Light and shade: Louise Creighton (1850–1936)

louise_creighton1024Oxford 1871-75:  ‘Nobody,’ said Ruskin, ‘will believe that the main virtue of Turner is in his drawing’. The Oxford professor and author of Modern Painters was discussing ‘Light and Shade’ in a public lecture on art on a Thursday afternoon in Oxford, 9 February 1871. He told his audience, packed into the Sheldonian theatre, that he was convinced that J.M.W. Turner’s genius as an artist lay in his skills as a draughtsman rather than as a colourist. One young woman in the audience who hung on Ruskin’s every word was twenty-year-old Louise von Glehn from London. She was visiting Oxford for the first time and passionate about art: Ruskin was, she told her friends, her prophet. It was ironic that at his lecture on the virtues of monochrome, Louise had chosen to wear a striking yellow scarf. It caught the eye of Mandell Creighton, a tall, art-loving 27-year-old don. He asked to be introduced to the ‘girl who has the courage to wear yellow’, and she was instantly struck by his self-confidence and brilliant, witty conversation. ‘How dull everyone else has seemed to me in comparison,’ she later wrote. Soon afterwards they became engaged.

170px-Mandell_Creighton_aged_27According to ancient university statutes at Oxford, fellows were not permitted to marry, but Merton College made an exception in Creighton’s case: they did not want to lose this gifted teacher and scholar who, unusually for an intellectual of that time, had recently taken religious orders. Louise and Mandell (or ‘Max’ as she always called him) married in January 1872 and settled in a modern villa in St Giles, Oxford, which they named ‘Middlemarch’ after George Eliot’s novel. They gave their artistic tastes free rein in their new home, decorating the drawing-room with Burne-Jones prints, old oak furniture, a blue carpet and the yellow wallpaper they both loved. Louise and Mandell adored each other with a passion, but from the beginning it was a stormy relationship. Charming and witty in public, he was frequently critical and demanding at home, and ‘not the sort of husband who overlooks one’s faults’, she told her sister three months after her wedding, adding that ‘nothing could be better for me.’ She was never afraid to take issue with him, although she always preferred it when they came to an agreement. Her friend Bertha Johnson painted her portrait at this time, looking soulful against a Morris-like trellis of roses, but Louise was no wistful pre-Raphaelite heroine. In contrast to Mandell, she had a brusque, direct manner that some people found rather alarming.

She would have loved the chance to study at university herself. Before moving to Oxford she had taken London University’s first higher examination for women, and passed with honours: ‘had circumstances permitted it,’ she wrote later, ‘I might have become a real grubbing student’. Circumstances did not permit it because London was an all-male university until 1878. Cambridge had just begun to accept its first women students, however, and Louise and a group of like-minded women, including her friends Mary Augusta Ward and Clara Pater, decided that Oxford University needed to catch up. In 1873 they helped to set up a committee to organize the first women’s lectures and classes at the university, and in 1877 this became the Association for the Higher Education of Women. It led to the founding of Oxford’s earliest women’s colleges, St Margaret’s Hall (1878) and Somerville (1879).

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Cambridge 1884-91: From 1875 until 1884 the Creightons lived in Embleton, Northumberland where Mandell Creighton took up the post of country vicar and worked on the first volumes of his extensive papal history. Louise combined caring for, and home-educating, their six children with her own writing of a series of popular history books. In 1884 Mandell accepted the offer of the first professorship of ecclesiastical history at Cambridge, and the family and their servants decamped to a rented house on the edge of the city, where their seventh child was born. Louise was happy to be able to socialize with the new generation of university wives, and in her characteristically forthright way she decided that she would make particular friends with Kathleen Lyttelton. Kathleen and Louise had much in common: they were both published writers who were married to ambitious academic clergymen, and they shared a strong interest in social work. Their friendship became closer when they both became involved in establishing the National Union of Women Workers (now National Council of Women), a non-political organization aimed at supporting working women in their domestic lives. Louise became its first president.

She had stayed in touch with her Oxford friends Clara Pater, by now classics tutor at Somerville College (years later she privately taught Virginia Woolf) and Mary Ward, who as ‘Mrs Humphry Ward’ was achieving modest success as a writer. This all changed and Mary became famous when her novel about a doubting cleric, Robert Elsmere, was published in 1888; it was an immediate bestseller and Gladstone wrote a long review of it in the literary journal The Nineteenth Century. The journal’s canny editor J.T. Knowles, keen to boost circulation figures, suggested that Mary Ward could use her celebrity status to organize an anti-suffrage manifesto. She asked Louise for help, and together they gathered the signatures of 104 well-known women for a petition that was published in the June 1889 issue of The Nineteenth Century. The petition was scathingly attacked in the following issue by the influential suffragists Millicent Fawcett and Emilia Dilke, and in Cambridge the strongly pro-suffrage Kathleen Lyttelton was distressed by her friend’s anti-suffrage stance. Louise stayed firm, however, and in August The Nineteenth Century published her six-page ‘Rejoinder’, stating her belief that a wife was ‘purer, nobler, more unselfish’ than her husband and that giving the vote to women would ‘lower the ideal of womanhood among men’. She signed it ‘Louise Creighton’: it was her first step onto the national stage, and it made her famous. Later she regretted her involvement in the controversial manifesto, saying simply ‘I think this was a mistake on my part.’

The following year Louise and Kathleen asked a small group of their Cambridge friends to form a ladies’ dining and discussion club. It was so successful that they decided to meet twice a term, and continued to do so until 1914. The Creightons left Cambridge in 1891 when Mandell accepted a bishopric at Peterborough, but Louise never left the club; she travelled back to Cambridge for their meetings, or invited them to the bishop’s palace at Peterborough, and later Lambeth Palace.

800px-Mandell_Creighton_by_Sir_Hubert_von_HerkomerLondon 1904-6:  Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London, died age 57 in January 1901, just days before the death of Queen Victoria. Louise was overcome with grief at the loss of her husband, but pragmatic. She moved to a ‘grace and favour’ apartment at Hampton Court and set about writing her Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, which was published in two volumes in 1904 and widely acclaimed as one of the best biographies of its time. Then there were several volumes of Mandell’s speeches and writings to edit and publish. It was as if everything she did was to establish his future reputation and ensure that this brilliant and complex man was understood.

At the 1906 conference of the National Union of Women Workers held at Tunbridge Wells, Louise stood on the platform and made an announcement. She told her audience that she had changed her mind about women’s suffrage, and from now on would support the parliamentary campaign for women to have the vote. Mary Ward was furious when she heard this, and tried to talk her friend round, but Louise was once again resolute. In 1908 Mary agreed to head the ‘Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League’. Her campaign helped to delay the vote for several more years, and ensured that Mrs Humphry Ward is today remembered less for her novels and significant contribution to women’s education and childcare provision, than for standing in the way of equal rights. Or (a worse fate for a woman who so loved controversy) simply forgotten, as John Sutherland has said.

Privately, Louise worried that people would think it was Mandell’s death that had allowed her to express her feminist opinions freely for the first time. Was there not some truth in this? In her unpublished memoir she considers the question as carefully as if Max had turned his penetrating eyes on her. ‘I certainly should not after he was a bishop or indeed at any time’ she wrote, ‘have taken up a line opposed to him in any public opinion… I do not think he was at all strongly opposed to female suffrage at any time.’ But she sounds hesitant, as if she was asking herself whether her wifely loyalty and love for Max had occasionally been in conflict with her own beliefs and saying what she thought. As Ruskin said, there was light and shade in everything.

Philpot,_Glyn_Warren;_Louise_Creighton,_Wife_of_Mandell_Creighton,_Bishop_of_London;_Lambeth_Palace

Louise continued to write, publishing history books, biographies and a treatise on venereal disease. She served on two Royal Commissions, gave lectures at the London School of Economics and as a moderate Christian feminist, worked hard to reconcile liberal and conservative factions in the Anglican Church. Her biographer noted: ‘In her later life she pondered the question of the priesthood of women. She recognized that her opposition to it was rooted in instinct and prejudice, and she could find no logical reason against it.’ In 1927 she moved back to Oxford and served on the governing body of Lady Margaret Hall for the rest of her life.

Ann Kennedy Smith

Sources: James Thayne Covert, ‘Creighton, Louise Hume (1850–1936)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 and A Victorian marriage: Mandell and Louise Creighton (2000) Louise Creighton, Life and letters of Mandell Creighton, 2 vols. (1904); Memoir of a Victorian woman: reflections of Louise Creighton, 1850–1936, edited by J. T. Covert (1994)

 

The Dining Club, 1890

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10701039Vicmarriage[1]

In August 1888 Mona Caird published an essay called ‘Marriage’ in the Westminster Review, stating that marriage as it existed in Victorian Britain was ‘a vexatious failure’. The Daily Telegraph took up the debate, asking its readers ‘Is Marriage A Failure?’ (see 2013 feature here) In the following two months over 27,000 readers replied, for and against. ‘The marriage question’, as it became known, continued to be debated in Britain throughout the 1890s. I think it is likely that Caroline Jebb and her friends would have discussed it during meetings of their newly formed Ladies’ Dining Society – and I have imagined their first meeting here, based on their diaries and letters.

HBH18900519.2.22-a1-259w-c32

10701039Vicmarriage[1]

In August 1888 Mona Caird published an essay called ‘Marriage’ in the Westminster Review, stating that marriage as it existed in Victorian Britain was ‘a vexatious failure’. The Daily Telegraph took up the debate, asking its readers ‘Is Marriage A Failure?’ (see 2013 feature here) In the following two months over 27,000 readers replied, for and against. ‘The marriage question’, as it became known, continued to be debated in Britain throughout the 1890s. I think it is likely that Caroline Jebb and her friends would have discussed it during meetings of their newly formed Ladies’ Dining Society – and I have imagined their first meeting here, based on their diaries and letters.

October 1890: The husbands were left to fend for themselves for the evening. Some wandered off happily to their colleges for dinner, thinking about important matters to be discussed with the other Fellows. Others were having solitary suppers in their studies, books piled up around them. The wives had arranged the suppers, given instructions to cooks and servants, written letters and lists for the following day, and dressed for the evening.

Caroline Jebb glanced at her reflection and approved. Her black velvet dress set off her auburn hair and her creamy complexion seemed to glow. She could still pass for much younger than fifty, she knew. When she went to say goodbye to Richard in his study, he looked up from his papers and sighed.

‘Must you go?’

‘I must. You could still have dinner in college if you wanted to.’

‘Too much work to do here. Don’t be late, Carrisima.’

Outside, their gardener Melbourne waited by the carriage. He had squeezed into his navy blue coat and put on his top hat for his duties as driver. As they drove to George and Maud Darwin’s house, he told her some fascinating gossip about their cook’s marital problems, as Caroline made mental notes for the evening’s discussion. After ten minutes’ waiting, Maud climbed into the carriage, apologizing and explaining about her children’s toothaches. Caroline shook her head impatiently.

‘Did you read the article I sent you, Maud? About the marriage question?’

‘Yes, well, most of it, you know. George had another bad head, you know, so I had to sit with him, and he doesn’t like me to read. He says I rustle the pages too much.’

This was too vexing. Like all the Darwin men, George had frequent illnesses and expected his wife to dispense constant sympathy as his mother had always done. If only Maud would follow her advice she would do quite well, Caroline thought. She was still a pretty young woman, though she’d unwisely allowed her waist to thicken and it made her look positively matronly. She was wearing something in the new style from London, but Caroline suspected she had just come from the garden. Maud caught her look.

‘It’s real nice of Mrs Creighton to invite me,’ she said cheerfully, ‘though of course, I should never have got a look-in if it hadn’t been for you, Aunt Cara.’

Caroline frowned, wishing Maud would try to remember that Americans must be on their guard against English snobbery at all times.

‘Try not to say ‘real nice’ or ‘look-in’ when you meet Mrs Creighton, Maud, remember. That sort of slang should stay in Philadelphia. Come to think of it, it might be best if you said as little as possible.’

The carriage swung into a wide driveway. The Creightons’ home was one of the newer Cambridge houses, rather square and featureless, but Louise had spent money on landscaping the garden, Caroline noted with approval. The maid showed them into a hall which had a new blue carpet on a freshly polished rosewood floor. As Louise came out to greet them, Caroline looked up to see a row of children in white nightgowns peering down at them, faces pressed against the banisters. One child said wonderingly,

‘Mama, mama! What are all these ladies doing here?’

Louise shooed them off to bed before ushering Caroline and Maud into the drawing room, explaining that she had asked the maid to prepare a fruit punch for this, the first of their Ladies’ Dining Club gatherings.

‘Mrs Lyttelton and I decided to have no champagne at our dinners, so that our minds are sharp for the discussion at hand,’ she told them crisply, handing them each a glass.

Louise and Kathleen Lyttelton asked a small group of their Cambridge friends to form a ladies’ dining society, to meet twice a term, and discuss issues of the day.

The other women arrived in twos and threes, .some walking, others by private carriage or rented hansom cab. A gong was sounded and they were shown into the dining room. Caroline surveyed the table. Dark-haired Ellen Darwin was whispering to her sister-in-law Ida Darwin. The Darwins always stayed close, she noted, and Louise had seated them together because Ida was good at putting Ellen at her ease. Fanny Prothero was sitting on the other side of Ida and saying little, as usual, but it was not Caroline’s job to draw anyone out this evening, thank goodness. Mary Paley Marshall was on her left. Good, Mary always had something interesting to say, Caroline thought. She was talking to the Vice-principal of Newnham College, Mrs Sidgwick, who looked flushed, her eyes shining. Eleanor Sidgwick loved these discussions. Beside her, her friend and Newnham neighbour Eliza von Hügel was looking gracious and spiritual as ever.

At the end of the table Kathleen Lyttelton shuffled a heap of papers in a business-like way. Dear me, Caroline thought, I hope she doesn’t speak for too long. Louise rang a small bell.

‘Welcome, ladies. May I introduce the topic for this evening? It is a subject which affects us all, and on which everyone here will have very different views, I am sure. It is, of course, the marriage question. Now, who would like to begin?’

Ann Kennedy Smith

Sources: Carolyn Christensen Nelson, A New Woman Reader: fiction, articles and drama of the 1890s (Letchworth: Turpin, 2001) pp.184-224

December 1890The husbands were left to fend for themselves for the evening. Some wandered off happily to their colleges for dinner, thinking about important matters to be discussed with the other Fellows. Others were having solitary suppers in their studies, books piled up around them. The wives had arranged the suppers, given instructions to cooks and servants, written letters and lists for the following day, and dressed for the evening.

Caroline Jebb glanced at her reflection and approved. Her black velvet dress set off her auburn hair and her creamy complexion seemed to glow. She could still pass for much younger than fifty, she knew. When she went to say goodbye to Richard in his study, he looked up from his papers and sighed.

‘Must you go?’

‘I must. You could still have dinner in college if you wanted to.’

‘Too much work to do here. Don’t be late, Carrisima.’

Outside, their gardener Melbourne waited by the carriage. He had squeezed into his navy blue coat and put on his top hat for his duties as driver. As they drove to George and Maud Darwin’s house, he told her some fascinating gossip about their cook’s marital problems, as Caroline made mental notes for the evening’s discussion. After ten minutes’ waiting, Maud climbed into the carriage, apologizing and explaining about her children’s toothaches. Caroline shook her head impatiently.

‘Did you read the article I sent you, Maud? About the marriage question?’

‘Yes, well, most of it, you know. George had another bad head, you know, so I had to sit with him, and he doesn’t like me to read. He says I rustle the pages too much.’

This was too vexing. Like all the Darwin men, George had frequent illnesses and expected his wife to dispense constant sympathy as his mother had always done. If only Maud would follow her advice she would do quite well, Caroline thought. She was still a pretty young woman, though she’d unwisely allowed her waist to thicken and it made her look positively matronly. She was wearing something in the new style from London, but Caroline suspected she had just come from the garden. Maud caught her look.

‘It’s real nice of Mrs Creighton to invite me,’ she said cheerfully, ‘though of course, I should never have got a look-in if it hadn’t been for you, Aunt Cara.’

Caroline frowned, wishing Maud would try to remember that Americans must be on their guard against English snobbery at all times.

‘Try not to say ‘real nice’ or ‘look-in’ when you meet Mrs Creighton, Maud, remember. That sort of slang should stay in Philadelphia. Come to think of it, it might be best if you said as little as possible.’

The carriage swung into a wide driveway. The Creightons’ home was one of the newer Cambridge houses, rather square and featureless, but Louise had spent money on landscaping the garden, Caroline noted with approval. The maid showed them into a hall which had a new blue carpet on a freshly polished rosewood floor. As Louise came out to greet them, Caroline looked up to see a row of children in white nightgowns peering down at them, faces pressed against the banisters. One child said wonderingly,

‘Mama, mama! What are all these ladies doing here?’

Louise shooed them off to bed before ushering Caroline and Maud into the drawing room, explaining that she had asked the maid to prepare a fruit punch for this, the first of their Ladies’ Dining Club gatherings.

‘Mrs Lyttelton and I decided to have no champagne at our dinners, so that our minds are sharp for the discussion at hand,’ she told them crisply, handing them each a glass.

Louise and Kathleen Lyttelton asked a small group of their Cambridge friends to form a ladies’ dining society, to meet twice a term, and discuss issues of the day.

The other women arrived in twos and threes, .some walking, others by private carriage or rented hansom cab. A gong was sounded and they were shown into the dining room. Caroline surveyed the table. Dark-haired Ellen Darwin was whispering to her sister-in-law Ida Darwin. The Darwins always stayed close, she noted, and Louise had seated them together because Ida was good at putting Ellen at her ease. Fanny Prothero was sitting on the other side of Ida and saying little, as usual, but it was not Caroline’s job to draw anyone out this evening, thank goodness. Mary Paley Marshall was on her left. Good, Mary always had something interesting to say, Caroline thought. She was talking to the Vice-principal of Newnham College, Mrs Sidgwick, who looked flushed, her eyes shining. Eleanor Sidgwick loved these discussions. Beside her, her friend and Newnham neighbour Eliza von Hügel was looking gracious and spiritual as ever.

At the end of the table Kathleen Lyttelton shuffled a heap of papers in a business-like way. Dear me, Caroline thought, I hope she doesn’t speak for too long. Louise rang a small bell.

‘Welcome, ladies. May I introduce the topic for this evening? It is a subject which affects us all, and on which everyone here will have very different views, I am sure. It is, of course, the marriage question. Now, who would like to begin?’

Ann Kennedy Smith

Sources: Carolyn Christensen Nelson, A New Woman Reader: fiction, articles and drama of the 1890s (Letchworth: Turpin, 2001) pp.184-224

Mrs L.’s cheque

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‘I don’t in the least want Mrs L.’s candid criticism; I want her cheque!’

So wrote the 22-year old Virginia Stephen in November 1904 about an essay she had just sent to the Anglican Guardian, a weekly clerical journal for governesses, maiden ladies and high-church parsons (not to be confused with the newspaper then named The Manchester Guardian). It was not the ideal vehicle for Virginia’s strong views, but she badly wanted to be published and to be paid for her writing. ‘Mrs L.’ was 47-year old Kathleen Lyttelton, pictured left, the first editor of the Guardian‘s women’s pages. Although her name is as little known today as the paper she wrote for, we should pay tribute to her as the woman who spotted Virginia Woolf’s writing talent and set her on her published writing career.

Kathleen, usually known as Mrs Arthur Lyttelton, was a social reformer, writer, suffrage campaigner and one of the founder members of the Cambridge Ladies Dining Society. She was a practical person with a mission to help the female sex. In 1884, when as the wife of Selwyn College’s Master Arthur Lyttelton, she co-founded the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association (C.W.S.A.) and served on its executive from 1885–1890. In 1888, encouraged by her friend Millicent Fawcett, she joined the executive committee of the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage to work for suffrage at a national level.

A committed Anglican with high ideals, Kathleen felt compelled to engage in the struggle for women’s franchise and to help the poor, women in trouble and women workers, and to use her writing as a means of educating them. In 1901 she published her views in her book Women and their Work, intended as a manual for women at a time when society was changing. In February 1903, her husband Arthur, then Bishop of Southampton, died prematurely, and Kathleen and her daughter moved to London, where she was determined to continue with her writing career. She joined The Guardian as editor in June 1904 after the paper amalgamated with The Churchwoman, a journal she is likely to have written for beforehand.

1904 had been a traumatic year for young Virginia Stephen. Her father Sir Leslie Stephen died from cancer in February, and she had her second serious nervous breakdown, followed by a slow and painful recovery, between April and October. In the autumn she and her siblings, Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian moved to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury. It was an exciting new venture, but their bills would need to be paid, and Virginia’s close older friend and mentor Violet Dickinson encouraged her to try to publish her work as a way of making money and establishing herself as a writer.

It was Violet who suggested that Virginia send an essay to Kathleen Lyttelton. Violet knew the Lyttelton family through her clerical connections, and had already introduced Virginia to Margaret, Kathleen’s daughter. Virginia had not warmed to Margaret, and was doubtful that her mother would like her writing. ‘I dont [sic] in the least expect Mrs Lyttelton to take that article’, she told Violet on 11 November 1904. She was right in one sense (her essay on Manorbier was never published and has since been lost) but Kathleen offered something better: she invited  Virginia to contribute 1,500 words on any subject she liked, a remarkably generous offer to such a young and unknown writer. ‘Mrs Lyttelton must be a very sensible woman’ Virginia wrote gratefully to Violet on 14 November, ‘she is very generous to allow me any subject… D’you think Mrs Lyttelton will let me write fairly often?’ She did. In December 1904 The Guardian published Virginia’s review of W.D. Howell’s novel The Son of Royal Langbrith, and an essay ‘Haworth, November 1904’, written after her visit to the Brontë parsonage in November that year, in which she wrote: ‘Haworth expresses the Brontës; the Brontës express Haworth…They fit like a snail to its shell.’

In January 1905 Virginia told Violet how well she was getting on with the woman she called ‘My Editress’. ‘Mrs Lyttelton has just been – she is a delightful big sensible woman. I wish she would pet me! I think she has possibilities that way!’ Her friendship with Kathleen’s daughter Margaret, even though they were the same age, was much less cordial, as Virginia wrote a month later: ‘We had Margaret L. yesterday, who did her best to talk, but she is a rather stiff and starched young woman.’ (The editors of Virginia Woolf’s Letters and Essays, along with many Woolf biographers, have merged the Lyttelton mother and daughter’s identities, wrongly referring to Margaret as the editor of the Guardian‘s women’s supplement.)

Although Virginia liked and respected Kathleen, they had little in common and she was understandably frustrated when Lyttelton wielded her editor’s red pen too heavily. ‘I could wish that she had a finer literary taste sometimes’ Virginia complained to Violet in December 1905, ‘she sticks her broad thumb into the middle of my sentences and improves the moral tone. If I could get enough work elsewhere I dont think I should bother about the Guardian.’ There was worse to come. Kathleen insisted on reducing the word count of her review of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl so much that she made it ‘worthless’ in Virginia’s eyes.

Unlike the Brontës and Haworth, Virginia Woolf and the Anglican Guardian never did fit like a snail to its shell, and she would find a more natural home for her essays at the Times Literary Supplement. But she continued to write regularly for the Guardian for two years, earning an estimated £17, 10 s.0d, a respectable sum. Whatever might be said about her over-zealous editorial cuts, Mrs L.’s cheque – and her acceptance of the young Virginia Woolf as a writer – reveals Kathleen Lyttelton to have been an editor of some distinction.

Carolyn Ferguson and Ann Kennedy Smith (Please reference as follows: Carolyn Ferguson and Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Kathleen and Virginia’ (November 25, 2016) https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

Sources: All quotations from letters are from The Letters of Virginia Woolf eds. Nigel Nicolson & Joanne Trautmann, Volume 1 (The Hogarth Press, London, 1975). The essay ‘Haworth, November 1904’ is included in The Essays of Virginia Woolf, ed. Andrew Mc Neillie Volume 1, 1904-1912 (The Hogarth Press, London), and his estimate of her earnings is on p. xviii. See also James King, Virginia Woolf (Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1994); Hermione Lee Virginia Woolf (Vintage, 1997); Frances Spalding Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision (National Portrait Gallery, 2014). With thanks to Andrew Wallis for his generous assistance, and his permission to reproduce the photograph of Kathleen Lyttelton.

A club of their own

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‘The female club must be regarded as no isolated and ludicrous phenomenon, but as the natural outcome of the spirit of an age which demands excellence in work from women no less than from men’ Amy Levy. (I am delighted that my entry on ‘ The Ladies Dining Society’ is now included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ).

They called it the Ladies Dining Society, a name that sounds rather quaint and privileged now. But it was an act of rebelliousness all the same. In 1890, when the club began, Cambridge was  still very much a male society with its few female students living in colleges outside the town. University wives were expected to be gracious hosts and guests at dinner parties and provide polite conversation, but they were excluded from their husbands’ college high tables and the intellectual discussions that went on there.

It was a time when professional women’s associations and clubs had begun to spring up around Britain. In May 1890 the first Ladies’ Literary Dinner for women writers took place at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly, London. Later renamed the Women Writers’ Dinner, it was so successful that it became an annual event.

In Cambridge, two of the university wives, Louise Creighton and Kathleen Lyttelton, both published writers, decided to form a dining and discussion club of their own. They invited a select group of between ten and twelve of their women friends to join, and agreed to take it in turn to host the occasion, provide dinner and choose a suitable topic for discussion.

They were, in the words of the economist John Maynard Keynes, ‘a remarkable group’. Most were married to professors or college masters, but all  were pioneers and achievers in their own right. Mary Paley Marshall was one of the first women students at Cambridge, and its first woman lecturer in economics. Eleanor Sidgwick became principal of Newnham college, Mary Ward was a suffragist and playwright, and Kathleen Lyttelton was the first editor to publish Virginia Woolf’s work. Ida Darwin was a leading figure in the twentieth-century fight for improved mental health care, while her American sister-in-law Maud Darwin campaigned for the introduction of women police officers in Britain. Maud’s aunt, the irrepressible Lady Caroline Jebb, was immortalised in Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece.

I will explore more of their stories in future posts. The dining society continued until the outbreak of the First World War, for almost 25 years providing a network of friendship and a space for debate, where these women’s voices would be heard.

Further reading: Marshall, Mary Paley What I remember (CUP 1947); The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Writing ed. Linda H Peterson (CUP 2015); Linda Hughes ‘A Club of Their Own: The “Literary Ladies,” New Women Writers, and Fin-de-Siècle Authorship’ (Victorian Literature and Culture Vol. 35, Issue 1, March 2007, pp. 233-260

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘A club of their own’, (September 8, 2016) https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)