Papers of Helen Bentwich

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 7HBE
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      7 A boxes, 1 OS box and 4 OS items

Scope and Content

The archive consists of correspondence, notebooks and diaries, press cuttings, photographs and other papers. The papers include diaries of Helen's youthful travels in Bosnia and Dalmatia with her family and also some documents pertaining to her later political career. The majority of the collection, however, consists of correspondence: over 2,000 individual letters, spanning the period from around 1914 until the 1960s and documenting many aspects of Helen's life and career. Letters written to Helen's mother from Cairo during the First World War illuminate the British community in the Middle East and the history of Palestine during the conflict. Letters written to Norman give insights into the land army, work at Woolwich Arsenal and trade union activity and also contain information about Hugh Franklin and his suffrage activities at this date. The long and detailed letters to Helen's mother from Jerusalem, 1919-1932 document the history of the British Mandate as well as the evolution of Helen's personal attitude towards Palestine, Jerusalem and the Jewish nation itself. There are frequent references to the political situation and to figures such as Balfour and Herbert Samuel, along with personal observations about every-day life.

Administrative / Biographical History

Helen Caroline Bentwich née Franklin (1892-1972) was the daughter of Arthur Ellis Franklin (1857-1938), senior partner in the banking house of A Keyser and Co., leader of the New West End Synagogue, and brother-in-law of the Liberal cabinet minister, Herbert Samuel, and Caroline Franklin née Jacob. Helen's brother was the suffrage campaigner, Hugh Franklin (1889-1962); her niece was the scientist Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958). Helen trained in social work at Bedford College and ran a Girl Guide unit in the East End and a Jewish Girls' Club in Soho, London. During a visit to Egypt with her parents in 1910 she met her future husband, Norman de Mattos Bentwich (1883-1971). Norman, who had been educated at Cambridge and called to the bar in 1908, worked for the Egyptian Ministry of Justice until the outbreak of war in 1914 when he joined the British Army in Egypt and took part in the conquest of Jerusalem. The couple married in 1915. During the First World War Helen undertook a variety of work: in a hospital; at Woolwich Arsenal - from which she was dismissed for her trade union activity; and as an organiser of the Land Girls. In 1918 Norman became legal secretary to the British military administration in Palestine and, after the establishment of the Mandate in 1922, the country's first Attorney-General. Helen lived with him in Jerusalem until 1929 when his position, as an official and a Jew, became increasingly difficult; they returned to London, and Norman retired from the Colonial service in 1931. He became Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University in 1932 and was active in many spheres, including serving as director of the League of Nations high commission for refugees from Germany (1933-1935). He also served in the Ministry of Information during World War II and was involved in the National Peace Council (1944-1946). In the inter-war and post-war years Helen was active in Labour politics and stood for Parliament, although she was never elected. However, she was prominent on the London County Council (LCC), of which she became chair in 1956. Helen died in 1972.


The Women's Library arrangement of loose papers.

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 by Jennifer Glynn, niece of Helen Bentwich, in 2001

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library online catalogue

Related Material

Papers of Hugh Franklin, her brother, are also held by The Women's Library (7HFD). Papers of her husband Norman Bentwich are held by various repositories including St. Antony's College, Oxford, Southampton University Library (MS 137), and Warwick University Modern Records Centre (MS 157). Franklin family papers are held at Southampton University Library (MS 120) and papers of Herbert Samuel relating to Palestine and Zionism are held at the Israel State Archives. The Papers of Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-1958), crystallographer and Helen's niece, are held at the Churchill Archives Centre (GBR/0014/FRKN). Letters of Dulcie Sassoon (nee Franklin, Helen's cousin) are held at the British Library (Add. Mss 75285-75294)


Some of the letters contained within the collection have been edited and published in Jenifer Glynn, ‘Tidings from Zion: Helen Bentwich's letters from Jerusalem 1919-1931' (IB Tauris 2000). 'Mandate Memories' published jointly with Norman Bentwich (Hogarth Press 1965)

Geographical Names