Autograph Letter Collection: Letters of Constance Lytton

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/21
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 A box (1 volume)

Scope and Content

The collection includes letters, mainly concerning suffrage, written between, from and to Lady Constance Lytton and a number of correspondents including Miss Strachey, Miss Flatman, Dr Alice Ker, Miss Daisy Solomon, Rose Lamartine Yates, Mrs Terrero, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Miss [Margaret] Ker, Elizabeth Robins, an open letter to Friends at a Prisoners' Dinner, and a letter from June Mills about Lady Constance Lytton.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

Alice Jane Shannon Ker (1853-1943) was born in 1853, the eldest daughter of Edward Stewart Ker, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. In 1872 she attended University Classes for Ladies in literature and physiology and became a friend of Sophia Jex-Blake who was involved in a dispute with the University of Edinburgh to allow women to study medicine there. Ker eventually studied and took her degree at the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Dublin. She went on to share a practice with Jex-Blake for a year in Edinburgh before studying at Berne University, then working as a house surgeon at the Children's Hospital in Birmingham. She returned to Edinburgh in 1887 and set up an independent practice. The following year she married her cousin Edward Ker and moved with him to Birkenhead and became Honorary Medical Officer to the Wirral Hospital for Sick Children and to the Wirral Lying-In Hospital. During this time, she lectured in domestic economy as well as becoming involved in the Temperance Movement and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the 1890s she also became active in local suffrage work in the Birkenhead Women's Suffrage Society. In 1907, her husband died suddenly. After this point, Dr Ker's suffrage activities increased and she became increasingly involved with the militant Women's Social & Political Union along with her seventeen year old daughter Margaret. She was in contact with Lady Constance Lytton and Mary Gawthorpe as well as Mrs Forbes Robertson. In Mar 1912 she took part in a smashing raid at Harrods Department Store in London and was arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Holloway Prison for three months. She was released on 10 May 1912 and continued her suffrage activities as well as war work, in Liverpool, where she moved in 1914. She was the host of Sylvia Pankhurst when she spoke there in 1916, before moving to London, where she died in 1943. Her daughter Margaret was a student at the University of Liverpool at this time and she too took part in militant activity. She was arrested twice, the second time spending three months in Walton Gaol from Nov 1912 to Jan 1913. She died in 1943.

Constance Lytton (1869-1923) was born in 1869, the daughter of Robert, the first Earl of Lytton and Viceroy of India, and Edith Villiers. She was educated at home, in India and then in Europe where the family returned in 1880. In the 1890s Constance Lytton's attachment to a young man of a lower social class was ended by her mother while her sister Elizabeth married Gerald Balfour. Balfour and his sisters, Frances and Emily, were deeply involved in the women's suffrage movement, and influenced their new sister-in-law, but it was not until 1909 after Lytton had made contact with Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Annie Kenney that she joined a suffrage group: the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU). The following year, in 1910, Lytton took part in a demonstration at the House of Commons where she was arrested. Her imprisonment was made easier, however, when her identity and her poor health were discovered and she was sent to spend her sentence in the prison infirmary. Consequently, at later demonstrations she took a false name and was arrested as Jane Warton, a London seamstress. She was sentenced to fourteen days, went on hunger strike, and was force fed eight times until her identity was again uncovered and she was immediately released. In 1910 she was appointed a paid WSPU organiser and in 1911 she was arrested once again for breaking a post office window after the failure of the Conciliation Bill, but the trial was delayed when she suffered a heart attack in custody. She was released when the poor state of her health became clear and her fine was paid anonymously. Soon afterward Lytton suffered a stroke which left her partly paralysed. Her activities from now on were concentrated on writing propaganda for the WSPU. She published a series of pamphlets and articles and a book on her experiences and those of fellow inmates with the title, 'Prisons and Prisoners'. After the cessation of militant activity at the outbreak of the First World War, Lytton began to work with Marie Stopes in the campaign to establish birth-control clinics in Britain but spent much of her time as an invalid cared for by her family. She died in 1923.

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.

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.

Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) (1903-c.1919) was the prime mover of suffrage militancy. In Oct 1903 the WSPU was founded in Manchester at Emmeline Pankhurst's home in Nelson Street. Members include: Emmeline, Adela and Christabel Pankhrst, Teresa Billington-Greig, Annie Kenney and Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy. Several had been members of the NUWSS and had links with the Independent Labour Party, but were frustrated with progress, reflected in the WSPU motto 'Deeds, not Words'. An initial aim of WSPU was to recruit more working class women into the struggle for the vote. In late 1905 the WSPU began militant action with the consequent imprisonment of their members. The first incident was on 13 Oct 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney attended a meeting in London where they heckled the speaker Sir Edward Grey, a minister in the British government. Pankhurst and Kenney were arrested, charged with assault upon a police officer and fined five shillings each. They refused to pay the fine and were sent to prison. In 1906 the WSPU moved to London and continued militant action - with the 'Daily Mail' calling the activists 'suffragettes' an unfavourable term adopted by the group. Between 1906-1908 there were several constitutional disagreements with the Women's Freedom League being founded in Nov 1907 by the 'Charlotte Despard faction'. From 1908 the WSPU tactics of disturbing meetings developed to breaking the windows of government buildings. This increased the number of women imprisoned. In Jul 1909 Marion Dunlop was the first imprisoned suffragette to go on hunger strike, many suffragettes followed her example and force-feeding was introduced. Between 1910-1911 the Conciliation Bills were presented to Parliament and militant activity ceased, but when Parliament sidelined these Bills the WSPU re-introduced their active protests.

Between 1912-1914 there was an escalation of WSPU violence - damage to property and arson and bombing attacks became common tactics. Targets included government and public buildings, politicians' homes, cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses. Some members of the WSPU such as the Pethick-Lawrences, disagreed with this arson campaign and were expelled. Other members showed their disapproval by leaving the WSPU. The Pethick-Lawrences took with them the journal 'Votes for Women', hence the new journal of the WSPU the 'Suffragette' launched in Oct 1912. In 1913 in response to the escalation of violence, imprisonment and hunger strikes the government introduced the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act (popularly known as the 'Cat and Mouse Act'). Suffragettes who went on hunger strike were released from prison as soon as they became ill and when recovered they were re-imprisoned.

Discord within the WSPU continued - In Jan 1914 Sylvia Pankhurst's 'East London Federation of the WSPU' was expelled from the WSPU and became an independent suffrage organisation. On 4 Aug 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two days later the NUWSS announced that it was suspending all political activity until the war was over. In return for the release of all suffragettes from prison the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities. The WSPU organised a major rally attended by 30,000 people in London to emphasise the change of direction. In Oct 1915, The WSPU changed its newspaper's name from 'The Suffragette' to 'Britannia'. Emmeline's patriotic view of the war was reflected in the paper's new slogan: 'For King, For Country, for Freedom'. the paper was 'conservative' in tone and attacked campaigners, politicians, military leaders and pacifists for not furthering the war effort. Not all members supported the WSPU war policy and several independent groups were set up as members left the WSPU. In 1917 the WSPU became known as the 'Women's Party and in Dec 1918 fielded candidates at the general election (including Christabel Pankhurst). However they were not successful and the organisation does not appear to have survived beyond 1919.


Arranged in chronological order.

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.

Related Material

All collections within The Women's Library Strand 2 relate to women’s suffrage. Other Collections within Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/01 Women's Suffrage, 9/02 General Women’s Movement, 9/20 Militant Suffragettes.

Lytton's correspondence and papers (1909-12) including a manuscript account of prison experiences are held by the Museum of London Library (Reference : 50.82/1119 1125-9); her correspondence with Arthur James Balfour (1909-11) is held in the Manuscript Department of the British Library (Reference : Add MSS 49793 Passim).