Autograph Letter Collection: Scholars and Learned Ladies

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/22
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      33 letters

Scope and Content

Letter from Anna Gurney to Sir William Hooker, c. 1850. Correspondence dealing with the election of Miss Mary A Blagg as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Extract from Professor Turner's introduction to Miss Blagg's 'Collated List of Lunar Formations'. Letters from Professor Turner. Letter from Frank Dyson. A short account of the life and work of Mary Bragg produced by her nieces, 1968. Correspondence in 1962 about the late Miss Pernel Strachey's typescript edition of the Emmanuel College mss. Admission of women Fellows to the Royal Society. Correspondence between Royal Society, Society for Women's Service, Mrs Hutton and Miss P. Strachey, 1954. Correspondence between Lucy Norton, John Carter and Joan Bennett about some George Eliot letters and an article on them by Joan Bennett, 1968. Copy of a letter from Mrs Baines (Bedford College) to Miss Pernel Strachey about a tapestry for Newnham College, 1945. Letter from Myra Curtis (Newnham) to Pernel Strachey, 1945. Letter from Hertha Ayrton to Dr. Gorthon, 1911. Autograph signatures of Margaret McNair Stokes, Mrs Agnata Frances Butle, Jane Ellen Harrison.

Administrative / Biographical History

Anna Gurney was an Anglo-Saxon scholar who had studied both classical and modern languages. She anonymously published a limited edition of her work, entitled 'A literal translation of the Saxon Chronicle' in 1819. Anna Gurney was deeply religious and her sense of social responsibility resulted in her involvement in prison reform and establishing a branch of the anti-slavery movement in Norwich. In 1830 she co-founded the Belfry School at Overstrand in Kent with her cousin Sarah Buxton. Although having contracted polio at the age of ten months and not being able to walk, she travelled to Rome and Greece in a wheel chair in 1836. In 1845 she became the first female member of the British Archaeological Association. Anna Gurney was also responsible for purchasing a Manby apparatus which was used to save the lives of shipwrecked seamen along the Norfolk coast. She died whilst planning a trip to the Baltic, aged sixty-one.

Mary Blagg was born in 1858 to John Charles Blagg, a solicitor, and France Caroline Foottit. Mary was sent to a finishing school in Kensington in 1875 where she studied algebra and German, the latter she employed when translating German poetry into English verse. In 1891 Mary Blagg became the branch secretary of the Girls' Friendly Society in Cheadle. She also worked as a Sunday school teacher. When Mary was thirty-eight, her mother died. This then left Mary with the responsibility of running a large household. Mary Blagg was a keen chess player and wrote children's stories, four of which were published locally. Mary was also responsible for editing a manuscript magazine, entitled 'Literary links', a task she performed until her death. Her career as an astronomer started in 1904, when Mary, now aged forty-six, was introduced to Professor Turner of the Oxford Observatory. In 1907, Mary started working with Mr S A Saunder to assist the International Committee of the International Astronomical Union on the 'uniformity in nomenclature of lunar formations'. This work was finally completed in 1935, resulting in the publication of 'A Catalogue of Named Lunar Formations'. Her research work led to her writing papers for the Royal Astronomical Society, the most important of which was 'Suggested Substitute for Bode's Law', published in 1913. During the same year, Professor Turner put her name forward for election as a Fellow to the Royal Astronomical Society, a position which had not previously been open to women. Mary was actually elected in 1916. Following the outbreak of the First World War, Mary took care of a family of Belgian refugees but continued with her work in astronomy once the war had ended. In recognition of her achievements in the field of astronomy, a crater on the moon was named in her honour. She died aged eighty-five.

Joan Pernel Strachey was born in 1876 to Lady Jane Maria Strachey and Major Richard Strachey. She was educated at Allenswood School and Newnham College, Cambridge. After graduating, she lectured on French at Royal Holloway College between 1900-1905. In 1910 she was appointed as a tutor there. In 1917 she became Director of Studies in Modern Languages, then in 1923, she was appointed principle of Newnham College. Pernel Strachey remained at Newnham College until her retirement in 1941. After this, she worked as a volunteer in the offices of the London and National Society for Women's Suffrage, of which her sister Philippa was president. Through her family connections, most specifically through her brother Lytton Strachey, she was considered part of the Bloomsbury set. She died in 1951.

Hertha Ayrton was born in 1854 to Levi Marks, a clockmaker and jeweller, and Alice Theresa Moss. She was educated privately at Dame School in Camden, which was run by her aunt, Marion Hartog. Her career began working as a governess and then as a mathematics teacher between 1870 and 1876. In 1876, Hertha gained a scholarship to Girton, where she gained a third-class honours in mathematics. During her time at Girton, Hertha produced her first invention. It was a sphygmograph, which monitored the human pulse. In 1884, Hertha started studying at Finsbury Technical College under W E Ayrton, Professor of Applied Physics. They married a year later in 1885. Hertha carried on with her husband's experiments during his absence in America and soon became a leading expert. She became the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1899. In 1901 Hertha was conducting research into the movement of water and discovered the cause of sand ripples on the shore. In 1902 Hertha was nominated for fellowship of the Royal Society. Her nomination was rejected as the council cited it had no power to elect a woman. In 1906, Hertha joined the Women's Social and Political Union, the same year in which she was finally allowed to give lectures at the Royal Society. Her suffrage activities continued with her participating in the 'Mud March' in 1907 and being present at the militant suffrage demonstration on 'Black Friday' in 1910. In 1914, Hertha joined with the United Suffragists, becoming a vice president. In 1915, Hertha Ayrton invented the Ayrton fan, which was a hand fan to be used in the trenches to dispel gas. She also invented an improved searchlight and adapted the fan for use in mines, sewers and warships. She was a member of the following organisations: Women's Industrial League, International Federation of University Women, National Union of Scientific Workers, Six Point Group, British Federation of University Women, and the Labour Party. She died in 1923 from blood poisoning.

Access Information

Available on microfiche only.


Description by Maxine Willett and Liza Giffen, Assistant Archivists, The Women's Library.

Other Finding Aids

All correspondents are indexed in the Autograph Letter card catalogue, the date of each letter and volume reference number is indicated.

Alternative Form Available

The collection has been microfilmed.

Custodial History

This collection consists of letters taken from various sources and filed individually in ring binders. The original source of the item (often from archive collections) is not generally indicated.