Papers related to Winifred Holtby

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of correspondence regarding Holtby's South African Fund (1930), letter to Holtby (1934), obituaries (1935), pamphlet (1940) press review of 'Testament of Experience' (c.1956).

Administrative / Biographical History

Winifred Holtby (1898-1935) was born in 1898 at Rudston House, the daughter of David Holtby, a Yorkshire farmer and Alice Winn, the first alderwoman in Yorkshire. In 1917 Holtby passed the entrance exam for Somerville College but volunteered first in a London nursing home and then for the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in France in early 1918. In 1919 she took up her place at Somerville where she met Vera Brittain and where she graduated in Modern History. Despite being offered a position as a history tutor at St Hugh's College, Holtby moved to London with Brittain in 1921. At the same time as lecturing for the Six Point Group as well as the League of Nations Union and becoming the London County Council manager for schools in Bethnal Green, Holtby completed her first book, 'Anderby Wold', which was published in 1923. This was followed by 'The Crowded Street' in 1924 and 'The Land of Green Ginger' in 1927. Additionally, she worked as a journalist throughout the 1920s and 1930s, writing articles for 'Time and Tide', the 'Manchester Guardian' and a regular weekly article for the trade union magazine, 'The Schoolmistress' as well as a critical study of Virginia Woolf. Holtby was by this time a pacifist and travelled throughout Europe in the post-war period, attending the League of Nations assemblies as a writer and speaker every year from 1923 to 1930. She was also involved in the campaign for equality for women and from 1925 was a member of the executive committee of the Six Point Group for whom she wrote the 'New Voter's Guide to Party Programmes' in 1929. She was also a member of the Labour Party, working as an activist in constituencies during elections and writing articles for the left-wing journal 'The New Leader'. In 1926 she visited South Africa, establishing a branch of the League of Nations Union in Ladysmith, helping set up a black transport workers' union in Johannesburg and studying conditions and problems of the black population and the effects of discrimination. There she met and began to work with William Ballinger, a Scotsman working to improve conditions for whom she would become involved in fundraising activities with the aim of providing education, grants and sponsorships. In 1931 the writer became ill and during the Labour Party General Election campaign of 1932 Holtby's health began to deteriorate rapidly. Returning to Yorkshire, she appeared to recover, returned to London, attended the majority of the parliamentary Joint Select Committees on Closer Union in South Africa, advised the International Labour Organisation on the issue of forced labour there and published another novel in 1933, 'The Astonishing Island' as well as editing 'Time and Tide'. However, a second collapse revealed kidney disease and she was given two years to live, a diagnosis which intensive treatment extended by an extra eighteen months, during which she completed a book of short stories, 'Truth is not Sober' and 'Women and a Changing Society'. She completed her last work, 'South Riding', a month before she died in Sep 1935. Her last two books were published by Vera Brittain, her literary executor, after her death.

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

This small collection was found in a book in the Josephine Butler Society Library in 1997.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

FRAGILE: Items may not be photocopied.

Related Material

Holtby's personal correspondence and papers (1905-35) are held by a number of repositories: papers are held by Hull Central Library in the Local Studies Centre (Ref. HOLTBY); her correspondence, literary MSS and papers (2708 items) are in the Fisk University Library and Media Centre (Ref. NUC MS 76-1447); correspondence with WG Ballinger (1928-35) is in University of Cape Town Libraries (Ref. D 71/95); letters to Arnold Bennett are in the University College London (UCL) Manuscripts Room (Ref. MS OGDEN 96); letters to Bodley Head Ltd (1922-24) are held at Reading University Library; her correspondence with Robert Donat (1935) is at Manchester University John Rylands Library (Ref. FRD 1/1/204); 29 letters to Arthur Creech Jones (1929-35) are in the Rhodes House Library of Oxford University (Ref. MSS Brit Emp s 332/6); her correspondence with the Society of Authors (1923-35) is in the British Library Manuscript Collections (Ref. Add MS 56726).

Geographical Names