My Colleague, Miss Saunders’; E. Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (1999); Susannah Gibson The Spirit of Inquiry (OUP, 2019) (see my TLS review here); Rita McWilliams-Tullberg Women At Cambridge (CUP, 1998); Jill Whitelock ‘M.R. James and the ghosts of the old University Library’, Cambridge University Library Special Collections blog https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=18923; more about Ellen McArthur in King’s College’s ‘Women At King’s’ online exhibition here: https://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/archive-centre/online-resources/online-exhibitions/women-at-kings

Archiving the pandemic

Francis_J._H._Jenkinson,_1915

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

‘His long librarianship was uneventful on the whole’ (Gaselee)

In an April blogpost, I described how in 1915 Cambridge University Librarian Francis Jenkinson began work on a groundbreaking project to commemorate the First World War. Throughout the war years he gathered a huge collection of flyers, posters, pamphlets and books in English, French & German to produce as detailed a documentary record as possible of the European conflict. Cambridge residents were invited to take part in the project. “Such flying pieces as those which are dropped from aeroplanes or posted on hoardings would be particularly welcome”, read a 1915 advertisement in the Cambridge Magazine.

The material that was amassed by members of the public and Jenkinson’s worldwide contacts (one librarian was even sent to France to buy material) includes trench journals and pamphlets in German, French and English, produced by soldiers at the front line, magazines from internment camps, official histories and reports and propaganda posters. The collection was carefully preserved at the University Library as the ‘War of 1914-1919 Collection’ or War Reserve Collection, and today most of the material is so fragile that it has to be consulted on microfilm.

Now Francis Jenkinson’s unique archive has inspired a new collaborative project at the Cambridge University Library, which aims to document our experiences during the coronavirus crisis. Called “Collecting Covid-19”it involves the University and the wider Cambridge community in collecting material that will be used by future historians. It is organized by Caylin Smith, the UL’s Digital Preservation Manager, and Jacky Cox, the Keeper of the University Archives. They want to collect all kinds of digital and physical materials, including (but not limited to) videos, photographs, leaflets, journals and diaries. In London the Wellcome Collection is expected to coordinate efforts to collect similar material on a nationwide basis. We are all invited to act as our own archivists, and to store our individual collections safely until the libraries and museums open their doors again.

©Ann Kennedy Smith 3 May 2020

Sources: 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

More about Francis Jenkinson’s War Reserve Collection here: https://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/departments/rare-books/rare-books-collections/war-1914-1919-collection

‘Collecting Covid-19’ Cambridge University website: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/CollectingCovid-19