Papers of Margery Irene Corbett Ashby

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Family correspondence including letters of Charles Corbett, H E Corbett, Marie Corbett, Margery and Cicley (1869-1960); diaries of Margery Corbett (1912, 1930-79); passport (1919); address book; typescript sections of autobiography; papers related to the pre-1914 suffrage movement (1905-1912), First World War (1914-1918), various women s organisations (1915-1978), general elections (1913-1955), papers related to the activities of the International Alliance of Women and international activities (1921-1980).

Administrative / Biographical History

Margery Corbett Ashby was born at Danehill, Sussex in 1882 to Charles Corbett, the future Liberal MP for Grinstead, and Marie Corbett. At the age of eighteen, she formed a society called the Younger Suffragists with a group of friends and her younger sister Cicely. The following year, in 1901, Margery won a place at Newnham College, Cambridge, to read Classics. Three years later, despite passing her examinations, Cambridge refused to grant her a degree on the grounds of her gender. Subsequently, she obtained a place at the Cambridge Teachers Training College, though she would later decide against teaching as a profession. That same year, in 1904, she and her sister attended the first meeting of the International Women Suffrage Alliance in Berlin with their mother.

She had been involved in the women s suffrage movement since Cambridge, where she had joined the local branch of the National Union of Women s Suffrage Societies. In 1907 Corbett was appointed Secretary of that same organisation and editor of the journal, The Common Cause , positions that she held until she was elected to the executive committee two years later. It was in 1909 that she also became a member of the Cambridge Women s Suffrage Association as well as becoming involved in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance as a speaker at their conferences in Berlin and Stockholm. The following year, she married the barrister, Brian Ashby, giving birth to their only child four years later. In 1912 she became a poor law guardian in Wandsworth and in 1914 was the chairperson of the Barnes, Mortlake and East Sheen branch of the London Society for Women s Suffrage. However, when that 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, Corbett Ashby felt compelled to resign form the organisation.

Corbett Ashby passed the First World War carrying out work in hospitals and running a canteen at an outbuilding of Woodgate for local schoolchildren. In 1919, she attended the Versailles Peace Conference in place of Millicent Garrett Fawcett as a member of the International Alliance of Women. After the passing of the Qualification of Women Act in 1918, she became one of the seventeen women candidates that stood in the post-war election. She stood as the Liberal candidate for Ladywood, Birmingham, but lost her deposit in the process, having advocated feminist policies that would have given women full political equality with men. The following year she took part in the first post-war congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and was elected president of the organisation in 1923, a position she would hold until she retired in 1946. She succeeded Eleanor Rathbone as the president of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship and co-founded the Town s Women s Guild with Eva Hubback in the late 1920s which she also presided over for a time. In 1932 Corbett Ashby was the British delegate to the Geneva Disarmament Conference, but resigned from this position in 1935 in protest at the British government's refusal to support any practical scheme for mutual security and defence. That same year, she resigned from the head of the Town s Women s Guild but accepted the presidency of the Women s Freedom League instead. Around the same time, she became the vice president of the Fawcett Society.

Corbett Ashby continued to be active in politics after the Second World War. In 1952, at the age of seventy, she became editor of International Women's News. Her last political action was at the age of ninety-eight when she took part in the Women's Day of Action in London in 1980. She died at Danehill on 22nd May 1981.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for consultation. Intending readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

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Related Material

The Women s Library also hold the papers of the National Union of Women s Suffrage Societies ( GB 106 2/NWS), the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (GB 106 2/NSE), the Women s Freedom League (GB 106 2/WFL), the Fawcett Society (GB 106 5/FAW), and the Dame Margery Corbett Memorial Fund (GB 106 5/DMM). The John Rylands Library in Manchester holds the papers of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (ref: IWSA). Further papers of Margery Corbett Ashby are held by the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds.