Jane Harrison Collection

Scope and Content

This Collection of 24 boxes comprises the papers of and about Jane Harrison collected after her death principally by Hope Mirrlees and Jessie Stewart, former students of Harrison, for the writing of a biography. All the letters written by Harrison can be found in Series 1. Most important is the collection of over 800 letters to Gilbert Murray and Lady Mary Murray that form the basis of Jessie Stewart's 'Jane Ellen Harrison: A Portrait from Letters' (1959) and were then given to Newnham College. There are also Mirrlees' and Stewart's own letters from Harrison, their manuscripts and drafts for potential biographies, and all the papers and letters they collected by or about Harrison from friends, colleagues and relations. Included are letters from Harrison to Frances Cornford, Ruth Darwin, DS MacColl, and Prince Dimitri Mirsky. Letters from other Russians can be found in Hope Mirrlees papers. There is the manuscript of 'Mythology: Our Debt to Greece and Rome', lecture notes and flyers, an annotated copy of 'Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens' and many off-prints. Few photographs exist, but Harrison's lantern slide collection that she used in lectures is represented by 220 glass slides. There are other materials sent to the College by former students of Harrison as well as contributions from current scholars. (Jane Harrison destroyed her own papers and letters in 1922 when she left Cambridge to live in Paris.)

Administrative / Biographical History

Jane Ellen Harrison was born on 9 September 1850 in Cottingham, Yorkshire, the third daughter of Charles Harrison, timber merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Hawksley Nelson, who died of puerperal fever within a month of Jane's birth. She was educated at home by a succession of governesses until at the age of 17 she was sent to Cheltenham Ladies College to complete her education, gaining a First Class Certificate in 1869. After leaving Cheltenham in 1870, Jane Harrison returned home to her family to teach her younger siblings. In 1874 she passed the Cambridge University Examination for Women and won a scholarship to Newnham College, just three years after it was founded. In the Classical Tripos examinations of 1879 she was placed in the second class, and thus failed to get the College lectureship in classics that she had hoped for. From 1879 on for almost 20 years she was based in London where she studied archaeology under Sir Charles Newton at the British Museum, and did a great deal of travelling, visiting archaeological sites in Greece, and museums throughout Europe. She also lectured on Greek art. In 1882 she published 'Myths of the Odyssey in Art and Literature', followed in 1885 by 'Introductory Studies in Greek Art', which grew out of her lectures at the British Museum. After returning from a tour of Greece and Turkey with DS MacColl in 1888, she began work on a commentary to Margaret Verrall's new translation of the first book of Pausanias, 'on Attica'. This resulted in 'Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens' in 1890. In collaboration with MacColl, 'Greek Vase Paintings' was published in 1894. As her reputation as a classical scholar grew, Jane Harrison received honorary degrees from the Universities of Aberdeen (LLD) and Durham (D.Litt) in 1895 and 1897 respectively. In 1898 Jane Harrison returned to Cambridge as lecturer in classical archaeology at Newnham College and then became the College's first Research Fellow; her position on the staff of Newnham was renewed continuously until her retirement in 1922. Harrison's research now centred on the history of Greek religion, in which she frequently collaborated with Gilbert Murray, Francis Cornford and to a lesser extent, AB Cook. Her two most important publications were 'Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion', 1903, and 'Themis, a Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion', 1912. The First World War changed forever the scholarly lives and interests of Jane Harrison and her group. In 1915 she published a collection of pamphlets and lectures written between 1909 and 1914 'Alpha and Omega', several of which were autobiographical. That same year, whilst visiting her heart specialist in Paris, she enrolled in a course of Russian at the nearby Ecole des Langes Orientales. Russian language, literature and refugees now became the focus of her energies; she taught Russian for three years at Newnham after the end of the war. 'Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion', 1921, which summed up her two major works, was her last book on the history of Greek religion. In 1922, at the age of seventy-two, she retired from Newnham, burnt all her papers and letters, dispersed her library, and moved to Paris to live with her former student and companion, Hope Mirrlees (born 1887). Together they continued to study Russian and published translations from Russian works: 'The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum' (1924) and 'The Book of the Bear' (1926). Harrison also wrote a memoir, 'Reminiscences of a Student's Life', published in 1925. As her health continued to deteriorate, they moved back to England, in 1926. She died of leukaemia at home in London on 15 April 1928


The papers have been divided into 6 series, with subseries and files, each of which has a detailed description of its contents. (This catalogue covers only series and subseries levels; a full catalogue is available at Newnham College Archives). All the letters from Harrison to Gilbert and Mary Murray, Hope Mirrlees, and Jessie Stewart, together with those to others that Mirrlees and Stewart collected, have been made into Series 1. Series 2 contains manuscript material of Harrison, proofs, and an annotated copy of "Mythology and Monuments". (Printed items can also be found in Hope Mirrlees Papers and Jessie Stewart Papers.) The few photographs of Harrison are in Series 3, together with the glass slide collection that she used in lectures. Hope Mirrlees Papers, Series 4, consist of the materials she obtained on Harrison and her own writings on her life, as do those of Jessie Stewart, Series 5, including correspondence with Mirrlees. Series 6, Additional Papers, are writings on Harrison donated by current scholars. Jane Harrison rarely dated her letters. In most case dates have been added either from internal evidence or personal knowledge by Jessie Stewart and/or Hope Mirrlees. Many still remain without dates, but are in the chronological order that Stewart and Mirrlees imposed. Harrison often took Newnham College stationery with her when travelling, or picked up stationery from her hosts' houses, so it should not be assumed that the address on the letters was where she actually was when writing. Harrison frequently signed her letters JEH: this abbreviation has been used throughout the catalogue to refer to her, as have GM (Gilbert Murray), MM (Mary Murray), HM (Hope Mirrlees), JS (Jessie Stewart).

Access Information

For access to the Collection, contact the College Archivist, Newnham College, Cambridge.

Acquisition Information

The papers of Jessie Stewart (nee Crum) on Jane Harrison, including the letters from Harrison to Gilbert and Mary Murray, were donated to the College by her in 1964. Additional Stewart material, mostly concerning "JEH: A Portrait from Letters", were donated by her daughter, Jean Pace, in 1992. Hope Mirrlees donated all the papers she had collected on Harrison, including her own attempts at a biography, in 1973. In 1991 Christopher Cornford donated the letters from JEH to his mother, Frances Cornford (nee Darwin).

Other Finding Aids

Online finding aid via JANUS

Archivist's Note

Collection description by Catherine Burke, Genesis Project Officer; edited and updated by Patricia Ackerman, Project Archivist, Newnham College 2002.

Submitted to the Archives Hub as part of Genesis 2009 Project.

Conditions Governing Use

limited photocopying is permitted within the terms of copyright legislation, although copying of some items including fragile material is at the discretion of the College Archivist.

Corporate Names

Geographical Names