Autograph Letter Collection: Women in the Church

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/06
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 A box (1 volume)

Scope and Content

The collection contains letters written to members of the Church League for Women's Suffrage, principally Ursula Roberts, connected with fact-finding and the organisation of a conference on the role of women in the Church and the general issue of women's ordination. Letters to Ursula Roberts in 1913 regarding reply to circular questionnaire from: Isabel Basnett (2 letters), Gertrude Francis, Ethel M Davis (2 letters), Miss Clare Portsmouth, William Temple, Edith Clarence, Dr Maude Royden, Mabel Day, Jessie C Barton, Janet B Allen, Ruth Cavendish Bentinck, Irene Batty, GM Gunter, Ethel Fennings, MEJ Taylor, Florence Canning, Mother Gertrude, Miss RL Taylor, Dorothea Layton, MB Alder, Edith de Burgh, EM Griffiths. Papers and letters to Ursula Roberts in 1914 regarding arrangements for a conference in Sep 1914, later postponed until 1917: from Ruth Cavendish Bentinck, Edith Picton Turberville, the Rector of Rampton College Cambridge, Isabel Basnett, Miss Z Fairfield, Janet B Allen (2 letters), GM Gunter, Ethel M Davis (2 letters), Miss Clare Portsmouth, Dr Maude Royden, Jessie C Barton, Janet B Allen, Ruth Cavendish Bentinck, MEJ Taylor, Florence Canning, MB Alder, E Maude Griffiths, Miss IB O'Malley, Agnes Aubrey Hilton, G Tollemache, Dr Jane Walker, Sister Ethel (2 letters), Mabel Fitzroy Hecht, Dorothea Jordan, Mrs Anne Warner Marsh. Papers and letters to Miss Corben in 1914 regarding arrangements for the same conference: Bishop of Kensington (2 letters), Board of Trade (in reply to letter from her also in the collection), Bishop of London. Letters in 1915: to Miss Corben from William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (and reply); to Mrs Roberts from Anne Gilchrist, Rev. TB Allworthy. Letters in 1916: to Miss Corben from Bishop of Kensington, Bishop of Willesden, Dr Maude Royden; to Ursula Roberts from Anne Gilchrist (3 letters), Arthur W Robinson, JC Squire, Dr Jane Walker (2 letters), MEJ Taylor (2 letters), Maude Royden (2 letters), Miss Edith Picton Turberville; to Anne Gilchrist from Maude Royden; to Miss Corben from Maude Royden; Ursula Roberts to the Bishop of London, Lady Willoughby de Broke to Dr Maude Royden; paper by Miss MEJ Taylor. Letters in 1917: to Miss Corben from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop of London and Miss GE Hodgeson; to Miss Picton Turberville from the following - Bishop of Southwark, Bishop of Wakefield, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Bishop of Lichfield (2 letters), Bishop of Newcastle, Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop of Oxford, Bishop of Gloucester (2 letters), Bishop of Ripon, Bishop of Norwich, Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop of St David's, Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop of Salisbury, Bishop of Ely, Millicent Garrett Fawcett; letters to the Church league for Women's Suffrage from Mr Athelstan Riley and the Earl of Halifax; letters to Ursula Roberts from Rev. FM Green and Edith Picton Turberville; Alfred Fawkes to the Rev Roberts, Lady Montgomery to Miss Glichrist, J Outram Marshall to Rev. CG Langdon and reply, circular letter to all bishops from the Bishop of Willesden and timetable of Quiet Day and conference conducted by Agnes Maude Royden. Letters in 1918: to Church League for Women's Suffrage from Dean Inge of St Paul's (2 letters), Rev HJ Hall, Rev V Holt, Rev. AM Bolland; to Miss Corben from Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Bishop of Lincoln, Maude Royden. Letters in 1919: to Miss Corben from Maude Royden, the Bishop of Kensington, Rev HRL Sheppard, Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop of Oxford; to Miss Picton Turbeville from Rev S Proudfoot (6 letters) and Mrs Knox; to Ursula Roberts from Maude Royden. Letters in 1920: to Miss Corben from the Bishop of Winchester, the secretary of the Bishop of Lincoln, the bishop of Ely, the archbishop of Canterbury and Edward A Welch, the Rector of Southchurch; to Miss Picton Turberville from Rev JEC Welldon, and the Rev. Gage S Green; M Dorothea Jordan to Mrs Roberts, the Bishop of Norwich to the League (2 letters) and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Bishop of London. Letters in 1921: Secretary of King's College London to the League, Dr Maude Royden to Miss Corben, the Rev. GKA Bell to Miss Corben and Miss Abadam to Mrs Acres. Letters in 1922: Rev GKA Bell to Mrs Acres (2 letters), Lawrence Housman to the CLWS, AG Robinson Archdeacon of Surrey to Mrs Acres. Letters in 1924: Rev Edward Paget to Mrs Acres, Mary Scharlib to Mrs Acres Letters in 1926: Father Lacey to Mrs Acres (2 letters). Letters in 1927: Rev Dick Sheppard to Mrs Acres. Letters in 1928: Sybil Thorndyke to Mrs Acres, Archbishop of Canterbury to Mrs Acres Letters in 1931: John Carl Flugel to Ursula Roberts, Helen Ward to Viscount Cecil, Rev. Alfred Fawkes to Ursula Roberts. Letters in 1932: JK Mozley, Cannon Matthews and SM Payne to Ursula Roberts. Letters in 1933: Marjorie Brierly, Evelyn Underhill, Canon Grensted and Leonard Hodgson to Ursula Roberts.

Administrative / Biographical History

The issue of women in the Church in Great Britain was one that had its origins in the Reformation. Convents were included in the abolition of the English monasteries and with their disappearance women lost the only ecclesiastical role open to them until the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century women in the Church of England began to campaign for women's work in the church to be acknowledged by allowing them to hold positions in its hierarchy.

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.

Ursula Roberts (1887-1971) was born in 1887 at Meerut in India, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel RJH Wyllie and Emily Titcomb. She married the Rev. William Corbett Roberts in 1909 and from this point both became increasingly concerned with female suffrage and the role and position of women in the church. She was the author of 'The Cause of Purity and Women's Suffrage' published by the Church League for Women's Suffrage as well as the Honorary Treasurer and Honorary Press Secretary of the East Midland Federation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Both before and after the First World War, her main interest was women in the Church of England. She was a member of the Church League for Women's Suffrage, which was established in 1909 as a non-party, non-militant organisation by the Rev. Claude Hinscliffe and his wife, renamed League of the Church Militant after 1918. Roberts subsequently became one of the key members of the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women after a call for evidence on women and the ministry went out in the run up to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in 1930. She was also a member of the interdenominational Society for the Ministry of Women in the Church, which led her to correspond with Dr Emil Oberholzer and Dr Maude Royden. She died in 1971.

Agnes Maude Royden (1876-1956) was born on 23 Nov 1876, the youngest daughter of the ship-owning Conservative MP from Liverpool, Sir Thomas Bland Royden (later first baronet of Frankby Hall, Cheshire). She was educated first at Cheltenham Ladies College, then at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford from 1896-1899, where she met Kathleen Courtney and Ida O'Malley. She obtained a second-class degree in modern history.

After graduating she spent three years working with the Victoria Women's Settlement in Liverpool. In these years around 1900 Royden's political views moved away from her family's Conservatism until she joined the Labour Party after the First World War. In 1905 Royden undertook parish work in South Luffenham for the Reverend William Hudson Shaw, whom she had met at Oxford. She became friends with him and his second wife Effie. They remained close friends, Royden marrying Shaw after Effie's death. The marriage took place just two months before Shaw's death in 1944. Shaw enabled Royden to lecture in the Oxford University Extension Delegacy Scheme, for which he also lectured. Royden was one of the first female lecturers for the Scheme. In 1908 Royden became a regular speaker for the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She was appointed to its executive committee in 1911, edited its newspaper 'The Common Cause' between 1913-1914 and wrote 5 pamphlets for them. From 1910, she supported the Tax Resistance League and was the first Chair of the Church League for Women's Suffrage. From 1911 was a member of the executive committee of the London Society for Women's Suffrage (LSWS). By 1912 she was giving well over 250 speeches a year and ran 'Speakers classes' for NUWSS and LSWS. In 1913 she was also appointed president of the Chester Women's Suffrage Society, vice president of the Oxford Women Students' Suffrage Society. 1912 was an important year for the future of the women's movement. It was in this year that the Labour Party made support for female suffrage part of its policy for the first time. When, that same year, the NUWSS launched the Election Fighting Fund policy, which promised support to any party officially supporting suffrage in an election where the candidate was challenging an anti-suffrage Liberal, the effect was to effectively support the Labour Party. The women's suffrage campaign had long been associated with the Liberal Party and had always been non-party, welcoming the left and right wing into its numbers. After this step, however, some members, such as Eleanor Rathbone, left the organisation in opposition to this step. Royden, however, supported the move and was one of the speakers at the joint meeting of the NUWSS and the Labour Party held in the Albert Hall in Feb 1914. Later in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, Royden found herself in conflict with many in the NUWSS, which under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, had thrown itself enthusiastically into support for work to support the war effort. At the end of 1914 she became the secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation with other Christian Pacifists. In Feb 1915 she resigned as editor of 'Common Cause' and gave up her place on the executive council. She had intended to attend the women's peace congress in the Hague in 1915 that year but was unable to do so when travel via the North Sea was forbidden. None the less, when the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom was established there, she became the vice-president. Despite this, even outside of the NUWSS, she campaigned for the vote for women through the National Council for Adult Suffrage and when a limited franchise was granted in 1918, she was asked to address the celebratory meeting organised by the older group at the Queen's Hall. In the post-war period, her main interests were concerned with the role of women in the Church. Between 1917-1920 Royden became an assistant preacher to Dr Fort Newton at the City Temple. Though a committed Anglican, as a woman she was not normally permitted to preach in the Church of England. In 1920 she was granted an interdenominational pulpit at the Kensington Town Hall through the Fellowship Services. This position was soon transferred to the Guildhouse in Eccleston Square and she continued to preach socially radical sermons from there for some years, on issues such as unemployment, peace and marriage. Percy Dearmer and Martin Shaw assisted her. In turn Royden continued to assist Hudson Shaw in his parish St Botolph's Bishopsgate in the City of London, including a controversial appearance to preach in a service on Good Friday 30 Mar 1923.

In 1922 Royden was invited to stand as a Labour candidate for the Wirral constituency but declined for the sake of her work in the church. Royden made several preaching tours across the world from the 1920s to the 1940s and undertook large-scale article writing: She visited America in 1911, 1923, 1928, and 1941-1942. The 1928 visit was part of a world tour that included Australia, New Zealand and China. Whilst in 1928 and 1934-1935 she visited India with Dame Margery Corbett Ashby and met Ghandi. Royden continued her work for peace, through her 'Peace Army' proposals of 1923 and her support of the League of Nations. People such as Rev 'Dick' Shepherd and Herbert Gray in turn supported Royden. Royden resigned from the Guildhall post in 1936 to concentrate her efforts in this area until 1939. In 1939, however, Royden renounced pacifism believing Nazism to be a greater evil than war. In 1944 she married Hudson Shaw. After 1945, she was mainly occupied by writing and radio broadcasts on religion. Her last book was 'A Threefold Cord' 1947 an autobiographical work. Royden died at her home in London on the 30 Jul 1956.



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.

Related Material

Personal papers of Ursula Robers (7URO), Agnes Maude Royden (7AMR), Ruth Cavendish-Bentinck (7RCB) and the records of the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women (5AGO) are also held at The Women's Library. Other Collections within Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/02 General Women’s Movement, 9/03 Emancipation of Women, 9/04 Female Education.