Printed Collections: Cavendish-Bentinck Collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 PC/02
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      125 linear metres

Scope and Content

The Cavendish-Bentinck Library contains many pre-1850 books, pamphlets and periodicals. There are many seventeenth and eighteenth century classic publications, such as Richard Brathwaite's The English gentlewoman: drawne out to the full body and Look ere you leap: or, A history of the lives and intrigues of leud women ; first editions of publications by Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, the Brontës, Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf and many others. The periodical holdings include The Lady's magazine 1760-1839 and The Englishwoman's domestic magazine 1852-1879. Cookery and household management books include Hannah Wolley's The Queen-like closet, 1675, and Mrs Beeton's Book of household management, 1861. The collection is also strong on material relating to the suffrage campaigns, including many rare pamphlets. Newly acquired material was added to the collection until the 1950s - hence this collection houses most of the The Women's Library's printed holdings dating from 1600 to 1850. The Cavendish-Bentinck collection is catalogued on The Women's Library's online catalogue and volumes can be ordered by completing a Collections order slip and consulted in the Reading Room. Due to the age and fragility of most of the material in the Cavendish-Bentinck collection no photocopying is permitted.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

Access Information


This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

Deposited with the Library in 1931

Other Finding Aids

The Printed Collections can be consulted via an online catalogue available at Additional guides in the form of Source Notes are available online.

Alternative Form Available

A high proportion of this collection is comprised of rare or unique copies.

Custodial History

In 1909 Ruth Cavendish-Bentinck founded the Cavendish-Bentinck Library as a subscription library for suffragists. She remained actively involved when it was taken over, along with the Edward Wright Library, by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1918. It was finally taken over by the Women's Service Library (now The Women's Library) in 1931. A trust was maintained into the 1950s to acquire new material for the Cavendish-Bentinck Library, so that not too far away on the shelves from Havelock Ellis is shelved the Kinsey Report.