Kathleen and Virginia


‘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 Guardian, a weekly clerical journal for governesses, maiden ladies and high-church parsons. 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 Kathleen Lyttelton, pictured left, the 47-year old editor of the Guardian‘s women’s pages. Although her name is little known today, we should pay tribute to her as the woman who set Virginia Woolf on her published writing career.

Kathleen, formally 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 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, she 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 was forced to move, but 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 Virginia. 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. Bills needed 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, more importantly, establishing herself as a writer.

It was Violet who suggested that Virginia send an essay to Kathleen Lyttelton. Violet knew the Lyttelton family well 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 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 ‘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.’ (Curiously, the editors of Virginia Woolf’s Letters and Essays, along with subsequent 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, she was understandably frustrated when she 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 and the 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.


Caroline’s War (Part 2)


From January until April 1861 Lieutenant Adam Slemmer and his garrison defended Fort Pickens in Florida against repeated attempts by the Southern militia to seize it. They had a pretty miserable time of it. The dilapidated old fort, on tiny Santa Rosa Island in the Gulf of Mexico, was infested with rattlesnakes and vipers and food supplies were limited. When the long awaited federal reinforcements arrived, many of the men were suffering from scurvy.

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour 600 miles away, which was seized by Confederate forces after a fierce battle in April 1861. Thanks to Adam and his men, Fort Pickens was one of the few Southern forts retained by the North throughout the Civil War, and was an important naval base during the blockade of the Southern states.

Back in Washington, Caroline Slemmer was disappointed to discover after the siege that her husband had not been promoted, especially since less experienced men were being given commissions in the hastily formed new military regiments. On 10 May 1861 she wrote to President Abraham Lincoln directly about it, and was given an appointment to see him.

Accompanied by her two brothers-in-law, Caroline went along to the arranged interview. The president was busy working at his writing table, and they found it difficult to get his attention. So she did something very simple and very effective. She moved closer, put her hand lightly on his shoulder, and gently spoke to him about her husband’s bravery at Fort Pickens. Lincoln looked up, placed his hand on hers for a moment, and listened.

Adam Slemmer was made a Major soon afterwards. In the Abraham Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress there is a list in Lincoln’s handwriting of the names of the officers he wished to promote in July 1861. After the name Lieutenant Slemmer, Lincoln has scribbled a note: ‘his pretty wife says a Major or First Captain.’ Caroline had managed to charm the most important man in the land.

Sources: Lady Caroline Lane Slemmer Reynolds Jebb Papers at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA; Mary Reed Bobbitt With Dearest Love to All: The Life and Letters of Lady Jebb (London: Faber, 1960); Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece: The Cambridge Childhood of Darwin’s Granddaughter (London: Faber 1960). The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress for July 1861 can be found here.

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Caroline’s War (Part 2)’ https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

‘Written with the heart’s blood’: Ellen Darwin and Amy Levy


In summer 1888 Ellen Darwin told her sister-in-law Ida that her friend Amy Levy was coming to visit. She confided that she had some concerns about Amy’s new novel:

‘She has written a novel, in which the heroine is partly me. I have not read it yet, but I don’t expect much: her stories and novels are rather saddening.’

Reuben Sachs: A Sketch, Amy Levy’s second novel, was published a few months later. It attracted controversy, both for its satirical depiction of an affluent Anglo-Jewish community and its critique of the Victorian marriage market. It is also a poignant love story about two people who love each other, but money and ambition get in the way.

Ellen Darwin was not Jewish, and her Yorkshire upbringing was very different from the fictional Judith Quixano’s Portuguese connections. Why did Amy have Ellen in mind when she wrote about Judith? Possibly Ellen shared Judith’s  beauty and ‘deep, serious gaze of the wonderful eyes’ as seen in the photograph above; certainly she had her passionate nature and her almost austere adherence to truthfulness.

Ellen and Amy met almost ten years earlier at Newnham, the new women’s college in Cambridge. Ellen Crofts, as she was then, was 25 and the college’s only lecturer, teaching history and English literature; before that she had been one of its first students. Amy Levy, the second Jewish woman to study at Cambridge, was 17 and had already shown early promise as a writer.

Two years later, Amy left Cambridge without taking her final exams. Perhaps this was because she wanted to devote more time to her writing: her first poetry collection, Xantippe and Other Verse, published while she was still a student, had been generously praised. But Amy also suffered from bouts of clinical depression and was often deeply unhappy at Cambridge. Ellen Crofts, her young tutor, was the one of the few people that she could turn to for sympathy, and, according to a contemporary, encouragement to keep on writing:

 ‘…she from the first recognized genius in a student who, extremely unpopular, was shunned by co-mates and dons alike until Ellen made a friend of her, and so helped to draw out talents that the literary world have since acknowledged.’

Was Amy this unpopular, unhappy student, and Ellen her only friend and literary champion? It seems very likely.

Ellen and Amy’s friendship continued after Amy left Cambridge. Ellen married Frank Darwin and left her lecturing post at Newnham, but stayed in Cambridge. Their daughter Frances was born in 1886. Amy moved back to her parents’ house in Bloomsbury and published poetry, short stories and articles. After Oscar Wilde read a short story of hers in 1887 he declared that it had ‘a touch of genius’ and commissioned more work from her, including her article ‘Women and Club Life’ for Woman’s World, the magazine that he edited. In 1888, Amy’s first novel The Romance of a Shop was published, and she was among the 20 leading female authors invited to take part in the first Women’s Literary Dinner at Piccadilly in May 1889, an annual event until 1914.

Amy had achieved literary success, but not the emotional stability she craved, and just over three months later she took her own life, aged 27. Her last poetry collection, A London Plane-Tree and Other Verse, was published soon after she died, and in January 1890 Ellen Darwin reviewed it for the Cambridge Review. Although this poetry’s range is narrow, Ellen writes, its power comes from ‘the personal struggle for life and joy continually beaten back’, and she compares Amy Levy’s poetry to that of Emily Bronte:

‘It is as different as their natures were different, but it has this one thing in common – it was written with the heart’s blood.’

Perhaps Ellen knew better than anyone Amy’s ‘eager vital temperament’, and her constant, heroic struggle to live under the shadow of depression.

Sources: My thanks to Anne Thomson and Newnham College for permission to reproduce Ellen Darwin’s photograph (Newnham PH/10/4 Chrystal Album no.2), and for access to the archives. For more on Amy Levy, see Eleanor Fitzsimons’s excellent Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew (Duckworth Overlook, 2015) and blog article here. I also consulted Ellen’s letter to Ida Darwin at the Cambridge University Library (Add.9368.1:3543); Linda Hunt Beckman, Amy Levy: her life and letters (Ohio, 2000); B.A. Clough, ‘In Memoriam-Ellen Wordsworth Darwin’ Newnham College Roll Newsletter 1903; Ellen Darwin, ‘The Poems of Amy Levy’, Cambridge Review, 23 Jan 1890; and ‘Amy Levy’ on the Victorian Web here. The Persephone Books website has more information on Amy and links to her books herePlease reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Written with the heart’s blood: Ellen Darwin and Amy Levy'(October 14, 2016) https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

Fictional speculations

I recently reviewed two new books for the ‘Bookbuzz’ section of the book reviews website Shiny New Books here. Natasha Walter’s A Quiet Life and Gavin McCrea’s Mrs Engels are both novels that draw their inspiration from their authors’ research into the lives of real women, but re-imagine their stories in brilliant fictional ways.

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


‘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)


Finding Ida Darwin

‘she never let her vision become thickened and fogged, as most people do…Only some things were too terrible for her to look at, or tell’ Gwen Raverat, Period Piece

IMG_0903Just a mile or two south of Cambridge, after you pass the imposing gates of Fulbourn Hospital, there is a road to the left with a small sign marked ‘Ida Darwin’. It’s easy to miss. Turn in and you’ll find various single-storey prefabricated buildings scattered about in a leafy park, including a creche, a ‘Help the Aged’ centre, and clinics specializing in helping young people with mental health issues and their families. Block 10 is the home of Headway Cambridgeshire, an organization which supports people with an acquired brain injury and their carers. I went there this summer to meet a group who are researching the life of Ida Darwin, the woman the site is named after.

Ida was born in London in 1854, the daughter of the influential civil servant Lord Thomas Farrer and Frances, a renowned singer. She grew up in a world of Victorian culture and privilege. Her father was a keen amateur botanist and a close friend of the great naturalist Charles Darwin, and in 1880 Ida married Darwin’s youngest son Horace, an inventor. They moved to Cambridge, where Horace began a business making equipment for the new scientific laboratories.

In Period Piece (1952) Ida’s niece Gwen Raverat describes Cambridge of the time as ‘a society which was still small and exclusive. The town of course didn’t count at all.’ This was not true in Ida’s case. Being in a university town brought her into contact with women who shared her zeal for education and strong sense of social awareness. Inspired by the social reformer and feminist Josephine Butler, she and other like-minded wives formed an association to offer support to town girls who were being drawn into prostitution or suffering neglect or abuse.

Her work with disadvantaged girls led to her growing interest in the people who were termed ‘feeble-minded’. Along with an influential pressure group of scientists and public figures she campaigned for legislation to ensure improved mental health provision, and succeeded. The Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 was the first act by the British government specifically related to services for people with learning disabilities. At the time it was associated with the powerful eugenics lobby, with influential cabinet member Winston Churchill lending his support.

Ida was opposed to Churchill’s call for enforced sterilization, and sought a more humane approach. At the end of the First World War, she read about the ‘talking cure’ pioneered by her friend Dr Rivers for officers suffering from shell shock, now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. She invited him to Cambridge to discuss how early intervention and counselling could help remove the stigma associated with mental breakdown.

In the 1920s Ida helped to organize one of the country’s first outpatient psychiatric clinics at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. She was co-founder of the Central Association for Mental Welfare, one of the three groups that formed the national mental welfare organization now known as Mind.

In 1970 the Ida Darwin Hospital at Fulbourn near Cambridge was officially opened, offering services for mentally disabled children. It was named after Ida in recognition of her work. No longer a hospital, it now combines NHS residential care for young people and their families with other community services.

The 1960s buildings are badly in need of repair, and negotiations for developing the site are underway. It may be turned into new housing, meaning that Headway Cambridgeshire and the other clinics would be moved elsewhere. When the builders move in, the name of Ida Darwin may disappear in the rubble.

With thanks to the Headway Heritage group at Headway Cambridgeshire.

Sources: The Darwin Archive at the University Library, Cambridge; ‘Who was Ida Darwin?’ http://www.headway-cambs.org.uk/who-was-ida-darwin/ (accessed August 25 2016); Gwen Raverat, Period Piece (Faber, 1952); Ruth Rees Thomas, ‘Ida Darwin 1854-1946’ Focus (magazine of Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge) summer edition 1970.

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Finding Ida Darwin’, (August 25, 2016) https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

See also: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Ida Darwin and the dangerous girl’ athttp://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/06/23/ida-darwin/ (accessed August 25 2016)