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.