Papers of Naomi Mitchison

Scope and Content

Diaries, writings and papers relating to Botswana, 1955-1972. Much of the material relates to the period 1966-1972.

Administrative / Biographical History

Naomi Mitchison was born in Scotland in 1897, the daughter of the physiologist John Haldane (1892-1964). She studied science at Oxford and, in 1916, married the barrister Gilbert Mitchison (1890-1970). Gilbert ('Dick') Mitchison shared his wife's socialist beliefs and was later Labour MP for Kettering (1945-1964). He was made a life peer (Baron Mitchison of Carradale) in 1964.

Mitchison herself was a prolific author and completed over ninety works in her lifetime. These included historical and contemporary novels, poetry, plays, short stories, children's and fantasy fiction, and a set of memoirs. Politically active in the 1930s when she stood as a Labour Party candidate for the Scottish Universities in 1935, advocacy - especially of women's rights but also in respect of Scottish island communities - remained an important part of her life. She travelled widely and had a particular interest in African affairs. Africa provided a setting for some of her novels. In 1963 she was made a tribal adviser ('Mmarona' or 'mother') to the Bakgatla of Botswana. The close relationship with this tribal community began when, having been stranded while travelling, the chief offered her hospitality. A lasting relationship with the Bakgatla developed from this and she continuted to visit even in her later years.

Conditions Governing Access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including the Data Protection Act 1998.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated by Mitchison to the University of York.

Other Finding Aids

Anne Akeroyd and Colin Lunt (eds), A Guide to the Southern African Archives in the University of York, (York, 1979).

A typescript catalogue, to file level, is available for consultation in the Borthwick Institute's searchrooms.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Dr Charles Fonge, September 2010.

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute, University of York's terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.


Further accruals are not expected.

Related Material

Further papers belonging to Mitchison and relating to Botswana, 1964-1974, are held by the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London (reference: GB 0102 MS English 361017).

For more information on the location of Mitchison's personal, family and literary archives, consult the National Register of Archives. Principal collections relating to Mitchison and the Haldane family are at the National Library of Scotland (Haldane Papers, 1853-1958, ref. GB233/Acc.4549; Naomi Mitchison manuscripts and typescripts, ref. GB233/Acc.5912).

Letters between Mitchison and Richard Crossman and Zita Baker are also held in the Crossman Papers at Warwick University (GB 0152 MSS.154/3/AU/1/60-4, MSS.154/3/ZB/73-241).

Geographical Names