Papers of Kathleen D'Olier Courtney

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of correspondence with the Courtney family (1881-1973), Lord Cecil (1930-1959), Gilbert Murray (1946-1958), Maude Royden (1918-1961) and others (1940-73); papers related to women's suffrage including telegrams and letters (1911-1915); materials related to relief work including correspondence, postcards and a medal (1915-1916, 1920-1924); papers related to international co-operation including leaflets, letters, schedules, ephemera and radio scripts (1928-1935); materials related to the United Nations Association (1948-1951); speeches and articles (1930-1973); diaries (1915-1974); passports and identity cards; legal materials (1878-1970); awards (1895-1973).

Administrative / Biographical History

Kathleen Courtney (1878-1974) was born in Chatham in 1878 to Alice Margaret Courtney (née Mann) and Major David Courtney of the Royal Engineers, one of seven children. She was brought up in Kensington and after attending an Anglo-French School in London, and boarding school in Malvern, she spent a year at boarding school in Dresden. She subsequently became a student in Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford in Jan 1897 where she read French and German and met Maude Royden. After graduation, she volunteered at a girls club in Lambeth before returning to Oxford to work for the University Extension Delegacy. She became active in the non-militant section of the women's suffrage movement and accepted a post as a paid secretary for the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage in 1908. Subsequently, she was elected Honorary Secretary of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in 1911 and became a member of the first Election Fighting Fund Committee in 1912. However, after the outbreak of the First World War, she found herself in opposition to many of her colleagues within the NUWSS. The president, Millicent Fawcett, argued that members should focus on relief work as a means of showing that women would be worthy of the vote. In contrast to this, several executive members such as Isabella Ford, Maud Royden, Helena Swanwick, and Catherine Marshall wanted to oppose the war altogether. A meeting of the executive committee refused to send delegates to the International Women's Peace Congress at the Hague in Apr 1915, prompting several members of the committee to resign. Courtney was one of those. In the event, only a handful of British women were present at the Congress: Courtney herself, Chrystal Macmillan, both of whom were already in Holland, and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, who travelled from America. There, a new organisation began, the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, which formed the British branch of the International Committee for Permanent Peace. Courtney became its first vice president. In 1916 she also went to Salonika and Baxtia to carry out work with the Serbian Relief Fund for with she was later decorated by the Serbian government. After the war, Courtney helped her friend, Dr Hilda Clark, at the Friends' Relief Mission in Vienna, and also travelled to the Balkans and Poland.

In 1916 she became the joint secretary of the National Council for Adult Suffrage with James Middleton of the Independent Labour Party. Towards the end of the war, however, she rejoined the NUWSS and was re-elected to the executive committee in Mar 1918, despite her opposition to the limited nature of the franchise that was at last being offered to women. With the new electoral situation, the objectives of women's movement had to change and a new organisation emerged: the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship. Courtney became a member of the executive committee and as such attended the conference on the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship in Paris in 1923. In the 1930s she went on to become Vice President of NUSEC. However, this was a time when there was no consensus within the women's movement regarding the appropriate response to 'protective' legislation that applied only to women and had been created with the aim of 'protecting' them against industrial exploitation. An ideological split occurred at this time between those, on the one hand, who supported ideas such as an 'Endowment of Motherhood' being paid to women to ensure their financial independence and, on the other, those who adopted a more strictly equalist position. In the mid-1920s, the Labour government proposed a series of bills which would extend this protective legislation and many members of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship of the time were keen to change its equalist policies to support the status of women in this manner. Unlike some, who left to form other organisations in opposition to this position, Courtney remained in the group and even went on to chair the committee of the Family Endowment Council, which shared many of these perspectives. However, her work on the status of women did not end her peace activities at this time, and she soon became the president of the British Section of the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, and organiser of the Women's Pilgrimage for Peace of 1926. Courtney was also active in the international effort that culminated in the presentation of a petition signed by several millions to the Disarmament Conference of 1932 and she was an observer at the conference on behalf of several women's organisations. In 1928 she was appointed to the executive of the League of Nations Union, of which she became the vice-chair in 1939. It was in this capacity that she travelled the world as a speaker in the 1930s. During the Second World War she worked with the Ministry of Information, particularly in relation to the UK's relations with the United States of America in that period. When the United Nations was formed after the war, she became its deputy Chair and was awarded the CBE in 1947. In 1949 she was elected Chair and joint president of the United Nations Association. She retired in 1951 from the organisation, but remained active in its work into her nineties. At the age of 80 she undertook a trip to the United States and Canada. In her 90s she was still an active participant in UNA business. Close friends of Courtney's included Agnes Maude Royden, Gilbert Murray, the classical scholar, and Lord Robert Cecil. Courtney was created Dame 1952. She died 7 Dec 1974.

Arrangement

The archive is arranged as follows:

KDC/A Early Life

KDC/B Women's Suffrage

KDC/C Relief Work

KDC/D International Co-operation

KDC/E United Nations Association

KDC/F Lord Cecil

KDC/G Gilbert Murray

KDC/H Maude Royden

KDC/I Correspondence

KDC/J Speeches and Articles by KDC

KDC/K Personal

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

Unknown. Deposited after the date of the last item 1973. [Fawcett Library Accession Registers to be checked]

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Related Material

Further information about Kathleen Courtney may be obtained from the following held at The Women's Library:

1) A brief summary of her career by Margaret Quass in New World (a journal of the UNA), March 1968

2) An unpublished memoir of Kathleen Courtney by her friend, Francesca Wilson. The original is at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and a copy is held at the Fawcett Library. It is particularly useful for the quotations from correspondence with Maude Royden that is not contained in this collection.

3) The script of the address made by Lord Noel-Baker at her memorial service on 11 Apr 1975. A copy is held at the Fawcett Library.

[Also copy in collection - K9, K12/13]

4) The script of the interview on 10 March 1977 between Brian Harrison and Elizabeth Furlong, 1st cousin once removed and executor of Kathleen Courtney. It is valuable as an account of Kathleen Courtney in old age. A copy is kept at the Fawcett Library. [8SUF].

Also held at The Women's Library are the Records of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (2NSE) and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (5WPF) are held by the Women's Library.

Papers of Kathleen Courtney are also held by other organisations: letters and diaries and papers related to the Friends' Relief Service in Salonika and E Europe (1915-27) are held by the Imperial War Museum's Department of Documents; her correspondence with Lord Cecil (1930-46) is held by the British Library's Manuscript Collections (reference: Add MS 51141); correspondence (1912-20) is also in Manchester University's Labour History Archive and Study Centre (references: LP/CON/18/1/19-20, LP/WOM/12, LP/HUN/1/34); her letters to Mary Childers (1907-23) are in Trinity College Dublin (reference: MSS 7781-7931); correspondence with Gilbert Murray (1927-59) is in Oxford University's Bodleian Library (reference: MSS Gilbert Murray); miscellaneous papers related to female suffrage (1911-14) are in the Cumbria Record Office (reference: D/MAR/3/34). Further WILPF records (1918-54) are also held by the London University's British Library of Political and Economic Science (reference: WILPF), as are the records of the United Nations Association (references: Coll Misc 509 (1949-51), M1761 (1950-1992), UNA ADD (1970-1997).