Autograph Letter Collection: General and Personal

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/08
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      7 A boxes (7 volumes - 393 items)

Scope and Content

The collection contains letters regarding social engagements, comments on literary works, thank-you notes, discussion of charitable works and current events. It includes letters to and from members of the Fawcett family, Florence Nightingale and Frances Power Cobbe.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Carpenter (1807-1877) was born in Exeter, the daughter of Dr Lant Carpenter. The family soon moved to Bristol. Miss Carpenter spent most of her life working on social projects in Bristol, especially dealing with young offenders. She co-operated with Matthew Davenport-Hill at a conference held in Birmingham 1851, on the subject of the best means of dealing with destitute children and young offenders. In 1853 a second conference resulted in the Bill 'For the better care and reformation of youthful offenders in Great Britain' which became an Act in 1854. In anticipation of the Act Miss Carpenter was largely responsible for the establishment in Bristol of institutions for boys and girls. In 1854 the Kingswood School for Boys (Reformatory) and the Red Lodge Reformatory for Girls were opened. Miss Carpenter also laboured for industrial schools and was active in helping to promote the Bill (passed as an Act in 18557) establishing these schools. In 1864 she published 'Our Convicts' in 2 volumes. In 1866 she became interested in the question of the education of women in India and during the rest of her life she made a substantial contribution to this work. She died on the 14 Jun 1877.

Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904) was a traveller and journalist, who was also a keen promoter of the emancipation of women. Cobbe was an early member of the Kensington Society, the Enfranchisement of Women Committee and later a founder of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and a member of the executive committee of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage. She was also a member of the Married Women's Property Committee. She had strong religious and ethical beliefs on which she also wrote. For some years she was also joint secretary of the National Anti-vivisection Society and was a founding member of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. She visited Italy frequently and spent several seasons at places such as Rome and Florence. She died in 1904.

Henry Fawcett (1833–1884), was born on 26 Aug 1833 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, the third of four children of William Fawcett (1793–1887), a draper, and his wife, Mary Cooper (d. 1889), the daughter of a local solicitor. His family were politically active - his father was Liberal mayor of Salisbury in 1832 and in 1843 Richard Cobden and John Bright stayed with the family whilst campaigning. Fawcett was educated at local schools and at Queenwood College, Hampshire, and from 1849 King's College School, London. In 1852 he entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, but moved to Trinity Hall in 1853. His studies in mathematics secured him election as a fellow of Trinity Hall - a position he retained until his death. In 1854 he entered Lincoln's Inn. However, his career was cut short by a shooting accident in 1858 which left him blind. His political ambitions were not to be thwarted and he began his political career from the unusual position of public speaking and writing rather than through the legal profession. His disability was an issue in his life, it was the 'reason' for his exclusion from the cabinet in 1880, but he sought to overcome it; also, in 1883 he advocated a royal commission on the blind, which sadly did was not created until 1885, a year after his death. In 1859 Fawcett returned to Cambridge and during the 1860s was close friends with Leslie Stephen, though they drifted apart in the 1870s. Fawcett developed his ideas around were Liberal politics, open competition and political economy. In 1861 he became a member of the Political Economy Club. In 1863 he successfully published his Manual of Political Economy, influenced by John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy. In 1863 he became Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge. His publications include The Economic Position of the British Labourer (1865); Pauperism: its Causes and Remedies (1871); Free Trade and Protection (1878); and State Socialism and the Nationalisation of the Land (1883). He was sympathetic to trade unions and was interested in co-operative models of working between employers and employees. He unsuccessfully applied to be Liberal parliamentary candidate in 1860 for Southwark, in 1863 for Cambridge, and in 1864 for Brighton. In 1865 he was successfully elected as the MP for Brighton, a post he held until 1874. From 1874 until his death he was the MP for Hackney. Fawcett was a member of the Commons Preservation Society, and helped to save Epping Forest and the New Forest as open spaces. He was also particularly interested in the administration of India. John Stuart Mill influenced Fawcett's feminist politics as well as in political economics - Fawcett seconded Mill's amendment to the second Reform Bill in May 1867 that would have extended the franchise to women. Fawcett (unsuccessfully) proposed to several prominent feminists of the period including, Bessie Rayner Parkes, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Eleanor Eden. In 1867 he married Millicent Garrett, who proved an intellectual and political equal, and who became a leader of the campaigns for women's suffrage. In 1872 they co-published 'Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects'. They maintained two homes, in Lambeth and in Cambridge, and in 1868 their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born. In 1880 he was appointed Postmaster-General by Gladstone; one of his actions was to open some positions in the Post Office to women. He was elected FRS in 1882 and lord rector of Glasgow University in 1883; he received an honorary DCL from Oxford in 1880, and was made a corresponding member of the Institut de France in 1884. After a brief illness he died from pneumonia in Cambridge on 6 Nov 1884. Subsequently a memorial to Fawcett was set up in the chapel of St George in Westminster Abbey, paid for by national subscription.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was born in Suffolk in 1847, the daughter of Newson and Louisa Garrett and the sister of Samuel Garrett, Agnes Garrett, Louise Smith and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The sisters' early interest in the issue of women's suffrage and commitment to the Liberal party were heightened after attending a speech given in London by John Stuart Mill in Jul 1865. Though considered too young to sign the petition in favour of votes for women, which was presented to the House of Commons in 1866, Millicent attended the debate on the issue in May 1867. This occurred a month after she married the professor of political economy and radical Liberal MP for Brighton, Henry Fawcett. Throughout their marriage, the future cabinet minister supported his wife's activities while she acted as his secretary due to his blindness. Their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born the following year and that same month Millicent Garrett Fawcett published her first article, on the education of women. In Jul 1867, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was asked to join the executive committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and was one of the speakers at its first public meeting two years later. She continued her work with the London National Society until after the death of John Stuart Mill in 1874, when she left the organisation to work with the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. This was a step which she had avoided taking when the latter was formed in 1871 due to its public identification with the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Fawcett, despite her support for the movement's actions, had initially believed that the suffrage movement might be damaged by identification with such controversial work. However, the two groups later merged in 1877 as the new Central Committee for Women's Suffrage and a new executive committee was formed which included Fawcett herself. Her influence helped guide the group towards support for moderate policies and methods. She did little public speaking during this period but after the death of her husband in 1884 and a subsequent period of depression, she was persuaded to become a touring speaker once more in 1886 and began to devote her time to the work of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to women's suffrage Millicent Garrett Fawcett also became involved in the newly created National Vigilance Association, established in 1885, alongside campaigners such as J Stansfeld MP, Mr WT Stead, Mrs Mitchell, and Josephine Butler. In 1894 Fawcett's interest in public morality led her to vigorously campaign against the candidature of Henry Cust as Conservative MP for North Manchester. Cust, who had been known to have had several affairs, had seduced a young woman. Despite marrying Cust's marriage in 1893, after pressure from Balfour, Fawcett felt Cust was unfit for public office. Fawcett's campaign persisted until Cust's resignation in 1895, with some suffrage supporters concerned by Fawcett's doggedness in what they felt was a divisive campaign. In the late nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement was closely identified with the Liberal Party through its traditional support for their work and the affiliation of many workers such as Fawcett herself. However, the party was, at this time, split over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. Fawcett herself left the party to become a Liberal Unionist and helped lead the Women's Liberal Unionist Association. When it was proposed that the Central Committee's constitution should be changed to allow political organisations, and principally the Women's Liberal Federation, to affiliate, Fawcett opposed this and became the Honorary Treasurer when the majority of members left to form the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage. However, in 1893 she became one of the leading members of the Special Appeal Committee that was formed to repair the divisions in the movement. On the 19 Oct 1896 she was asked to preside over the joint meetings of the suffrage societies, which resulted in the geographical division of the country and the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was appointed as the honorary secretary of the Central and Eastern Society that year and became a member of the parliamentary committee of the NUWSS itself. It was not until the parent group's reorganisation in 1907 that she was elected president of the National Union, a position that she would retain until 1919. By 1901, she was already eminent enough to be one of the first women appointed to sit on a Commission of Inquiry into the concentration camps created for Boer civilians by the British during the Boer War. Despite this, her work for suffrage never slackened and she was one of the leaders of the Mud March held in Feb 1907 as well as of the NUWSS procession from Embankment to the Albert Hall in Jun 1908. She became one of the Fighting Fund Committee in 1912 and managed the aftermath of the introduction of the policy, in particular during the North West Durham by-election in 1914, when other members opposed a step that effectively meant supporting the Labour Party when an anti-suffrage Liberal candidate was standing in a constituency. When the First World War broke out in Aug 1914, Fawcett called for the suspension of the NUWSS' political work and a change in activities to facilitate war work. This stance led to divisions in the organisation. The majority of its officers and ten of the executive committee resigned when she vetoed their attendance of a Women's Peace Congress in the Hague in 1915. However, she retained her position in the group. During the war, she also found time to become involved in the issue of women's social, political and educational status in India, an area in which she had become interested through her husband and retained after the conflict came to an end. She remained at the head of the NUWSS when the women's suffrage clause was added to the Representation of the People Act in 1918 and attended the Women's Peace Conference in Paris before lobbying the governments assembled there for the Peace Conference in 1919. She retired in Mar 1919 when the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship but remained on its executive committee. She also continued her activities as the vice-president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, to which she had been elected in 1902, for another year. After this she became the Chair of the journal, the 'Women's Leader', and appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1925. It was in that year that she resigned from both NUSEC and the newspaper's board after opposing the organisation's policy in support of family allowances. She remained active until the end of her life, undertaking a trip to the Far East with her sister Agnes only a short time before her death in 1929.

Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954) was a politician active in the campaign for women's suffrage. He was educated at Eton College, and at Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied mathematics and natural sciences. He later studied law and was called to the bar in 1899. After marriage to Emmeline Pethick in 1901 he appended her maiden name to his own surname Lawrence. He was a leading member of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) from 1907-1912, founded and edited the periodical 'Votes for Women' alongside his wife, and was imprisoned and suffered forcible feeding for the women's suffrage cause in 1912. Originally a Liberal Unionist candidate (for North Lambeth in 1901), Pethick-Lawrence had a lifelong involvement in the Labour Party, defeating Winston Churchill to become Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for West Leicester (1923-1931) and later working as MP for Edinburgh East and for the Treasury. He was a leading Labour spokesman on economics. A supporter of Indian self-government, he became secretary of state for India, with a seat in the House of Lords in 1945. After his wife's death in 1954 he married Helen McCombie (née Millar) in 1957, who had also been a militant suffragette. He died in 1961.


The letters have been arranged into seven parts. A. 1800-1873 B. 1874-1887 C. 1888-1899 D. 1900-1909 E. 1910-1920 F. 1921-1929 G. 1930-1972

Access Information

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

Other Finding Aids

Abstracts of individual letters in the autograph letters collection were written and held alongside the letters. This work was done from the 1960s by volunteers including Nan Taylor. In 2004 Jean Holder completed a 3 year project to list the letters, copy-type the abstracts, and repackage the letters to meet preservation needs. In 2005 Vicky Wylde and Teresa Doherty proof read and imported the entries to the Special Collections Catalogue.

The original card index of all correspondents, including date of letter & volume reference, is available on the microfiche.

Alternative Form Available

A copy of this archive is available on microfilm held at The Women's Library.

Custodial History

This collection consists of letters taken from various sources and filed individually in ring binders. The original source of the item (often from archive collections) is not generally indicated.

Related Material

Also held at The Women's Library are the personal papers of Millicent Garrett Fawcett (7MGA). Other collections within Strand 9 (Autograph Letters) may also be of interest.