Records of the Women's Provisional Club

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of printed Constitutions (1950s; 1972); minute books (1924-1984); details of membership (1924-1984); general papers (1930s); 1 correspondence; letters; 2 bulletins; play scripts; 2 watercolours; objects; ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

The first meeting of the Women's Provisional Club (1924-1984) took place at the Samson Clark Building, Mortimer Street, London, on 8 Feb 1924. Many of the founding members were business and professional women. The founder, Mrs Ethel Wood CBE (d. 1970), was the Director of Samson Clark Co. from 1921-1928 and then Director and Chair of Super Garages Ltd. The first Chair of the Club was Margaret Haig Thomas, Viscountess Rhondda (1883-1958), who was the owner-editor of the political magazine Time and Tide. Mrs Helen Archdale (1876-1949) was a journalist and militant suffragette. Dr Winifred Cullis (1875-1956) became Professor Emeritus of Physiology at the Royal Free Hospital, University of London from 1903. She was the founder of the British Federation of University Women in 1907.

Although, individually, these women wanted to achieve equal status with their professional male counterparts, the WPC was not overtly a political group. The objectives of the Club were to:

a) encourage and foster high ethical standards in business and professions.

b) encourage and foster the 'ideal of service' as the basis for enterprise.

c) quicken an interest in public welfare and to co-operate with others in civic, social and industrial developments.

Any business or professional women of British nationality could be members. There was also honorary membership status. The Club arranged fortnightly meetings, with a speaker, at various restaurants in London. These were initially luncheon gatherings and then became dinner functions. An Annual General Meeting was held in the early spring. The Executive Committee met at least four or five times a year. Summer outings and Christmas parties were also arranged.

The Constitution was heavily based on the by-laws of the Rotary International, a civilian service club founded in 1905. The original plan was that the WPC would amalgamate with the Rotary International and so the reason for the word 'Provisional' in the title. However, such an aim would mean changing the Rotarian's constitution because they were a male-only group. This plan was abandoned in 1930 after five years of negotiations, and the Club decided to continue as they were.

Some members of the WPC were involved with other groups which promoted women's interests. For example, Miss Kathleen Mary Halpin (1903-1999) (7KAH) was one of the founders of the Soroptimist Housing Trust, involved with the Business & Professional Women's Club Ltd., and a member of the Sub-Committee of the Fawcett Society (2LSW/JC), which was concerned with women's suffrage, amongst other matters. In 1935, Caroline Harriet Haslett (1895-1957), an electrical engineer and founder of the Women's Engineering Society in 1919, became the first President of the British Federation of Business & Professional Women, an organisation which campaigned for women's equality. In the following year, she advocated that the WPC should merge with this Federation and, hopefully, its international equivalent. The members of the WPC voted against this move at the AGM of 1937.

After this, the WPC continued as a social club until the 1980s, attracting many eminent women. Amongst their members was the architect, Gertrude Leverkus (1899-1976) (7GLE); Miss Sybil Campbell, magistrate and fundraiser in 1922 for converting Crosby Hall in Chelsea into an international centre for postgraduate students; and Dame Adeline Genée (d. 1970), one of the founders of modern British ballet.

At the AGM of Apr 1980 a special resolution was passed stating that the Club would be ceasing to operate through its normal constitutional procedures. The Club met occasionally until its last meeting in Mar 1984.

Arrangement

The records of the Women's Provisional Club have been arranged into 11 series, maintaining original order where this was apparent. The series reflect the activities to which they relate (eg. Minutes, Membership) or by their form (eg. Bulletins).

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

The archive was a gift of Miss Kathleen Halpin, a former member, 27 Oct 1987.

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue

Related Material

See also Records of the British Federation of Business & Professional Women (6BFB); records of the Fawcett Society (2LSW/JC); the papers of Gertrude Leverkus (7GLE); the papers of Miss Kathleen Mary Halpin (1903-99) (7KAH). All held at The Women's Library.

Papers relating to Dame Caroline Harriet Haslett are held at the Institution of Electrical Engineers Archives Department and the Modern Archives Centre of Warwick University.

The papers of Dr Winifred Clara Cullis are held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.