Papers of Ruth Cavendish Bentinck

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of letters and articles written by Ruth Cavendish-Bentinck, press cuttings and articles relating to the suffrage movement, press cuttings and manuscript notes on women's employment, a drawing of and letter from George Bernard Shaw.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ruth Mary Cavendish-Bentinck (1867-1953) was born Ruth St Maur in Tangiers in 1867. She was the illegitimate daughter of Viscount Ferdinand St Maur, the eldest son of the Duke of Somerset, and a half-gypsy kitchen maid. Her father died in 1869 and her mother went on to marry. Consequently the Duke and Duchess of Somerset raised the child themselves and Ruth was brought up in the English aristocracy. She was brought up within the family home and on her grandmother's death was left an endowment of £80,000. Despite this, by 1887, she was already a committed Fabian Socialist.She energetically supported the cause of socialism, and later that of women's suffrage, throughout her life. In 1887 she married Frederick Cavendish-Bentinck, the grandson of Lord Frederick Bentinck, who was himself a rich man until the death of his father, who left the couple was considerable inherited debts to pay off. She joined the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1909 and the Fabian Women's Group the following year, when she also published 'The Point Of Honour: A Correspondence On Aristocracy And Socialism'. She become part of the Fabian suffrage unit in 1912 and was able to use her social connections for political ends: for instance, she was able to persuade Bernard Shaw to intervene to have Gladys Evans released from prison in Dublin. That same year she was an organiser of the Women's March from Edinburgh to London and went on to become the secretary of the 'Qui Vive Corps'. However, like a number of members of the WSPU, she became alarmed at the rightward drift of the group and its increasingly violent tactics under the Pankhursts. Therefore, 1912 was also the year when she left the group for the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She was one of the first members of the Election Fighting Fund Committee that promised support to any party officially supporting suffrage in an election where the candidate was challenging an anti-suffrage Liberal. This in effect meant the NUWSS supporting the Labour Party in elections. While this disturbed many NUWSS members, it was fully supported by Cavendish-Bentinck who, on behalf of the Fabian Women's Group, approached the other members of the 'Qui Vive Corps' to start a propaganda campaign amongst the miners of Staffordshire and Derbyshire around this time. In 1913 she took on more activities, becoming an organiser of the Northern Men's Federation for Women's Suffrage and the following year published an article in the 'Women's Dreadnought'. By 1917 she had become a member of the executive committee of the United Suffragists. The main work for which she is remembered is the creation in 1909 of a subscription library of feminist materials open for the use of any individuals working for women's suffrage. She remained actively involved when the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies took it over, along with the Edward Wright Library, in 1918 and it became one of the core collections of the Women's Service Library (now the Women's Library) when it was gifted to them in 1931. Ruth Cavendish-Bentinck died in 1953.

Arrangement

The archive had been sorted and listed by library staff, c.1960. The current arrangement of the archive is based on, but modifies, this earlier arrangement.

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

Unknown [Fawcett Library Accession Registers to be checked]

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue

Custodial History

Provenance unknown. Probably donated to the library in the 1950s.

Related Material

The Women's Library also holds the Cavendish-Bentinck Library collection and further correspondence of Ruth Cavendish Bentinck in the Autograph Letter Collection.