Clubs of their own

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“We were a very lively buzzing community, pushing along our way, very much amused with ourselves,” Blanche Athena Clough wrote of her time as a Newnham College student in the 1880s (she later became Principal). As well as studying Classics, she had lots of college clubs to choose from, including the Shakespeare Reading Society, the Browning Society, several French societies and the ever-popular debating society. Both Newnham and Girton had a rich associational life, as the section on ‘Social Life’ in the ongoing ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition at Cambridge University Library reveals. Most of the University’s student-run societies that began in the 1870s were exclusively male, as Clough confirms. “We had no part or lot in University societies except the Ladies Discussion Society and I think C.U.M.S. [Cambridge University Music Society]… in any case the University generally were hardly aware of our existence.”

There’s no doubt that the women-led societies that began in the 1880s and lasted for so many years helped to make Cambridge a better place. They certainly made it more socially inclusive for the women involved. These were not University societies, but associations begun in many cases by academic wives and townswomen who worked closely with Newnham and Girton college heads Anne Clough and Emily Davies. I’ve been talking quite a bit about these clubs recently. I was invited to speak to Selwyn College alumni about the college’s first Master’s wife, Kathleen Lyttelton; and about ‘The Women who changed Cambridge’ at the rather splendid Oxford and Cambridge Club in London last November. Then I gave a talk called ‘A Club of Their Own’ at the University Library in December, connected to the ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition. This month I gave another version of that talk to the Friends of Milton Road Library in a bright and welcoming new library setting.

It felt appropriate to have such different settings for my talks, as the 1880s societies I discussed were the first to bring ‘town and gown’ women together in an active, outward-facing social network. Jessie Stewart writes that it was not surprising that, influenced by the feminist social reformer Josephine Butler, the Cambridge women’s ‘zeal for education brought social awareness’. The Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls (founded in 1883) was practical and philanthropic in nature, helping underprivileged girls to find employment as domestic servants; it was co-founded by Ida Darwin and other married townswomen and dons’ wives. ‘For some of the younger women, lately married, the “Care of Girls” served as a launch pad into national organizations, local government and the magistracy – they were a talented and ambitious generation,’ Christina Paulson-Ellis writes.  In 1956 it became the Cambridge Association for Social Welfare.

downloadThere were other more overtly feminist groups. In 1884 Selwyn Master’s wife Kathleen Lyttelton (pictured here) co-founded the ‘Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association’ with Millicent Garrett Fawcett, which was the beginning of Cambridge becoming one of the major centres in the long campaign for women’s votes. The ‘Cambridge Ladies’ Discussion Society’, mentioned by Blanche Athena Clough above, was a large discussion society founded in 1886 by Mary Paley Marshall and others with the aim of bringing University wives, townswomen and female students together to discuss social questions. Speakers included Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in England. In December 1892 she came to Cambridge to give a talk on the medical profession for women, and was ‘pelted with questions’ by Newnham and Girton students, according to a report in the Cambridge Independent Press.

IMG_8985Today, anyone who is interested in finding out more about these societies can access their extensive original archives in the Cambridgeshire Archives in a brand new, purpose-built site in Ely. It’s a bit harder to find out about the fourth club that I talked about, and have written about in this blog for the last few years. The twelve members of the Cambridge Ladies’ Dining Society did not, as far as I know, keep minutes of their conversations or record details of the dinners they shared once or twice a term for almost twenty-five years. There are only intriguing snippets about the club in a couple of memoirs, and a handful of references in letters and diaries. It’s understandable that the women wanted to keep their conversations private, including from future researchers like me. The fact that it lasted for so many years shows that the Ladies’ Dining Society was deeply significant at a time when women’s voices and contributions to debate went largely unheard. ‘Even to form a ladies’ social club was a mild assertion of women’s right to public space’, as Doughan and Gordon write. Below I have listed their useful book, along with archive sources and a selection of excellent books, essays and articles about Victorian women’s societies.

The University has not always been welcoming to women, but the UL’s excellent Rising Tide exhibition and events show the remarkable things that women at Cambridge have achieved despite all the obstacles, and the Friends of Milton Road Library provide a year-round programme of stimulating and varied talks: more information here.

©Ann Kennedy Smith (all rights reserved)

Cambridgeshire Archives: Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society minute book, 789/Q139; Cambridge Association for Social Welfare (1883-1985) [formerly CACG]  R106/097; Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society minute book, 789/Q139; CWSA Papers to 1919: 455/Q16-57, 59-60, 62-79; archives held at the Cambridgeshire Collection (in Cambridge Central Library) and the Museum of Cambridge.

Secondary sources: Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (1999) and ‘Rooms Of Their Own: Victorian And Edwardian Women’s Clubs: Hesitant Beginnings‘ & other articles on ‘Woman and her Sphere’ website (accessed 16 Feb 2020); Louise Creighton, Memoir of a Victorian Woman: Reflections of Louise Creighton, 1850-1936 ed. James Thayne Covert (1994); D. Doughan and P. Gordon, Women, clubs and associations in Britain (2006); Linda Hughes, ‘A Club of Their Own: The “Literary Ladies,” New Women Writers, and Fin-de-Siècle Authorship’ Victorian Literature and Culture  35:1, March 2007, pp. 233-260; (1947); Amelia Hutchinson, ‘The “Hidden Histories” of women at Trinity’ (unpublished dissertation, 2019: https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/amelia-hutchinson-on-the-hidden-histories-of-women-at-trinity/ )(accessed 16 Feb 2020); Mary Paley Marshall, What I remember (Cambridge, 1947); Sue Slack, Cambridge Women And The Struggle For The Vote (Amberley, 2018); G. Sutherland ‘Girton for ladies, Newnham for governesses’ in Teaching and Learning in Nineteenth-Century Cambridge, eds. Jonathan Smith and Christopher Stray, 2001) pp.139-149 and In Search of the New Woman: Middle-Class Women and Work in Britain 1870-1914 (Cambridge, 2015); Christina Paulson-Ellis, The Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls: Social Work with Girls and Young women in Cambridge 1883 -1954 (2008); Ann Phillips, A Newnham Anthology (Cambridge, 1979); Jessie Stewart, ‘Social Welfare in Cambridge’, The Cambridge Review, 5 November 1960;  Tamsin Wimhurst, The Development, Importance and Influence of a Local Network of Women c. 1886 – 1930: unpublished MA dissertation, University of Cambridge 2007

Women at Cambridge: Eileen Power

Power

In her essay called ‘Women at Cambridge’, published in February 1920, the economist Eileen Power recalled the occasion when, as Director of Studies at Girton College Cambridge, she was asked by a male Fellow for a ‘woman’s perspective’ on a problem. She argued that “a women’s outlook on art and science has nothing specifically womanly about it, it is the outlook of a PERSON.” Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting, out now in paperback, throws new light on the work and lives of two women who began their academic careers at Cambridge: Jane Ellen Harrison of Newnham College and Eileen Power at Girton (see my 2019 TLS review, ‘Cursed with hearts and brains: female intellectuals and muses of the twentieth century’). In this post I will look briefly at Eileen Power’s life and work.

Eileen Power began her studies at Girton in 1907, where she was taught by the influential Dr Ellen McArthur, a scholar who did much to establish the teaching of history in the early twentieth century. Power herself became a Fellow in history at Girton in 1913. During the First World War Power taught economic history at both Girton and the London School of Economics (LSE) but after the war she failed to get the permanent position in Cambridge that she longed for. Everything changed in 1920 when she was awarded the prestigious Albert Kahn Travelling Fellowship, which granted £1,000 to scholars for a year’s global exploration. Power was the first woman to win this international honour and she was told by one suspicious interviewer that “she might defeat the objects of the trust by subsequently committing matrimony.” She defied her critics, and those who assumed marriage was every woman’s chief ambition, and travelled alone to China, Egypt, and India. As a committed pacifist and Labour Party member she was delighted to meet Mahatma Gandhi, and she was one of only six Europeans to witness the Nagpur Congress assembly vow to adopt Gandhi’s policy of Non-cooperation. Power was unfazed by obstacles; when she discovered that the Khyber Pass was closed to women, she simply put on male disguise and made the crossing anyway.

When she worked as a lecturer at Cambridge, her easy charm and stylish appearance had made her stand out against the more sombre hues of the university world. “I certainly feel there is something radically wrong with my clothes from an academic point of view”, she told her sister Margery during her time at Girton College. Male historians, enchanted by Power’s looks and personality, habitually underestimated her work, but they changed their minds after reading her thoroughly researched books. As Wade comments, “Power saw no reason why an interest in clothes and a sense of humour could not be combined with professional rigour.”

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Eileen Power in 1922

While in India, Eileen Power received an offer of a lectureship in political science from the LSE. She hesitated about leaving her beloved Cambridge, as she told a friend, “because it would mean a lot more teaching than I’ve done before & the screw is only £500 – but I want to be in London for a bit.” The LSE job was originally intended as a Readership, with a salary of £800 for a man, but when they offered the position to Power they made it a lectureship and reduced the pay. As Wade points out, over the course of her academic career, even after she became LSE’s Chair in Economic History in 1931, Power would consistently be paid less than her male colleagues, despite the fact that she was a renowned scholar who was regularly invited on international lecture tours and awarded honorary degrees from respected universities. Her books include Medieval English Nunneries (1922), Medieval People (1924) and Medieval Women (reissued in 1975). She co-wrote children’s history books with her sister Rhoda Power, gave public lectures, and presented a World History series for BBC radio in the 1930s.

From 1921 until 1940 Power lived in Mecklenburgh Square on the unfashionable eastern edge of Bloomsbury, as did the economic historian RH Tawney, her LSE colleague and friend. Under his influence, Power’s medieval historical research took an overtly political turn. She and Tawney co-edited a book, Tudor Economic Documents, published in three volumes from 1924 to 1927, and were both founding members of the Economic History Society, an international alliance of scholars. Power edited its influential journal the Economic History Review. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s there were regular gatherings of political leaders, journalists, theorists and writers, including Hugh Gaitskell, Evan Durbin and Hugh Dalton at both Tawney’s and Power’s rented flats there, yet as Wade observes, today RH Tawney has a blue plaque in Mecklenburgh Square while Eileen Power does not. Yet during her lifetime she was as famous as he was. In Testament of Friendship (1940) Vera Brittain describes how, when she and Winifred Holtby prepared to give up their flat in nearby Doughty Street in the 1930s, one horrified friend asked them, “Why are you leaving the neighbourhood of Tawney and Eileen Power for a place called Maida Vale?”

“I like people to be all different kinds,” Power told a friend in 1938, explaining why she had not applied for a prestigious history professorship back in Cambridge. “I like dining with H.G. Wells one night, & a friend from the Foreign Office another, & a publisher a third & a professor a fourth.” Her regular “kitchen dances” in Mecklenburgh Square were attended by economists, politicians and writers: at one party Virginia Woolf recalled sharing a packet of chocolate creams with a civil servant. Power valued her independence, and for most of her life was opposed to marriage as an institution, convinced that domestic binds were incompatible with a woman’s public ambitions. The ideal wife, she suspected, “should endeavour to model herself on a judicious mixture of a cow, a muffler, a shadow, a mirror.” When in 1937 she finally decided to marry her former student and LSE colleague Michael Postan, ten years her junior, it was a carefully considered decision, a balance of head and heart. Sadly, just three years later she died suddenly of a heart attack, aged just 51.

After her death much of her work in economic history was gradually forgotten, while the reputation of Postan and Tawney grew. To keep her memory alive, Eileen Power’s sister Beryl Power endowed a dinner at Girton College in her memory – “because men’s colleges had feasts and why should not women’s?”. Leading historians gather for the ‘Power Feast’ every ten years; the most recent Feast took place in January 2020, almost exactly 100 years after Eileen Power’s ‘Women At Cambridge’ essay.

Sources: ‘About Ellen McArthur’ Amy Louise Erickson, University of Cambridge History website (accessed 29 April 2021); Francesca Wade, Square Haunting (Faber, 2020); Maxine Berg, A Woman in History: Eileen Power (1889-1940) (CUP, 1996); ‘Eileen Power’ LSE website (accessed 29 April 2021); ‘Pioneering women at universities’ (Radio 3); ‘The Rising Tide: Women At Cambridge’, University Library exhibition website (accessed 29 April 2021).

The education of Mary Paley Marshall

Mary Paley Marshall

The economist Mary Paley Marshall was the great-granddaughter of the eighteenth-century theologian and philosopher William Paley. She was born on 24 October 1850, and grew up in a rose-covered rectory in the village of Ufford in Northamptonshire, about forty miles north of Cambridge. Her father, the Reverend Thomas Paley, was a strict Evangelical clergyman whose powerful sermons shook the little church and baffled the congregation, as Mary wrote in her beautiful memoir What I Remember published posthumously in 1947 (see my recent ‘The marvellous Mrs Marshall’ blogpost here). Mary’s mother Judith was ‘full of initiative and always bright and amusing’, she recalled. Summers at the rectory were idyllic for the three Paley children, and as young children Mary and her brother and sister spent summer days together playing croquet and rounders in the garden and looking after their Shetland pony, rabbits and hens. Visitors came to stay for weeks at a time, and there were family outings to Scarborough and Hunstanton. But after their brother was sent off to boarding school, winters seemed dull and endless for Mary and her sister, as the muddy country roads around the rectory were impassable and there were few interesting people who came to visit. Their much-loved German governess left when Mary was thirteen, and she and her sister were expected to fill their time with Sunday school teaching and keeping their mother company in visiting the sick.

It was fortunate for the Paley sisters that their father had what was an unusual attitude to learning for the time. Reverend Paley did not see why his daughters’ education should stop in early teenagehood, or be limited to certain ‘ladylike’ subjects. ‘We had a father who took part in work and play and who was interested in electricity and photography’, Mary recalled, describing how he entertained the whole village occasionally by putting on scientific demonstrations in the church hall. At home, after supper in the evenings, he read aloud to the family: everything from The Arabian Nights, Gulliver’s Travels and the Iliad to Shakespeare and Walter Scott, ‘those fireside bulwarks of the old-fashioned home evenings’ as F.M. (Flora) Mayor wrote in The Rector’s Daughter, her wonderful evocation of a similar Victorian upbringing published in 1924 (see below). Reverend Paley’s strong religious principles meant that there were limits to his tolerance of worldly things, however. He disapproved of the novels of Charles Dickens and once threw his daughters’ dolls into the fire, because, as Mary wrote, ‘he said we were making them into idols and we never had any more.’

What I Remember

When her sister left home to get married, Mary’s daughterly duties seemed duller than ever. To give her something to do (and perhaps dissuade her from marrying the army officer she was engaged to) Reverend Paley encouraged her to enter for the Cambridge Higher Local Examination, first introduced in 1869 for women over eighteen who wished to become teachers. He set about coaching Mary in divinity and mathematics, and they studied the Cambridge tutor Robert Potts’ Euclid’s Elements of Geometry together. Mary struggled with maths, and she recalled that she wept over the ‘Conic Sections’ paper in the summer of 1871. However she passed the overall examination with distinction, and was awarded a small scholarship to attend the University’s new scheme of Lectures for Women. 

The scholarship came with one condition: that she reside in Cambridge for the duration of one academic year. At the time, the idea that an unmarried woman might live apart from her parents in order to attend lectures was, as Mary said herself, ‘an outrageous proceeding’. Cambridge, like Oxford, was a male university. Fortunately for her, her father knew and liked Anne Jemima Clough, the much respected educator whom Cambridge professor Henry Sidgwick had asked to look after five women students at 74 Regent Street. Reverend Paley’s admiration for Miss Clough’s commitment to women’s higher education and his pride in his daughter’s achievements helped him to overcome his misgivings, so Mary Paley Marshall became one of Newnham’s ‘first five’ students.

In What I Remember Mary describes how she came to Cambridge for ‘general cultivation’ and only expected to stay for three terms. She chose to study Latin, History and Literature along with Logic, which Reverend Paley thought of as ‘such a safe subject’. But if he thought that his daughter would be unchanged by a Cambridge education he was mistaken. In her first term Mary obediently attended evangelical services and taught at St Giles’s Sunday school, as her father wished. But soon, she said, ‘Mill’s Inductive Logic and Ecce Homo and Herbert Spencer and the general tone of thought gradually undermined my old beliefs’, and with the encouragement of her lecturer, the economist Alfred Marshall (whom she would later marry), she changed subjects to study Moral Sciences (Political Economy, Politics and Philosophy). With Marshall’s encouragement, in 1874 Mary Paley became one of the first two women to take Cambridge University’s Moral Sciences Tripos, and  the following year she became Newnham College’s first residential woman lecturer in economics. 

In 1924 Mary Paley Marshall co-founded Cambridge University’s Marshall Library  where she also worked as Honorary Librarian until she was 87. On her death in 1944 she bequeathed £10,000 to the University “for the development and increased usefulness of the Marshall Library”. From the beginning the Marshall Library was equally useful, and accessible, to male and female readers.

I wrote about Paley Marshall’s memoir for ‘Neglected Books’ here. See my previous blogpost  ‘How to use a library’, here.

Ann Kennedy Smith

Rector's Daughter

Sources: Rita McWilliams Tullberg, Women at Cambridge: a men’s university, though of a mixed type (CUP, 1975); Mary Paley Marshall, What I Remember (CUP, 1947).

See also F.M. Mayor, The Rector’s Daughter  (1924, reissued by Virago in 1987), one of the ‘overlooked classics’ recommended by Susan Hill in The Novel Cure (2013). Flora Macdonald Mayor’s character, coincidentally also called Mary, is the unmarried 35-year-old daughter of elderly Canon Jocelyn, a clergyman in a small East Anglian village. “On the whole she was happy. She did not question the destiny life brought her. People spoke pityingly of her, but she did not feel she required pity.” Flora Mayor herself was a student at Newnham College, Cambridge in the 1890s, where she read History, and it is possible that she met Mary Paley Marshall who gave supervisions while she was there. 

A testament to friendship

The Cambridge Ladies’ Dining Society was “ a testament to friendship and intellectual debate at a time when women’s voices went largely unheard” (Ann Kennedy Smith)

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Kathleen Lyttelton; photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Andrew Wallis

This month Wikipedia included a detailed article about the Ladies’ Dining Society. It’s based on, among other sources, an entry that I wrote last year for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and written by one of Wiki’s experienced editors. In the future, other editors and readers may add to the article, and it would be nice if, in time, more information emerges about the group, including what they discussed during their dinners.

Given that the twelve women met regularly from 1890 until 1914 it’s not difficult to make some guesses. Women’s higher education, suffrage, the ‘New Woman’ in fiction and reality – they were all hot topics at the time. But probably the most debated issue in 1890, when the group formed, was ‘the marriage question’. In August 1888 the novelist Mona Caird published an essay called ‘Marriage’ in the Westminster Review, stating that marriage as it existed in Victorian Britain was ‘a vexatious failure’ and calling for equality of marriage partners. The Daily Telegraph took up the issue, and began a series called ‘Is Marriage A Failure?’ Over the following three months the newspaper received an astonishing 27,000 letters on the subject, an avalanche of opinions that filled its columns week after week. ‘The marriage question’, as it became known, continued to be debated in Britain throughout the 1890s, and I think it is very likely that these friends would have discussed it. (I imagined an early meeting of theirs in a previous post.)

Marriage was what brought most of them to Cambridge, or made them choose to stay on there after their studies. One of the attractions of marrying a man from Oxford or Cambridge was the chance to access the educational opportunities that were denied to the majority of women at the time. Many lectures were open to married women, and in the 1870s Caroline Jebb attended lectures in zoology, moral philosophy, law, and German literature. She did not want to appear a bluestocking, though, and claimed that she enjoyed Alfred Marshall’s lectures in political economy because they supplied ‘such good after-dinner conversation’.

Ida Darwin’s husband Horace worked on designing measuring instruments for the university’s new scientific laboratories. After she married him and moved to Cambridge in 1880 they both became involved in supporting the new women’s college at Newnham. Together they helped to galvanize votes for the successful Senate statute in 1881 that allowed female students the right to sit for the university’s final year exams. Horace’s father Charles Darwin called it ‘the triumph of the Ladies at Cambridge’ describing proudly how ‘Horace was sent to the Ladies’ College to communicate the success and was received with enthusiasm.’

Ida was also close to Anne Jemima Clough, Newnham’s first principal, and student (later vice-principal) Helen Gladstone. Several other lecturers from Newnham College were members of the Ladies’ Dining Society, including Margaret Verrall, Mary Paley Marshall and Ellen Crofts Darwin, who had married Ida’s brother-in-law Frank Darwin. Newnham’s second principal was Eleanor Sidgwick, whose marriage to the college’s co-founder Henry Sidgwick helped to establish women’s education at Cambridge.

So, as far as Cambridge was concerned, marriage (which was only permitted for most college fellows after 1882) was a good thing. It brought a wave of women who were passionately committed to improving life for the less privileged people of the town, and for giving equal rights to women workers of all classes across Britain. Louise Creighton was a co-founder of he National Union of Women Workers in 1885, while Kathleen Lyttelton began The Cambridge Association For Women’s Suffrage alongside Millicent Fawcett. The American Maud Darwin campaigned for the introduction of women police officers in Cambridge, and Fanny Prothero and Eliza von Hügel were active in finding homes for Belgian refugees in the town during the First World War.

Virginia Woolf once called Cambridge “that detestable place” because of the university’s long history of preventing female students’ rights to education. Marriage – like women’s education – was an unfair institution in 1890 and for many years afterwards, but the work of the university wives helped to make Cambridge a much better place.

Ann Kennedy Smith, 31 January 2019 (All rights reserved