Papers of Elsie Edith Bowerman

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of diaries, photographs of work with Scottish Women's Hospitals, Bowerman's passport with portrait photograph, and personal correspondence (1909-1948), mainly with her mother during (1910-1911) and during her time with the Scottish Women's Hospitals unit in Rumania and Russia (1916-1917) during the First World War.

Administrative / Biographical History

Elsie Edith Bowerman (1889-1973) was born in Tunbridge Wells on 18 Dec 1889. She was the daughter of William Bowerman and his wife Edith Martha Barber. Her father died soon afterwards and her mother subsequently remarried a Mr Chibnall. Bowerman was sent to be educated at Wycombe Abbey Church of England girls' boarding school in Buckinghamshire and left there in 1907 for a period in Paris before going to Cambridge a year later to read Mediaeval and Modern Languages at Girton College. It was during her time there that she followed her mother into the women's suffrage movement. Both were active members of the militant Women's Social & Political Union. Bowerman passed her Tripos in 1911 and the following year, on 10 Apr 1912, she and her mother took a trip to the United States on the Titanic. Both survived and continued with their journey to British Columbia, the Klondyke and Alaska. In Jul 1916 Bowerman was invited by a colleague from the suffrage movement to go to Serbia as a driver for a Scottish women's hospital unit serving Serbian and Russian armies in Rumania. In Nov 1916 her unit set up a hospital near the Danube before having to swiftly dismantle it as the allies were swept into a retreat to the Russian frontier. She was in St Petersburg in Mar 1917 where she recorded the events she witnessed in the midst of the Russian Revolution. She returned to England in 1917 and immediately undertook speaking tours for the Scottish Women's Hospitals, raising awareness of their work and collecting funds. At the same time she worked for Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst during their campaign for 'industrial peace' in support of the war effort. In 1924 or 1925 she went on to set up the Women's Guild of Empire with Flora Drummond, with the continued aim of promoting co-operation between employers and workers and attacking communism. However, her principal interest was now the law, in which she gained an MA. She was admitted to the Bar in the early twenties and practised until 1938 on the South Eastern Circuit. As the Second World War approached, Bowerman gave up her legal practice to join the Women's Voluntary Services and worked with its founder Lady Reading for 2 years. After a short period at the Ministry of Information she began work with the Overseas Services of the BBC, remaining there for over 3 years. In 1947 she returned to the United States to help set up the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Bowerman suffered a stroke in 1972 and died at home on 18 Oct 1973, aged 83.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

Deposited in the Fawcett Library in 1976 by Kathleen Walpole and N Godfrey.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Related Material

The Women's Library also holds the Papers of Elsie Bowerman (7ELB); the Papers of Vera (Jack) Holme (7VJH); a Scrapbook [relating to the Scottish Women's Hospital] (10/22). The Women's Library Museum Collection holds postcards and photographs related to the Scottish Women's Hospital and of several of the women who served. Similarly the Printed Collections holds additional material such as 'The Scottish Women's Hospital at the French Abbey of Royaumont' by Antonio de Navarro (1917); 'The Little grey partridge : First World War diary of Ishobel Ross who served with the Scottish Women's Hospital Unit in Serbia' introduced by Jess Dixon (1988) as well as biographies of individuals such as 'Dr Elsie Inglis' by Lady Frances Balfour (1918)

Letters and reports of Elsie Inglis as well as correspondence, financial records, subscriptions, personnel files and various committee minutes created by the Scottish Headquarters, as well as reports from overseas units are held in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Additional materials of members of the units is held in various archives: memoirs of Katherine North née Hodges are in the Leeds Russian Archive; the journals of Mary Lee Milne are held by the National Library of Scotland; papers of Lilas Grant and Ethel Moir are in the Edinburgh Central Library; the Lothian Health archives hold the letters of Yvonne Fitzroy.

Geographical Names