Speech by Mary Kingsley

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of two copies of a speech by Mary Kingsley. In it Kingsley opposed the motion in a debate on women's suffrage [held by the London Society for Women's Suffrage, later the Fawcett Society]. One copy is the original manuscript, the other a typed transcript.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900) was the daughter of George Henry Kingsley (1827-1892) and Mary Bailey and the niece of Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), she became known as an explorer, ethnologist and travel writer. After the death of her parents Mary Kingsley went to West Africa for six months in 1893, aged 31. She returned there in 1894, staying for a year and working as a trader. Whilst there she discovered a new genus of fish, six new species, an unknown snake and a rare lizard. Mary Kingsley donated pickled specimens of these to the British Museum. She lectured widely and wrote on her travels. Her most famous works include Travels in West Africa (1897), West African Studies (1899) and The Story of West Africa (1899). She worked as a nurse during the Boer War, departing for South Africa in Mar 1900 but dying in Jun 1900 of a fever contracted whilst nursing Boer prisoners of war. Mary Kingsley is known to have deliberately distanced herself from the women’s movement and to have adopted a conservative position with regard to questions of equality, opposing, for example, the admission of women to learned societies. On 27 Feb 1900, in one of her last public engagements before leaving the country, Mary Kingsley participated in a debate on women’s suffrage. This is recorded in a letter which she wrote to Sir Matthew Nathan: ‘I have been opposing women having the parliamentary vote this afternoon and have had a grand time of it and have been called an idealist and had poetry slung at me in chunks. Argument was impossible so I offered to fight the secretary in the back yard but she would not so you can all write me down impracticable.’

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 items were formally accessioned after the move to the new building in 2002. The original speech is assumed to have been held in the Fawcett Library as part of the Fawcett Society Archives. The transcript was deposited by Prof Frazer Lamb, Westminster College, Pennsylvania in Jul 1988.

Other Finding Aids

Fonds Description (1 folder only)

Alternative Form Available

A photocopy of the original manuscript and typed transcript were donated in Jul 1988.

Related Material

The Women’s Library also holds a letter of Mary Kingsley in its autograph letter collection, 9/ALC Vol.XVII, 1899. A letter from Mary Kingsley to Sir Matthew Nathan is held in the Western Manuscripts Department of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, ref. MS. Nathan 133, fols 94-5. Further papers of Mary Kingsley are scattered. The Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library holds correspondence and articles, 1895-1900, whilst further correspondence may be found at the Natural History Museum (Gunther Collection), at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies (MSS Afr s 825-27, 1525-26; MSS Afr s 1801/2); in the British Library (Add MSS 54914-15; Add MS 68892E), at the University of Liverpool (D674), at the London School of Economics (BLPES/MOREL/F8/97), at the Royal Geographical Society, and at the Parliamentary Archives (Strachey papers).