Autograph Letter Collection: Women's Suffrage (also includes postage stamps)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/01
  • Former Reference
      GB 106 ALC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      21 A boxes (21 volumes - 1434 items)

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence of Philippa Strachey, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Lady Balfour and Vera Douie amongst others concerning suffrage meetings, speeches given, subscriptions paid, response to press coverage, circular letters, suffrage processions and parliamentary progress.

Administrative / Biographical History

Philippa Strachey (1872-1968), known as Pippa, was born in 1872 to Lady Jane Maria Strachey and Major Richard Strachey. She was brought up first in India, where her father was a leading figure in the administration, and then in London, where the family moved in 1879. Her mother was active in the movement for women's suffrage and both Philippa and her siblings were encouraged to contribute to this work. In 1906 she became a member of the executive committee of the Central Society for Women's Suffrage and the following year she was elected the secretary of its successor the London Society for Women's Suffrage. In 1906 she joined the London Society for Women's Suffrage, succeeding Edith Palliser as secretary the following year. It was also in 1907 that she joined her mother Lady Jane Maria Strachey in organising what became known as the 'Mud March' at the instigation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and which went from Hyde Park to the Exeter Hall to demand the vote. During the First World War she was deeply involved in various war works, from being the secretary of the Women's Service Bureau for War Workers to participating as a member of the Committee for the London units of the Scottish Women's Hospital from 1914-1919. This war work began her lasting involvement with the issue of women's employment and she remained the secretary of the Women's Service Bureau after 1918 when it became concerned with helping women thrown out of jobs on the return of men from the Front. She remained there until its dissolution, which came in 1922, caused by a financial crisis in the parent organisation. However, subsequently Strachey helped to found a new group to fill the gap, becoming the secretary and then honorary secretary of the Women's Employment Federation. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, family problems took up much of her time as she nursed both her mother and her brother Lytton until their deaths. However, all through this time she remained active in the London Society for Women's Service and when it was renamed the Fawcett Society in 1951, she was asked to be its honorary secretary. It was that year that she was awarded the CBE for her work for women. She subsequently was made a governor of Bedford College. Increasing ill-health slowed the pace of her work and blindness finally forced her to enter a nursing home at the end of her life. She died in 1968.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) was born in Suffolk in 1847, the daughter of Newson and Louisa Garrett and the sister of Samuel Garrett, Agnes Garrett, Louise Smith and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. The sisters' early interest in the issue of women's suffrage and commitment to the Liberal party were heightened after attending a speech given in London by John Stuart Mill in Jul 1865. Though considered too young to sign the petition in favour of votes for women, which was presented to the House of Commons in 1866, Millicent attended the debate on the issue in May 1867. This occurred a month after she married the professor of political economy and radical Liberal MP for Brighton, Henry Fawcett. Throughout their marriage, the future cabinet minister supported his wife's activities while she acted as his secretary due to his blindness. Their only child, Philippa Fawcett, was born the following year and that same month Millicent Garrett Fawcett published her first article, on the education of women. In Jul 1867, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was asked to join the executive committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and was one of the speakers at its first public meeting two years later. She continued her work with the London National Society until after the death of John Stuart Mill in 1874, when she left the organisation to work with the Central Committee for Women's Suffrage. This was a step which she had avoided taking when the latter was formed in 1871 due to its public identification with the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Fawcett, despite her support for the movement's actions, had initially believed that the suffrage movement might be damaged by identification with such controversial work. However, the two groups later merged in 1877 as the new Central Committee for Women's Suffrage and a new executive committee was formed which included Fawcett herself. Her influence helped guide the group towards support for moderate policies and methods. She did little public speaking during this period but after the death of her husband in 1884 and a subsequent period of depression, she was persuaded to become a touring speaker once more in 1886 and began to devote her time to the work of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to women's suffrage Millicent Garrett Fawcett also became involved in the newly created National Vigilance Association, established in 1885, alongside campaigners such as J Stansfeld MP, Mr WT Stead, Mrs Mitchell, and Josephine Butler. In 1894 Fawcett's interest in public morality led her to vigorously campaign against the candidature of Henry Cust as Conservative MP for North Manchester. Cust, who had been known to have had several affairs, had seduced a young woman. Despite marrying Cust's marriage in 1893, after pressure from Balfour, Fawcett felt Cust was unfit for public office. Fawcett's campaign persisted until Cust's resignation in 1895, with some suffrage supporters concerned by Fawcett's doggedness in what they felt was a divisive campaign. In the late nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement was closely identified with the Liberal Party through its traditional support for their work and the affiliation of many workers such as Fawcett herself. However, the party was, at this time, split over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. Fawcett herself left the party to become a Liberal Unionist and helped lead the Women's Liberal Unionist Association. When it was proposed that the Central Committee's constitution should be changed to allow political organisations, and principally the Women's Liberal Federation, to affiliate, Fawcett opposed this and became the Honorary Treasurer when the majority of members left to form the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage. However, in 1893 she became one of the leading members of the Special Appeal Committee that was formed to repair the divisions in the movement. On the 19 Oct 1896 she was asked to preside over the joint meetings of the suffrage societies, which resulted in the geographical division of the country and the formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. She was appointed as the honorary secretary of the Central and Eastern Society that year and became a member of the parliamentary committee of the NUWSS itself. It was not until the parent group's reorganisation in 1907 that she was elected president of the National Union, a position that she would retain until 1919. By 1901, she was already eminent enough to be one of the first women appointed to sit on a Commission of Inquiry into the concentration camps created for Boer civilians by the British during the Boer War. Despite this, her work for suffrage never slackened and she was one of the leaders of the Mud March held in Feb 1907 as well as of the NUWSS procession from Embankment to the Albert Hall in Jun 1908. She became one of the Fighting Fund Committee in 1912 and managed the aftermath of the introduction of the policy, in particular during the North West Durham by-election in 1914, when other members opposed a step that effectively meant supporting the Labour Party when an anti-suffrage Liberal candidate was standing in a constituency. When the First World War broke out in Aug 1914, Fawcett called for the suspension of the NUWSS' political work and a change in activities to facilitate war work. This stance led to divisions in the organisation. The majority of its officers and ten of the executive committee resigned when she vetoed their attendance of a Women's Peace Congress in the Hague in 1915. However, she retained her position in the group. During the war, she also found time to become involved in the issue of women's social, political and educational status in India, an area in which she had become interested through her husband and retained after the conflict came to an end. She remained at the head of the NUWSS when the women's suffrage clause was added to the Representation of the People Act in 1918 and attended the Women's Peace Conference in Paris before lobbying the governments assembled there for the Peace Conference in 1919. She retired in Mar 1919 when the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship but remained on its executive committee. She also continued her activities as the vice-president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, to which she had been elected in 1902, for another year. After this she became the Chair of the journal, the 'Women's Leader', and appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1925. It was in that year that she resigned from both NUSEC and the newspaper's board after opposing the organisation's policy in support of family allowances. She remained active until the end of her life, undertaking a trip to the Far East with her sister Agnes only a short time before her death in 1929.

Lady Frances Balfour [née Campbell], (1858–1931), was born in Kensington, on 22 Feb 1858, tenth of twelve children of George Douglas Campbell, eighth duke of Argyll (1823–1900), and his first wife, Lady Elizabeth Georgiana Leveson-Gower (1824–1878). Lady Frances's youth was spent at the three Campbell residences: Inveraray Castle, in Argyll; Rosneath Castle in Dunbartonshire; and Argyll Lodge in London. She was educated by a governess. Lady Frances had a disability, which left her with one leg shorter than the other and necessitated her wearing a built-up shoe on her right foot. On 12 May 1879 Lady Frances Campbell married Eustace James Anthony Balfour (1854–1911), youngest brother of Arthur James Balfour, later prime minister. Their five children were reared in their home at 32 Addison Road, Kensington. Eustace was an alcoholic which caused disputes with his sister Alice Balfour, it may also explain Lady Frances's refusal to accept alcoholism as acceptable grounds for divorce when she sat as a member of the divorce commission. Lady Frances was friends with politicians and clerics, especially her brothers-in-law Arthur and Gerald Balfour, as well as Sir Robert Finlay, Robert H Story, Archibald Fleming, Alexander Macrae, and AJ Milne. Frances's closest friend was her sister-in-law, Lady Betty Balfour, but was less friendly with Alice Balfour, who managed Arthur Balfour's households. In 1885 Lady Frances became president of the Travellers' Aid Society and she remained president until her death in 1931. In 1889 Lady Frances began her political work when she joined the campaign to secure the women's suffrage and became a leader of the constitutional suffragists. Her campaigning was informed by her mother and grandmother who had been keen abolitionists in the anti-slavery campaigns. She also supported the equal education of women and equal entry to the professions, supporting her niece Ruth Balfour's decision to study and practise medicine. Lady Frances objected to the tactics of the militant Women's Social & Political Union. In the constitutional campaigns she marched, gave many speeches, lobbied, and wrote extensively - she helped lead the ‘Mud March' of Feb 1907. Lady Frances served on the executive committee of the National Union for Women's Suffrage Society from its inception in 1897 until 1918, when British women over the age of thirty were accorded the vote. In addition, she was president of the London Society for Women's Suffrage, from 1896 to 1918 and an active member of the editorial board of the Englishwoman's Review. Due to her family and friends she had regular access to Parliament, and was able to lobby contact in the Liberal, Conservative, and Unionist parties. In 1912 she became founding President of the Scottish Churches' League for Woman's Suffrage. Lady Frances became member of the executive committee of National Council of Women of Great Britain & Ireland in 1917 and in 1921 was elevated to the presidency. Following her retirement as president in 1923, she served as one of the organization's vice-presidents until her death in 1931. Lady Frances was one of two female members of the royal commission on divorce and matrimonial causes which sat from 1910 to 1912. She was the first chairman of the Lyceum Club, and a member of the executive committee of the Women's Municipal Party, which encouraged women of all parties to stand for election to councils. She was also granted honorary degrees from the University of Durham (DLitt 1919) and the University of Edinburgh (LLD 1921). Lady Frances was also active in the Anglican Church; between 1893 to 1930 she was one of the few women who regularly attended the annual meeting of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. Between 1905 to 1909, she ensured the rebuilding of Crown Court Church in Covent Garden. She was also President of the Crown Court Church's Woman's Guild following the death of her sister, in 1910 and served in this capacity until her death. Lady Frances published numerous articles and letters in British periodicals and the daily press, as well as several books. Her autobiography Ne obliviscaris: Dinna Forget (1930); biographies of: Lady Victoria Campbell (1911), The Life and Letters of the Reverend James MacGregor (1912), Dr Elsie Inglis (1918), The Life of George, Fourth Earl of Aberdeen (1923), and A Memoir of Lord Balfour of Burleigh (1925). Lady Frances Balfour died at her London home, 32 Addison Road, Kensington, on 25 Feb 1931 from pneumonia and heart failure. She was buried at Whittingehame, the Balfour family home in East Lothian.

Vera Douie (1894-1979) was born in Lahore in 1894, the daughter of a British Civil servant in India. She was educated at the Godolphin School, Salisbury before going on to complete her studies at Oxford University before degrees could be taken by women. She subsequently became a library assistant at the War Office Library from 1916 until 1921, the year in which she became the indexer of 'The Medical History of the War'. She later became the librarian of the London National Society for Women's Service at the Women's Service Library at Marsham St, London between 1926 and her retirement in 1967. It was Douie who, during this period, laid the foundations of its transformation into the Fawcett Library (now The Women's Library). She was active in the women's movement throughout her life and was particularly involved in the Association for Moral & Social Hygiene. During the Second World War she was a fervent campaigner for equal rights and published 'The Lesser Half' on behalf of the Women's Publicity Planning Association in 1943, examining the 'laws, regulations and practices introduced during the present war, which embody discrimination against women'. After the war, she also published 'Daughters of Britain: an account of the work of British women during the 2nd World War' (1950). When she retired in 1967, she was awarded the OBE for her life's work. She died in 1979.


9/1/A 1851-1894 9/1/B1 1895-1906 9/1/B2 Apr-Dec 1906 9/1/B2/2 1906-1908 9/1/B3 Jan-Jun 1907 9/1/B4 Jul-Dec 1907 9/1/C 1908 9/1/D Jan-Feb 1909 9/1/E Mar-Jul 1909 9/1/F Aug-Oct 1909 9/1/G Nov-Dec 1909 9/1/H1 Jan-May 1910 9/1/H2 Jun-Aug 1910 9/1/H3 Sep-Dec 1910 9/1/J1 1911 9/1/J2 1912 9/1/K 1913-1914 9/1/L 1915-1917 9/1/M 1919-1937 9/1/N 1938-1953 9/1/O 1954-1973

Access Information

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

Other Finding Aids

Abstracts of individual letters in the autograph letters collection were written and held alongside the letters. This work was done from the 1960s by volunteers including Nan Taylor. In 2004 Jean Holder completed a 3 year project to list the letters, copy-type the abstracts, and repackage the letters to meet preservation needs. In 2005 Vicky Wylde and Teresa Doherty proof read and imported the entries to the Special Collections Catalogue.

The original card index of all correspondents, including date of letter & volume reference, is available on the microfiche.

Alternative Form Available

A copy of this archive is available on microfilm held at The Women's Library.

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.

Related Material

All collections within The Women's Library Strand 2 relate to women's suffrage. Furthermore, personal papers of prominent suffragists, e.g Millicent Garrett Fawcett (7MGF), Emily Wilding Davison (7EWD) are held at The Women's Library. Other Collections within Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/02 General Women's Movement, 9/03 Emancipation of Women, 9/09 Suffrage and Women in Industry, 9/13 Mrs Harriet McIlquham, 9/20 The Militants, 9/28 Becker Collection, 9/29 Billinghurst Letters.