Papers of Octavia Wilberforce

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of a bound typescript autobiography (c.1952), correspondence (1918-1920), copies of papers written by Wilberforce (1928-c.1960), photographs (c. 1885-1960), memorials and an obituary.

Administrative / Biographical History

Octavia Margaret Wilberforce (1888-1963) was born in Lavington in Sussex on 8 Jan 1888, the daughter of Reginald and Anna Wilberforce who was granddaughter of William Wilberforce. In Jul 1909, the young women had become friends with Elizabeth Robins, the suffrage campaigner who would become her companion for a number of years. When a maid became ill in 1910, it was suggested that she took her to see Louisa Martindale, one of the doctors at Brighton County Hospital. The meeting influenced her decision to become a doctor herself, a step that was opposed by her parents. Her father arranged for her instead to marry Charles Buxton, the eldest son of Lord Buxton. Octavia refused and was struck from his will but Robins offered to help fund the course, as did Lord Buxton. In 1913 Wilberforce entered the London School of Medicine after studying privately for the entrance examinations, later moving to Dublin to continue the work. She returned to London and treated British casualties at St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington until the end of the war. After this Wilberforce returned to Brighton and opened a medical practice there at Montpelier Crescent. Additionally, she became active in the campaign run by Elizabeth Robins and Dr Louisa Martindale to install a new women's hospital in Brighton that would be named the New Sussex Hospital. She was one of three visiting doctors before later being appointed the hospital's head physician. She, Elizabeth Robins and Marjorie Hubert also helped set up a convalescent home at Backsettown, Henfield, in Robins's country home for overworked professional women in 1927. During the Second World War, she came to know Leonard and Virginia Woolf and was asked for medical advice during the writer's last illness. Octavia Wilberforce officially retired from the New Sussex Hospital in 1954, but she continued to work on Sussex County Council and at Backsettown until her death in 1963.

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

Donated to The Fawcett Library by The Backsettown Trustees in two accessions during 1983, with an accrual in 2007.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue

Related Material

Wilberforce's correspondence with Virginia Woolf (1940-41) and Leonard Woolf (1941-63) is held by Sussex University Library Special Collections (Ref. : SxMs 13 and SxMs 18).

Geographical Names