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.

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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)

 

Writing Lives: the Jebb marriage

Richard_Claverhouse_Jebb MP, known as 'Ajax'. Vanity Fair, 1904

Bacchylides was of placid temper; amiably tolerant; satisfied with a modest lot; not free from some tinge of that pensive melancholy which was peculiarly Ionian’ (‘The Life of Bacchylides’, Richard Claverhouse Jebb, 1905)

In 1905 Cambridge University Press published the first English translation of poems by Bacchylides, with an introductory essay about the Greek lyric poet’s life. The author and translator, Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, was considered by many to be the most brilliant classical scholar of his time, and his seven-volume edition of Sophocles was widely celebrated. He was Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge University and its Member of Parliament  (where he was nicknamed ‘Ajax’ after Sophocles’s tragic hero); he accepted a British knighthood in 1900, and was appointed to the Order of Merit in June 1905. A month later he and a group of academics sailed to South Africa with the British Association to promote its scientific and literary work. It was an exhausting and demanding lecture tour, and Richard’s health was not strong. He returned to Cambridge in October with a high fever, and died on 9 December 1905 at the age of sixty-four.

13 December 1905, Wednesday. Funeral. Sunshine through a veil of mist… Ah, my dearest.’ (Diary of Caroline Jebb)

Richard’s death came as a shock to his American wife Caroline Jebb, then sixty-five, but her next move was obvious: she would write her husband’s biography. In this she was following in the footsteps of two of her friends, both members of her ladies’ dining club. Louise Creighton’s two-volume biography of Mandell Creighton, published in 1904, was praised by many, including Lytton Strachey. Eleanor (Nora) Sidgwick was busy co-authoring a memoir of her husband Henry, who had died in 1900. In January 1906 Caroline set to work. Richard had done much of the preparation for her already, having compiled scrapbooks in which he pasted letters, reviews, excerpts from his speeches and newspaper cuttings about himself. All she had to do was to choose what to include.

Weighty biographies of great men were plentiful throughout the nineteenth century, and in many cases they were written by people who were close to their subjects, such as a wife, sibling, son or daughter. This presented the home-grown biographer with a paradox. The ideal biography was, it was believed, conscientious in its gathering of documents and deeply respectful in tone. It should be heavy on its subject’s achievements, and light on their personal failings. Undignified anecdotes were avoided, and most of all, the biographer’s own personality and feelings should be suppressed at all times.

‘Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory’ Disraeli, 1832

To modern readers, the apparently respectful, authoritative ‘Lives‘ that fill the library’s dustier shelves reveal, on closer inspection, interesting hidden narratives about the people who wrote them. Mandell Creighton’s biography was written partly to defend his posthumous reputation from his critics and yet, almost accidentally, his widow lets slip his shortcomings as husband and father. Although Eleanor Sidgwick seems to choose humble self-effacement in her memoir of her husband (by never directly referring to herself), her absence only reinforces the reader’s sense of her supreme self-confidence in the central role she played in their shared life and work towards women’s education in Cambridge.

From her family letters we know that Caroline Jebb was a discerning and enthusiastic reader of literary biographies, and she was influenced by Leslie Stephen, the Dictionary of National Biography’s first editor and, until his death in 1904, a friend of both Jebbs. Like Stephen, she wanted to avoid what Thomas Carlyle called a ‘Dryasdust’ approach to biography, in which the traditional biographer was at pains to present his or her subject in the most reverential light. J.A. Froude’s edition of Carlyle’s posthumous Reminiscences (1881) was criticized for being too revealing about the Carlyles’ unhappy marriage, but Caroline found it fascinating. ‘I can’t help thinking Froude must have slipped in thing or two unmarked by Carlyle for publication’, she told her sister.  ‘Would I have mended his trousers while he was off amusing himself with Lady Harriet Baring? I would not.’ She had misgivings about John Cross’s ‘not altogether attractive Life’ of his famous wife but it gave her an insight into George Eliot’s ‘enormous mental industry. To read about her work took my breath away’.

In her Life and Letters of Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, published in 1907, Caroline did not attempt to disguise her own authorial presence or her less than perfect marriage. She places herself in the first paragraph by adding a detail that only she could know. Describing Richard’s happy childhood in County Dublin, she depicts him as a boy who was both quick-tempered and highly sensitive. ‘A look of disapproval from his mother made him miserable: to disappoint anyone who loved him was all his life intolerable to him. “Dick sorry; forgive your Dick” was a phrase not confined to childhood.’ Instantly we have an insight into the Jebbs’ marriage: his quick temper and remorse; her amused tolerance. She suppresses information about his tendency to drink too much (which contributed to his poor health), but later in the bookshe  is humorous about his inability to manage money. ‘He never knew how much he had with him, or counted his change at railway stations’ she writes. ‘It filled him with a sort of disgust when less high-minded people – his wife to wit – assumed the existence of dishonesty’.

We get the impression of a real marriage with real arguments, and a man who, for all his achievements, was not always easy to live with. As Richard himself wrote in 1905, even Bacchylides suffered from ‘pensive melancholy’ sometimes, and some people might have considered Sophocles’s Ajax to be a bad loser.

Sources: Caroline Jebb, Life and Letters of Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb (Cambridge University Press, 1907); Mary Reed Bobbitt With Dearest Love to All: The Life and Letters of Lady Jebb (London: Faber, 1960); Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The Dining Club, 1890

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The husbands were left to fend for themselves for the evening. Some wandered off happily to college dinners, thinking about important matters to be discussed. Others were having solitary suppers in their studies, books piled up around them. Their 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 thought. 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, Melbourne waited by the carriage. He had squeezed into his navy blue coat and put on his top hat for the occasion. As he drove her to the Darwins’ house he told her some fascinating news about the cook’s marital problems until Maud climbed into the carriage, apologizing and explaining about children’s toothaches. Caroline shook her head impatiently.

‘Did you read the article I sent you, Maud? About this evening’s topic?’

‘Yes, well, most of it, you know. George had another bad head, 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. If only Maud would follow her advice she would do quite well, Caroline thought. She was still a pretty girl, though since having children she had 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, though of course, I should never have got a look-in if it hadn’t been for you, Aunt Cara.’

Caroline frowned.

‘Try not to say ‘real nice’ or ‘look-in’ when you meet Mrs Creighton, Maud, remember. That sort of language 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.

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

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. Louise had seated them together because Ida was good at putting Ellen at her ease. Fanny Prothero was sitting on the other side and saying little, as usual, but it was not Caroline’s job to draw anyone out this evening, thank goodness. Mary Marshall was on her left. Good, Mary always had something interesting to say. She was talking to Eleanor Sidgwick who looked flushed, her eyes shining. She loved these discussions and could not wait to address the group. Eliza von Hügel was looking gracious and spiritual, with her huge crucifix around her neck.

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. It is, of course, the marriage question.’

Ann Kennedy Smith

Coda: 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?’. 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.

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

Marrying Maud

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Portrait of Maud by Cecilia Beaux, 1889. pastel on paper, 19×13.5in.

‘Maud is not a girl to surprise anyone into matrimony. I wonder why?’ wrote the American Caroline Jebb, 43, to her sister Ellen Dupuy in Philadelphia. Maud was Ellen’s sensible 22-year old daughter, tall with golden brown hair and dark blue eyes. She was visiting her Aunt Cara (as she called Caroline) in Cambridge in the summer of 1883. It was her first trip to England and she loved everything about the university town in May: the picnics and afternoon teas, the boat races and games of lawn tennis, trips to London for shopping, dinner parties and the cultivated conversations of the college fellows. Caroline was keen to give her niece a taste for culture, so gave her poetry books by Browning and Tennyson to read, took her to a Greek play and to see paintings at the Royal Academy. But most of all, she wanted Maud to marry well.

She had already tried and failed with Maud’s older sister Nellie, who had come to Cambridge the year before and refused a proposal of marriage from George Darwin, the second son of Charles Darwin and a professor of astronomy at Cambridge. Caroline and her husband Richard Claverhouse Jebb were close friends of his and she was very sorry to see him disappointed. ‘George Darwin is so kind and nice, so really generous in big things, so companionable and amusing’, she told Nellie, ‘that if only you had been five years older, I think you might have liked him.’ George Darwin was 38, tall but slight in stature, and years of poor health had left him prone to exhaustion after any sort of exercise. Bookish and serious-minded, he was ill at ease in most women’s company apart from Caroline’s.

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George Darwin, about 1880, unknown photographer.

Fond as she was of her dear George, Caroline had a very different sort of man in mind for Maud. She told her sister that Henry Martyn Taylor, a barrister, had much to offer, being ‘very manly, a good shot, Alpine climber, tennis player, has an income of, I fancy, about £2,000 a year… I fancy he could settle at least £10,000 on his wife to secure her future.’ Caroline wanted her American niece to be practical in her choice of husband. Despite their aristocratic-sounding name, the Philadelphia Dupuys were not well off, and Maud was only able to afford the trip to England with the help of her businessman brother, Herbert. She told him that she liked her Aunt Cara’s friend George. ‘I can see how nice he is as a brother and a friend…but somehow the romantic view of lover is left out of his disposition.’ Sensible as she was, Maud knew her own mind and wanted to marry for love. Caroline was no fortune-hunter either, for all her interest in finding her niece a good match. Years earlier she herself had turned down a proposal by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railway magnate and richest man in America, and married Cambridge classical scholar instead.

When the wealthy, manly Henry proposed in September 1883, Maud politely refused and set off to spend the winter travelling around Europe with another aunt. By December they were in Rome, and Caroline was still hoping that her niece would reconsider Henry’s offer: ‘after six months of married life, Maud would be devoted to a man like Mr Taylor, and quite happy and settled in her life.’ Would she ever have a better offer? Caroline was not sure. In February Maud and her aunt left Rome and travelled to Castellamare, where they found a note waiting for them. It was from George Darwin, who happened to be passing through Italy, he said, on his way home from a trip to Tunisia. Might he call on them? It was all Caroline’s doing of course. Back in Cambridge she had come to realize that George liked her niece very much, but Maud did not see this kindly, reserved older man in a romantic light. So Caroline told him to go to Italy to find her.

Maud and George spent the next two weeks in each other’s company. Away from Cambridge he lost much of his English awkwardness and reserve. He spoke Italian fluently, was an energetic walker and enthusiastic about everything. ‘G.D. picked violets and crocuses for me, and we walked and walked and talked and talked’, Maud wrote to her sister, describing how, after one long walk, George hailed a passing donkey cart to give them a lift back to their hotel. ‘It was so funny!’, Maud told her sister, describing how he and the driver jumped out when they went up hills. ‘To think of a Professor in Cambridge running by the side of a donkey cart… And me in the cart too!’. In Florence George proposed and Maud accepted happily. Caroline was delighted to hear the news, with one reservation. ‘He must call me Cara, not Aunt’, she told her niece sternly. ‘I can’t stand that from a man so near my own age.’

A couple of weeks later another worry occurred to Caroline, and she wrote to George directly. The Darwin family ‘might think this was a match of my making’, she warned him, ‘And it wasn’t a bit, mind that! You were both a thousand miles away from any influence of mine and words can’t say how thankful I am. If there is a suspicion of my being a matchmaker, I utterly and entirely repudiate it…’

 Ann Kennedy Smith.

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Marrying Maud’ https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

Sources: Gwen Raverat’s account of her mother’s first visit to Cambridge in ‘Prelude’, the first chapter of Period Piece (Faber and Faber, 1952) is simply unsurpassable, as are her beautiful illustrations. Maud’s words are taken from Frances Spalding’s elegant biography Gwen Raverat: Friends, Family, and Affections (Harvill Press, 2001, pp. 38 and 40). All quotations from Caroline’s letters are taken from With Dearest Love to All: The Life and Letters of Lady Jebb by Mary Jane Bobbitt (Faber and Faber, 1960).

The other Mary Ward

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Newnham Hall students in 1878, Newnham College Archives PH/10/1 (Mary is fourth from left in back row, wearing a white shawl)

Mary Ward (née Martin) was born in Armagh, Northern Ireland on 6 June 1851, the third of a growing family of twelve children. Her father, a Congregationalist minister, found it hard to make ends meet, but Mary’s brothers were able to go to school thanks to scholarships for the sons of the clergy. This must have struck Mary as unjust, but she got a good education from her mother who taught her and her younger siblings and calmly ‘piloted the family ship’ (Lawson Dodd, 39) with a volume of Dante propped up against the mixing bowl and a baby on her lap.

The family moved to England, and when she was 15 Mary left home. She spent a year as a pupil-teacher in Hampstead, and from 16 worked full-time as a governess, teaching and supporting herself while her older brothers studied at Cambridge. But Henry and James did not forget their bright and hardworking sister. Lectures for women had begun at Cambridge, and her brother Henry Newell Martin, by then working as a biologist with Thomas Huxley, promised to support Mary’s studies there if she won the entrance scholarship. She did, and in 1876, ‘a delicately pretty woman of 25, but looking much younger’ (Lawson Dodd, 40), Mary became a student at Newnham Hall, later College.

Her fragile appearance belied her passionately political character. Her ‘quick Irish speech bubbled out when she was excited,’ her daughter observed years later. ‘Life was full of the urge of things to fight for’ (Lawson Dodd, 41). While a student at Newnham, Mary fought for women to have access to university education on equal terms to men, and to take Cambridge’s final examinations as a right, not a courtesy. She was the first woman to gain a first-class honours in moral sciences, albeit unofficially, as women would not be awarded Cambridge degrees for many years to come. But she and Newnham were able to celebrate when in 1881 the University Senate voted by 366 votes to 32 to open its examinations to women. Mary was appointed resident lecturer, and continued to teach and support women students at Newnham after she married and had children. She was a member of the Cambridge Ladies Dining Society 1890-1914.

(If her name sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because of her namesake, Mary Augusta Ward (née Arnold) who was born in Hobart, Tasmania, coincidentally also in June 1851. After moving to England she married an Oxford don and, as Mrs Humphry Ward, became England’s highest-earning novelist after her novel Robert Elsmere was published in 1888. She was also a social reformer who helped to organize the first women’s lectures at Oxford and later began the ‘play centres for children’ movement to enable working-class mothers to go out to work, a legacy that continues in the valuable work of the Mary Ward Centre in London today. But if the ‘Oxford’ Mary Ward, once so famous, is remembered at all today, it is less for her considerable achievements than as (whisper it) a traitor to her sex. In 1908 she became the leading spokesperson for the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and ‘the person who impeded women getting the vote for seven long years’, as the critic John Sutherland wrote in his article about her, ‘The suffragettes’ unlikeliest enemy’.)

Coincidentally, it was around this time that the (considerably less famous) Cambridge Mary Ward took up arms on behalf of women’s suffrage. She became Honorary Secretary for the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association, galvanising the movement with lively meetings held at her house, and in 1908 (as Mrs James Ward) she published her play Man and Woman: The Question of the Day. It was very popular with suffrage societies for the next few years, with the main character, Helen, converting a female anti-suffragist to the cause by telling her ‘Women may let politics alone, politics don’t let them alone’. Although the Cambridge Mary Ward disagreed with the militant tactics of the suffragettes, in 1913 she resigned her membership of the Liberal Party in protest against the government’s treatment of suffragist prisoners.

Still frail in appearance, and beginning to fail in health, Mary never lost her urge to fight for women’s rights. In July 1913, at the age of 62, she was one of the leaders of the group who marched from Cambridge to London as part of the huge countrywide pilgrimage of pro-women’s suffrage supporters, including many men. She also never lost her Irish accent, her self-deprecating humour, and her interest in others: ‘”now tell me”, she would begin, with shining blue eyes; and then she would listen, appreciatively, relishing all the details, and recounting her own experiences with gusto, all the more gaily if they were disastrous’ (Lawson Dodd, 46).

Ann Kennedy Smith

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘The other Mary Ward’ https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

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Mary Ward in Newnham College Roll Newsletter, January 1934, frontispiece

Sources: H.M. Lawson Dodd and others, ‘Mrs James Ward (Mary Jane Martin) Newnham Hall 1876-1879’ Newnham College Roll Newsletter, January 1934, pp. 38-47; ‘Ward, Mrs Mary (1851-1933) in E. Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (1999); ‘A Petticoat Pilgrimage’ Cambridge Daily News (21 July 1913); Cambridgeshire Archives CWSA Papers 1884 –1919. With thanks to Newnham College for permission to use the photographs of Mary Ward.

The Cambridge Psychics

In January 1882, 135 years ago, the idea began for the Society for Psychical Research. One of the founder members, Eleanor Sidgwick (née Balfour, see portrait below) was a member of the Ladies Dining Society (1890-1914). She and her husband Henry Sidgwick (see photograph below) contributed significantly to women’s education in Cambridge. This is a guest blog by the writer Jane Dismore

‘It was a dark and stormy night….’ This famous opening to a Victorian novel is today considered purple prose and often used humorously to start a spine-chilling story. Its author was the acclaimed and hugely popular novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), a friend of Charles Dickens, and the book was Paul Clifford (1830). The novel was not in fact a chiller, although the author’s literary career would come to include science fiction and occult fiction, for Bulwer Lytton was a respected occultist. His interest began when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge (where he also won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for English Verse), and he became known for his passion for predictions using a crystal ball, and for the casting of horoscopes. In 1854 Bulwer Lytton was visited by Eliphas Levi, a French occult author and magician, who considered him to be one of the principal exponents of occult studies in Britain. At around that time there began a huge increase in the practice of spiritualism and a resulting explosion of paranormal claims throughout the Western world and in all parts of society. Now mediums made their first appearance, claiming contact with the dead. At the same time science-based naturalistic explanations increasingly challenged the old religious world view. Lively debate raged, which pondered whether these alleged phenomena could be fully accounted for in naturalistic terms or whether they pointed to aspects of consciousness which were not yet known to science.

Bulwer Lytton did not live long enough to see where the debate led but he surely would have been gratified to see that it was taken seriously, and at his alma mater, too. Exactly 135 years ago, in January 1882, a conference was held in London to consider the viability of setting up an organisation to carry out formal scientific research into alleged paranormal phenomena. In February the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded, the first organisation to conduct scholarly research into human experiences that challenge contemporary scientific models. Its first President was Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), Professor of Moral Philosophy at Trinity College and a man of great standing in intellectual circles. His chief associates in the early stages were Frederic Myers, a classical scholar with wide-ranging interests, and Edmund Gurney, who would develop a pioneering interest in hypnotism and psychological automatisms.

Prominent early members of the SPR included the Balfour brothers: Arthur (Britain’s Prime Minister from 1902-1905), who had been Sidgwick’s pupil at Trinity; and Gerald, a Trinity Classics scholar and later MP and President of the Board of Trade. In 1884 their sister Eleanor, a mathematician, joined the SPR. With Arthur she had been a member of a group set up before the SPR to investigate spiritualism claims. Through the group she met Henry Sidgwick, whom she married in 1876; along with the paranormal, they shared a passion for women’s education. Henry had helped found Newnham College in 1871, of which Eleanor served as Vice Principal, then Principal, and between them they succeeded in enabling women to sit University examinations, although lost their fight to allow them to take degrees. All three Balfours served as President of the SPR: Arthur in 1893; Gerald 1906-1907; and Eleanor 1908-1909 and again later. Another sister, Evelyn, married the Nobel Prize winner (for physics), John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh. He was another graduate of Trinity and became President of the SPR in 1919.

Shortly after its creation the SPR created a methodological and administrative framework, including a scholarly journal in which psychical research could be reported and debated worldwide, to which the Sidgwicks and the Balfours made significant contributions. In July 1882 another Balfour sibling, Francis, was killed while climbing Mont Blanc. He was 30 and regarded as a brilliant biologist, a successor to Darwin. Francis appears in psychical research literature as a communicator in an important case investigated by the SPR, ‘The Palm Sunday Case’, which focussed on Arthur Balfour and his dead lover.

Gerald Balfour’s wife, Elizabeth, was a granddaughter of Edward Bulwer Lytton. Evidence of Bulwer Lytton’s interest in the occult can be seen in the gothic and sometimes unsettling features of his home, Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, still occupied by his descendants. Eleanor Sidgwick’s active involvement in the SPR continued into the 1930s, long after Henry’s death in 1900. The SPR continues to be active today, promoting and supporting the main areas of psychical research.

© Jane Dismore, January 2017 (Please reference as follows: Jane Dismore ‘The Cambridge Psychics’ https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

The author is a freelance writer and biographer. Details of her work can be found at www.janedismore.com . She was briefly a member of the SPR while at Cambridge. More information on Eleanor Sidgwick can be found here.

The Gift

japanese-fan‘My Christmas is a bright one enough, and I have great hopes of a happy New Year.’

The letter Caroline Jebb wrote to her sister on 25 December 1874 was cheerful, but her first Christmas in Cambridge was a pretty miserable one. She missed her family back in west Philadelphia, and the happy chaos of exchanging gifts with her young nieces and nephews. When she sailed to England the previous summer to marry the Classics scholar Richard Jebb, it had seemed at first, she told her sister, ‘just like the novels we read of English life’. Now she was living far from her friends and family in a remote university town, sharing a cold house with a man who was either out at his lectures or in his study working so hard that she rarely saw him.

There were other problems with the marriage. In America, Caroline was used to being in charge of her own finances, living on her U.S. Civil War widow’s pension and a small inheritance, and budgeting carefully. When she moved to England to marry Richard, she was put under pressure by his family to hand over her money to him, in accordance with English law at the time. Richard told her that he was interested in her, not her money, but in any case Caroline was determined to hold on to her financial independence. At the beginning of December she even refused to ask her husband for a loan to buy the winter clothes she badly needed.

‘I never like to mix up my money and Dick’s in any way and I don’t like to borrow from him just now while his balance at the bank is so low. His fellowship comes in some time this month and then if all the bills are once paid I shall see my way clear.’

A week later Richard’s fellowship – the term’s payment for his university teaching – came in, but so did his bills, and Caroline was shocked to discover how much he owed. Richard loved clothes and took pride in his appearance, but paid little attention to how much he could afford. ‘Fancy fourteen pounds for your hair-dresser, twenty to your boot-maker, twenty-seven to your flower-merchant, as many more to your hat-man, &c, just for your little bills,’ she wrote to her sister. Richard loved clothes and fashion, and did not mind borrowing beyond his means. Caroline did, very much.  ‘Think of fifty pounds for piano hire, and the same for cigars, and double that for books!’ In total, the bills came to £500, five times as much as Richard had estimated in their marriage settlement the previous August, and much more than he earned for his lectures.

Caroline’s way of punishing him was to refuse to allow him to spend money on her. On Christmas Day they exchanged politely restrained gifts: she presented him with a gold pencil for his waistcoat pocket, and he gave her a butter dish. She would not permit anything more. But on Boxing Day, Caroline’s birthday, Richard managed to find a way around the financial embargo and presented her with an enormous Japanese black satin fan. Caroline could not resist. ‘These fans are all the fashion in London, nobody carries anything else,’ she told her sister. The craze for all things Japanese, known as japonisme, had spread from Paris to England. A few months later, in May 1875, Arthur Liberty would open his department store on Regent Street selling ornaments, fabric and rare objects from Japan and the East. Richard’s gift of a Japanese fan shows how far he was ahead of mainstream fashion, and how even though they were both ‘as poor as church mice’ that Christmas, he knew that she would love it. More importantly, he promised to hand over control of all money matters to her, which for Caroline was the best gift she could have wished for.

Ann Kennedy Smith

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘The Gift’ https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

Sources: Lady Caroline Lane Reynolds Slemmer Jebb Papers at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts; Mary Reed Bobbitt With Dearest Love to All: The Life and Letters of Lady Jebb (Faber & Faber, 1960); ‘The Victorian vision of China and Japan’ at the Victorian & Albert Museum here. Mimi Matthews has written blogs on  Victorian gifts here and Japanese fashion here. Lesley Downer’s novel The Shogun’s Queen examines the darker aspects of the 19th century’s ‘opening of Japan’ here.