Autograph Letter Collection: Literary Ladies

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 9/07
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      3 A boxes (3 volumes - 185 items)

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence that discusses social visits, works of a literary nature, invitational offers to engagements, provision of books for book sale organised by Mrs Alys Russell. The collection also includes extensive communication from Beatrice Harraden to Daisy Solomon and various autograph signatures.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

Alys Whitall (1867–1951) was the daughter of Robert Pearsall Smith, a rich American Quaker, who left Philadelphia to settle in Surrey after scandal had forced him to relinquish his career as a charismatic evangelist. She had studied at Bryn Mawr College before the move from Philadelphia. The literary scholar (Lloyd) Logan Pearsall Smith was her brother. Alys was a Fabian Socialist. She married Bertrand Russell in 1894, his 1st wife, they divorced in 1921. She died in 1951.

Beatrice Harraden (1864–1936), was born in South Hampstead, London, on 24 Jan 1864, the youngest child of Samuel Harraden, musical instrument importer, and his wife, Rosalie Harriet Eliza Lindstedt. Educated in Dresden, and at Cheltenham Ladies' College, she went on to Queen's and Bedford colleges in the University of London, where she studied English literature, Latin, and Greek, and was awarded a first in the bachelor of arts degree in 1884. Harraden was a literary protégée of Eliza Lynn Linton during the 1890s. Her first book, a children's story, Things will Take a Turn, was published in 1889 with her first novel, Ships that Pass in the Night being published in 1893. She published 17 novels between 1891-1928, often reflecting her suffragist sympathies. Works included The Fowler (1899); Interplay (1908); The Growing Thread (1916); and Where Your Treasure Is (1918) . She was an active member of the Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) - often speaking at meetings and contributing to 'Votes for Women'. In 1910 she refused to pay income tax after women's suffrage was denied in parliament; subsequently in 1913 her household goods were seized by bailiffs. Harraden was also Vice-president of the Women Writers' Suffrage League, and as an active member of the London Graduates' Suffrage Society as well as organisations such as the Lyceum, Halcyon, and Writers' clubs. In the First World War she served on the Commission for Belgian Relief. She worked as librarian at the Endell Street Military Hospital in London run by her WSPU friends Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Dr Flora Murray. In 1929 Harraden was elected a governor of Bedford College and in the following year was awarded a civil-list pension of £100. She died on 5 May 1936 in Hampshire.

Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was born in 1802, the daughter of Thomas Martineau, a textile manufacturer from Norwich and his wife Elizabeth Martineau. Both were Unitarians and were in favour of education for girls. Consequently, Harriet and her two sisters were taught in a similar way to their three brothers until the latter left for university. Harriet became deaf at an early age. She began writing while in her period of 'mourning' when her brother James, to whom she was closest, left for university. Her first article, 'Female Writers On Practical Divinity', was published anonymously in the monthly repository in 1821. Whilst in 1823 the Unitarian journal, The Monthly Repository, published her anonymous article, 'On Female Education', which described the differences between the sexes as being caused by differing methods of training. Martineau was engaged to John Hugh Worthington but he died of 'brain fever' before the marriage took place. This, combined with the financial difficulties (resulting from the economic crash of 1826) and death of her father, necessitated her earning her own living and freed her to pursue a writing career. she continued to work for the 'Monthly Repository' to support herself. Additionally, she began writing religious works such as 'Devotional Exercises for the Use of Young Persons' and 'Addresses for the Use of Families', both published in 1826. Martineau worked as a seamstress, taking in sewing at home (as opposed to working in a 'sweat shop'), sewing during the day and writing at night until the 'Illustrations' was accepted for publication. Harriet's interest soon moved to politics and she created the series of stories entitled 'Illustrations of Political Economy', in order to popularise the utilitarian theories of Bentham and Priestly and the economic of Smith. When the series of 24 volumes was published in 1832-3, they became a huge success and were followed up by 'Poor Laws and Paupers illustrated' (1834). The profits enabled her to set up home in London and undertake a two-year tour of the United States of America. She based two books on this experience: 'Society in America' (1837) and 'Retrospect of Western Travel' (1838). Martineau remained ambivalent towards women's suffrage, arguing that until women had education, access to professions, and economic independence, their votes would be compromised by the men in their lives. She was, however, keen on the Garrisonian branch of the abolition movement, because it focused on emancipation and included women activists, as opposed to more politically-oriented groups as illustrated in one of her chapters entitled 'The Political Non-Existence of Women'. In this period despite increasing illness, and in addition to her political and historical works, Martineau began writing different genres. Her only novel 'Deerbrook' was published in 1839; followed by a historical biography 'The Hour and the Man' in 1840; and a series of novelettes for children 'The Playfellow' in 1841. She moved to Ambleside in the Lake District in 1845. In 1847 Harriet went with friends on a tour of the Near East for eight months, returning with the manuscript of 'Eastern Life Present and Past', published in 1848. The proceeds from this work paid for her to build her own home in Ambleside. The work was well received but the religious views that it presented were treated with some hostility. During this period she also worked on 'The History of the Peace', which was published in 1849.

The publication of 'Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development' in 1851 was received with more hostility. In this work Martineau advocated agnosticism. The scandal with which it was received was due partly to her insistence that three of the world's primary religions - Judaism, Islam, and Christianity - grew out of the same geographical area and the same, or similar, theological systems, and were not necessarily incompatible. The scandal was also due to her challenge to the dating of human life and cultures, as presented in the scriptures. Martineau, as well as her historical and anthropological sources (Wilkinson, for example) predate the scientific revolution heralded by Darwinism, by nearly twelve years (1859). Marineau's views expressed in 'Letters on the Laws' also destroyed the relationship between her and several members of her family.

Harriet returned to journalism in 1852 as a member of staff at the Daily News where she wrote over 1600 articles during a 16-year period. Harriet also contributed articles for other publications, including pieces on the employment of women for the 'Edinburgh Review' and on the state of girls' education for the 'Cornhill Magazine'. Plagued by invalidism periodically throughout her life, ill health became a problem again in 1855 and she wrote an autobiography in that year in the belief that she was dying. However, she recovered and continued with her career in journalism for approximately another twenty years. Harriet was always interested in and vocal on women's employment, women's education and the legal position of married women. In 1866 she joined Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Emily Davies, Dorothea Beale and Francis Mary Buss in creating and presenting a petition asking Parliament to grant the vote to women. Harriet also campaigned for women's entry into the medical profession. From 1864, and again in 1869, Harriet was active in the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts in which she would later be joined by Josephine Butler. Eventually, ill health began to restrict her public activities during the 1870s, though she continued to write until her death. She died of bronchitis aged 74 in 1876.


The letters have been arranged into three sections as follows A : 1801-1879 (47 letters) B : 1880-1912 (49 letters) C : 1913–1959 (89 letters)

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

Also held at The Women's Library are the personal papers of Harriet Martineau. Other Collections within Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/18 Women in the Arts, 9/22 Scholars & Learned Ladies.