The collection primarily contains single letters that have been donated or purchased by the Library over a period of time. It contains letters from various notable women including Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Christabel Pankhurst, Agnes Maude Royden and Edith How-Martyn. Subjects covered include the women's suffrage campaign, nursing during the Crimean War and entry of women into the professions.
Autograph Letter Collection (additional items)
- This material is held at
- ReferenceGB 106 9/31
- Former ReferenceGB 106 Acc 1994/10 was originally accessioned as M/WLU.
- Dates of Creationc.1810-1975
- Language of MaterialEnglish
- Physical Description1 A box and 1album
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Margaret Grace Bondfield (1873-1953) was born to William Bondfield and Anne Taylor in 1873. Her education ended with elementary school and her first job was as a pupil teacher at Chard Elementary School in 1886. She subsequently became a shop assistant in Briton in 1887 where she became acquainted with Louisa Martindale who encouraged her to continue her education. In 1894 she moved to London to live with her brother Frank and there found similar employment and soon became active in the Shoe Assistants' Union as well as the Fabian Society. There she also joined the Idealists' Club and met prominent radicals such as George Bernard Shaw and began writing articles for the publication The Shop Assistant' under the name of Grace Dare. In 1896, she was asked by Clementina Black of the Women's Industrial Council to carry out an investigation into the pay and conditions of shop workers and the report was published two years later. After this work she became recognised as Britain's leading expert on shop workers, giving evidence to the Select Committee on Shops in 1902 and to the Select Committee on the Truck System in 1907. In 1908, Bondfield resigned from the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants and Warehousemen and Clerks where she had been assistant secretary since 1898, to become the secretary of the Women's Labour League. In 1910 she assisted the WIC's inquiry into the pay of married women before being asked by the Liberal Government to serve on the Advisory Committee on the Health Insurance Bill. Her influence led to the inclusion of maternity benefits to be paid to the mother in the final bill of the WCG on creating legislation for a minimum wage. Between 1912 and 1915, she also worked for the Women's Trades Union League and the National Federation of Women Workers as well as with Women's Co-operative Guild in its campaign for minimum wage legislation as well as improvement in child welfare. A member of the Independent Labour Party, she was also interested in the issue of women's suffrage, but unlike many in the area refused to accept a franchise that was to be extended only to certain categories of women drawn from certain classes of society, excluding the working classes from the right to vote. Consequently, she became Chair of the Adult Suffrage Society. Due to her religious beliefs, when the First World War broke out, she was equally opposed to the pro-war stance taken by both the Women's Social and Political Union and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Instead, she spoke at a pacifist rally in Trafalgar Square in 1914, then joined the UDC and the Women's Peace Crusade. In 1916, she was one of the founders of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations and was a delegate at the International Labour and Socialist Conference in Berne in 1918. After the war, her activities increased once more: she became the Chair of the Women's International Council of Socialist and Labour Organisations as well as being the first female member of the TUC's Parliamentary Committee in 1918. Her involvement with the TUC was close, becoming a member of the General Council from 1918-1924 and then again from 1926 to 1929. In 1920 she was the joint representative of the Labour party and the TUC sent her to the USSR and there she met Lenin. She contested the seat of Northampton in 1920 and then again in 1922, finally being elected to the House of Commons in 1923 as Labour MP for the city. In her first year in the house, she was appointed to the Labour Government's Emergency Committee on Unemployment and the following year was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour. It was this seat in the cabinet that Bondfield herself took in 1929 as the MP for Wallsend, becoming the first female British minister. However, during the heart of the Depression in 1931, many in the feminist and labour movements attacked Bondfield when she supported a government policy that would deprive some married women of unemployment benefit. That same year, she lost her seat at the general election after losing support from her constituency for taking this step and though she contested it once more in 1935, she was never returned to parliament again. Her continued involvement in politics was done through work as an activist. In the late 1930's she travelled to the United States of America and Mexico to study labour conditions before returning to become the Vice President of the National Council of Social Services. During the Second World War, she was chair of the Women's Group on Public Welfare as well as undertaking a lecture tour of Canada and the USA for the British Information Services between 1941 and 1943. She was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1948, before retiring to a nursing home in Surrey where she died in 1953.
Mary Carpenter (1807-1877) was born in Exeter, the daughter of Dr Lant Carpenter. The family soon moved to Bristol. Miss Carpenter spent most of her life working on social projects in Bristol, especially dealing with young offenders. She co-operated with Matthew Davenport-Hill at a conference held in Birmingham 1851, on the subject of the best means of dealing with destitute children and young offenders. In 1853 a second conference resulted in the Bill 'For the better care and reformation of youthful offenders in Great Britain' which became an Act in 1854. In anticipation of the Act Miss Carpenter was largely responsible for the establishment in Bristol of institutions for boys and girls. In 1854 the Kingswood School for Boys (Reformatory) and the Red Lodge Reformatory for Girls were opened. Miss Carpenter also laboured for industrial schools and was active in helping to promote the Bill (passed as an Act in 18557) establishing these schools. In 1864 she published 'Our Convicts' in 2 volumes. In 1866 she became interested in the question of the education of women in India and during the rest of her life she made a substantial contribution to this work. She died on the 14 Jun 1877.
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.
Edith How Martyn (1875-1954) was born in London in 1875, sister of Florence Earengey. She attended the North London Collegiate School and then University College, Aberystwyth where she took the associateship in Physics and Mathematics. She married Herbet Martyn in 1899, completing her BSc the following year. From youth, she had radical political opinions and was a member of the Independent Labour Party before becoming an early member of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1905. The following year she was appointed joint secretary of the WSPU with Charlotte Despard and it was in Oct 1906 that she was arrested in the lobby of the House of Commons and given a two-month sentence. However, the future direction of the WSPU under the Pankhursts was a matter of some concern to her as it was to other members at this time and in 1907 she left the group along with Charlotte Despard to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL). This abandoned the violent tactics of the older group in favour of non-violent illegal acts to convey their message. She was honorary secretary of the new group from 1907 to 1911, when she became head of the Political and Militant section. However, she resigned in Apr 1912, disappointed with the WFL's progress after the defeat of the Conciliation Bill. How-Martyn's next political act was to stand as an independent candidate in Hendon in the 1918 general election, an attempt she was not successful in. How Martyn held public office for the first time In 1919, when she became a member of the Middlesex County Council, a post she held until 1922. From now on, her interests would be mainly directed to the issue of birth control. She met the American family planning leader Margaret Sanger in 1915 and had been impressed by her ideas, subsequently organising the 1927 World Population Conference in Geneva with the New Yorker and becoming honorary director of the Birth Control International Information Centre in London in 1930. Between Nov 1934 and Mar 1935 the Englishwoman would travel through India campaigning for birth control, then went with Sanger on her trip to Asia the following year. How-Martyn returned the sub-continent several times in the following years to continue the work started there at this point. However, her past campaigning for women's suffrage was not forgotten: in 1926 she also established the Suffragette Fellowship that would begin the process of documenting the movement. She would continue this work in the following decades through a local branch in Australia which she established after she moved there at the outbreak of the Second World. Due to ill health, she remained in that country until she died in 1954.
Christabel Harriette Pankhurst (1880-1958) was the eldest child of Richard Marsden Pankhurst and Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulden). She was educated at home and then at Southport and Manchester High Schools for Girls, before being sent to finishing school abroad. Her father's death in 1898 brought her back to England early. Christabel had always been exposed to the idea of women's suffrage, her father having been a supporter of the cause, and very shortly after her return she became involved in suffrage activities, addressing meetings and writing pamphlets and articles. She became an active member of the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage, and first came to general public notice in Feb 1904, when she interrupted a Liberal meeting in Manchester at which Winston Churchill was guest speaker. The following year she and Annie Kenney used the same tactic at another Liberal meeting, and having created a considerable disturbance, succeeded in getting themselves arrested. Their refusal to pay a fine ensured maximum media attention and widespread publicity for their sentence of 7 days' in prison. During the general election of 1906 Christabel organised the Women's Social and Political Union's (WSPU) campaign from Manchester, where she remained in order to complete her law studies, graduating in Jul 1906 with a first class degree in law. After graduation she moved to London to become the WSPU's chief organiser. She was arrested for a second time in Feb 1907 for creating a disturbance, for which she served 14 days in Holloway Prison, and again in Oct 1908, when with her mother and Flora Drummond she received a custodial sentence of 10 weeks for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. On each occasion, Christabel used her appearance in court to gain maximum publicity for the women's cause, conducting her own defence. After release from Holloway she continued the WSPU's campaign of anti-government tactics, writing weekly articles for 'Votes for Women', and encouraging the WSPU members to 'militancy' without defining what that should be. After the mass window-smashing episodes of early Mar 1912 a warrant was issued for the arrest of the Pankhursts, but Christabel managed to escape to Paris, where she remained until after the outbreak of war in 1914, continuing to dictate WSPU strategy at a distance. She made at least one trip to London from Paris, in disguise, in order to dismiss fellow suffragettes Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence from the WSPU. The next two years saw many formerly loyal WSPU supporters leave the organisation in protest at her autocratic methods and the more dramatic stunts of the militants. The WSPU suspended its suffrage campaign in Sep 1914 in order to concentrate on its patriotic duty and contribute to the war effort, but in 1917 Christabel relaunched the organisation as the Women's Party. She stood in the general election of Dec 1918 as the Women's Party candidate for Smethwick, losing narrowly. After this she left politics and spent most of the rest of her life in America. In 1936 she was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of her work for women's suffrage.
Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952) actress, writer, and feminist, was born in America in 1863, living in England from 1888, and died in May 1952. She was married to George Richmond Parks in 1885; he died in 1887. She was the author of The Open Question (1898), The Magnetic North (1904), The Convert (1907), Both Sides of the Curtain (1940) and the play Votes for Women! (1907), amongst others. A pioneer of women's rights she was an original Director of Time and Tide; on the executive of the Women's Social & Political Union between 1907 and 1912; vice-president of the Six Point Group; and first president of the Women Writers' Suffrage League.
Agnes Maude Royden (1876-1956) was born on 23 Nov 1876, the youngest daughter of the ship-owning Conservative MP from Liverpool, Sir Thomas Bland Royden (later first baronet of Frankby Hall, Cheshire). She was educated first at Cheltenham Ladies College, then at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford from 1896-1899, where she met Kathleen Courtney and Ida O'Malley. She obtained a second-class degree in modern history.
After graduating she spent three years working with the Victoria Women's Settlement in Liverpool. In these years around 1900 Royden's political views moved away from her family's Conservatism until she joined the Labour Party after the First World War. In 1905 Royden undertook parish work in South Luffenham for the Reverend William Hudson Shaw, whom she had met at Oxford. She became friends with him and his second wife Effie. They remained close friends, Royden marrying Shaw after Effie's death. The marriage took place just two months before Shaw's death in 1944. Shaw enabled Royden to lecture in the Oxford University Extension Delegacy Scheme, for which he also lectured. Royden was one of the first female lecturers for the Scheme. In 1908 Royden became a regular speaker for the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She was appointed to its executive committee in 1911, edited its newspaper 'The Common Cause' between 1913-1914 and wrote 5 pamphlets for them. From 1910, she supported the Tax Resistance League and was the first Chair of the Church League for Women's Suffrage. From 1911 was a member of the executive committee of the London Society for Women's Suffrage (LSWS). By 1912 she was giving well over 250 speeches a year and ran 'Speakers classes' for NUWSS and LSWS. In 1913 she was also appointed president of the Chester Women's Suffrage Society, vice president of the Oxford Women Students' Suffrage Society. 1912 was an important year for the future of the women's movement. It was in this year that the Labour Party made support for female suffrage part of its policy for the first time. When, that same year, the NUWSS launched the Election Fighting Fund policy, which promised support to any party officially supporting suffrage in an election where the candidate was challenging an anti-suffrage Liberal, the effect was to effectively support the Labour Party. The women's suffrage campaign had long been associated with the Liberal Party and had always been non-party, welcoming the left and right wing into its numbers. After this step, however, some members, such as Eleanor Rathbone, left the organisation in opposition to this step. Royden, however, supported the move and was one of the speakers at the joint meeting of the NUWSS and the Labour Party held in the Albert Hall in Feb 1914. Later in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, Royden found herself in conflict with many in the NUWSS, which under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, had thrown itself enthusiastically into support for work to support the war effort. At the end of 1914 she became the secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation with other Christian Pacifists. In Feb 1915 she resigned as editor of 'Common Cause' and gave up her place on the executive council. She had intended to attend the women's peace congress in the Hague in 1915 that year but was unable to do so when travel via the North Sea was forbidden. None the less, when the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom was established there, she became the vice-president. Despite this, even outside of the NUWSS, she campaigned for the vote for women through the National Council for Adult Suffrage and when a limited franchise was granted in 1918, she was asked to address the celebratory meeting organised by the older group at the Queen's Hall. In the post-war period, her main interests were concerned with the role of women in the Church. Between 1917-1920 Royden became an assistant preacher to Dr Fort Newton at the City Temple. Though a committed Anglican, as a woman she was not normally permitted to preach in the Church of England. In 1920 she was granted an interdenominational pulpit at the Kensington Town Hall through the Fellowship Services. This position was soon transferred to the Guildhouse in Eccleston Square and she continued to preach socially radical sermons from there for some years, on issues such as unemployment, peace and marriage. Percy Dearmer and Martin Shaw assisted her. In turn Royden continued to assist Hudson Shaw in his parish St Botolph's Bishopsgate in the City of London, including a controversial appearance to preach in a service on Good Friday 30 Mar 1923.
In 1922 Royden was invited to stand as a Labour candidate for the Wirral constituency but declined for the sake of her work in the church. Royden made several preaching tours across the world from the 1920s to the 1940s and undertook large-scale article writing: She visited America in 1911, 1923, 1928, and 1941-1942. The 1928 visit was part of a world tour that included Australia, New Zealand and China. Whilst in 1928 and 1934-1935 she visited India with Dame Margery Corbett Ashby and met Ghandi. Royden continued her work for peace, through her 'Peace Army' proposals of 1923 and her support of the League of Nations. People such as Rev 'Dick' Shepherd and Herbert Gray in turn supported Royden. Royden resigned from the Guildhall post in 1936 to concentrate her efforts in this area until 1939. In 1939, however, Royden renounced pacifism believing Nazism to be a greater evil than war. In 1944 she married Hudson Shaw. After 1945, she was mainly occupied by writing and radio broadcasts on religion. Her last book was 'A Threefold Cord' 1947 an autobiographical work. Royden died at her home in London on the 30 Jul 1956.
Mary Stocks (1891-1975) was the daughter of Roland Danvers, a General Practitioner, and Helen Constance Rendel. She was educated at St. Paul's Girls' School, London and at the London School of Economics (LSE) where she studied economics, graduating in 1913. In 1913 she married John Leofric Stocks. Mary went on to have an academic career at the University of Oxford, LSE, King's College of Household and Social Science, Manchester University and Westfield College London, of which she was Principal from 1939-1951. Whilst still at school, Mary had become a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She carried a banner in the 1907 Mud March' and stewarded at meetings, distributed literature, attended conferences and addressed street corner meetings. In 1914 she became a member of the Executive Committee of the NUWSS and in 1928 remained involved in the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship. In addition she was active in the birth control movement and was a member of various royal commissions and statutory committees, including the Unemployment Statutory Committee. Mary Stocks also wrote and broadcast widely. Her publications include The Industrial State: A Social and Economic History of England' (1921), The Case for Family Endowment' (1927), a biography of Eleanor Rathbone and histories of district nursing, the Manchester University Settlement and the Workers Educational Association. In addition, she published two autobiographical volumes, My Commonplace Book' (1970), which contains an account of her suffrage activities, and Still more commonplace' (1973). She was created a life peer in 1966. She died in 1975.
The letters are not arranged in chronological or alphabetical order. Most of the letters are stored in an album; oversize letters are stored in an archive box.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.
Other Finding Aids
The Women's Library Catalogue
This is a group of autograph letters that has been brought together from many individual accessions. Many of these accessions were acquired from Miss Winifred A Myers. Some are of unknown provenance, found in a box labelled 'autograph letters awaiting listing' during the move into the new building, 2002 and formally accessioned, July 2003. A few of the accessions have been purchased.