How to use a library

 

img_1916It’s September, and the new students are starting to arrive. Anglia Ruskin University on the city’s busy East Road is already buzzing with life, and the Cambridge University students will soon follow. Spending time in the library may not be a priority for the freshers, but when they do find their way into one, most will need advice from a librarian.

When her husband Alfred Marshall, a Professor of Economics at Cambridge University, died in 1924, Mary Paley Marshall was 74. Her friends assumed that she would devote her remaining years to her beloved water-colour painting. But Mary had other ideas.

Alfred had left money and his large collection of economics books to the university, and a library was established in his honour. Mary immediately donated £1,000 of her own money towards it, and arranged to pay £250 a year to maintain the library. Then she proposed that she herself should be employed there on an unpaid basis. After all, who knew the collection better? For years she and Alfred had welcomed students into their home on leafy Madingley Road to drink tea, discuss economics and leave with armfuls of borrowed books.

So, at the age of 75, Mary went to work as ‘Honorary Assistant Librarian’ at the Marshall Library of Economics. Every weekday morning she would cycle along the college Backs to the library’s original premises on Downing Street, easily recognizable by her striking profile, colourful scarves and the ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ sandals that she wore in all weathers.

Sitting at the library’s front desk, she would greet each student by name and offer suggestions about books and articles to consult. The historian G.M. Trevelyan said that ‘nothing escaped her clear, penetrating and truthful eye’. Mary’s favourite job was carefully cataloguing the books by author and subject on handwritten index cards in the special ‘brown boxes’, for many years the library’s main catalogue.

She only gave up her job at 87 when her doctor, fearful of her cycling in increasing Cambridge traffic, insisted on it. When she died two years later she left £10,000 to the University, ‘for the development and increased usefulness of the Marshall Library’.

Nowadays, the Marshall Library’s website has online induction sessions for new students, teaching them about how to navigate both the collection and the online cataloguing system. But when they visit the library, now housed in a modern building on Sidgwick Avenue, most freshers will still ask a librarian for advice. And as they walk up the stairs with their books, the students will see two portraits watching over them: Alfred on one side, and Mary on the other.

Mary Paley Marshall (1850-1944) was one of Cambridge’s earliest female students and the first to sit for the final year exams. She was the UK’s first woman lecturer in economics, and taught at Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge universities before dedicating herself, unacknowledged, to helping her husband Alfred Marshall to write his economics books. In 1927 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bristol University in recognition of the part she played in breaking down prejudice in women’s higher education.

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘How to use a library’, The Cambridge Women’s Dining Club (September 23, 2016), https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/ (Accessed: day/month/year).

 Sources: My thanks to C.L. Trowell, Marshall Librarian, for her generous assistance; any remaining errors are my own. I consulted Mary Paley Marshall’s letters and documents at Newnham College, Cambridge and the Marshall papers at the Marshall Library; Mary Paley Marshall’s memoir, What I remember (CUP, 1947); The Newnham Letter, Jan 1928; and the ‘History of the Marshall Library’ at: http://www.marshall.econ.cam.ac.uk/library-guide/history (accessed 22/9/16). The photograph of Mary Paley Marshall receiving her honorary doctorate from Bristol (Marshall Library Archive: Marshall Papers Box 10: 10/4/28) is reproduced with permission of the Marshall Librarian.

 

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

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)