Women history resources at Oxford University (Part 1): a selection of archival resource in Oxford Libraries

In a large library system such as the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford college libraries, holding over 13 million books and vast archives between them, archival resources on women can be difficult to spot. Therefore, in honour of History Day 2018, organised by the Institute of Historical Research Library and Senate House Library, and whose theme this year is women’s history, this blog post aims to highlight the archives of a selection of remarkable women who were in some way connected to Oxford or whose papers were deposited in Oxford. Their lives span the political, literary, social and scientific spheres of late 18th, 19th and 20th century Britain. Each one of them has a story to tell, in their own way, through their diaries and letters, and each is outstanding and interesting for their various contributions to British life, culture and science. Collectively, the archives document women’s lives and their struggles for recognition and rights, but also celebrate their achievements both before and after the suffragette movement.

The history of women in Oxford’s male-dominated university is briefly described at History of Women at Oxford. It was thanks to individual initiatives, and the pioneering work of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW), that women’s colleges came to be established in Oxford. Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville opened in 1879, followed by St Hugh’s in 1886 and St Hilda’s in 1893. Women only become full members of the University in 1920.

Exhibition: Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared

6 March 2018 — 22 February 2019
Venue: Treasury, Weston Library (Map)

Pirates and poets; suffragettes and explorers – this exhibition celebrates the achievements of women who dared to do the unexpected. Sappho to Suffrageshowcases some of the Bodleian’s most remarkable and treasured items. Highlights on show from the Bodleian Libraries collections of over 13 million items include:

  • 2nd century BCE fragments of Sappho’s poetry written on papyrus;
  • Ada Lovelace’s 19th century notes on mathematics;
  • the manuscript of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein;
  • a manuscript of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, Volume the First;
  • photographs by the Victorian photography pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron; and
  • a musical score by Fanny Mendelssohn.
  • the only known surviving version of the board game Suffragetto:

Highlights of the exhibition also include a ‘lost banner‘, a specially commissioned recreation of a banner originally used by the Oxford Women’s Suffrage Society in 1908, and a display featuring the perspectives of contemporary women one hundred years since the vote was won.

POLITICS

Papers of Emma Alice Margaret (Margot) Asquith, Countess of Oxford (1864-1945)

‘Margot’ Asquith, Countess of Oxford and Asquith by Elliott & Fry. NPG x90783

Political hostess and diarist. Married H.H. Asquith, the Home Secretary, in 1894. In 1905 Asquith became Chancellor of the Exchequer and in 1908 Prime Minister. Her leading position, as Asquith’s wife, in London Society is reflected in her correspondence.

The collection includes diaries, 1876-1923; general correspondence, 1876-1945, followed by family correspondence, 1884-1945; literary papers, 1879-1945; personal papers.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Papers of Barbara Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn, 1868-2002

Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle by Walter Bird 17 June 1964 NPG x1664273

Labour cabinet minister and campaigner.

The papers comprise diaries 1953-2001, family correspondence 1903-2000; political papers (encompassing papers relating to the Labour Party, backbench MP subject files, ministerial papers, MEP papers, and House of Lords subject files); speeches and lectures, 1937-2001; financial and legal papers, 1919-2002; personal papers, 1926-2002; Secretaries’ papers, 1983-2002; Drawings and paintings, 1967-[1995]; and Photographs, 1905-98.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

 

Violet Milner Papers (1872-1958) 

Imperial activist. Married Lord Edward Herbert Gascoyne-Cecil (1867-1918) in 1894. She subsequently married Viscount Milner (1854-1925) in 1921. She had an interest in politics and was editor of The National Review1932-48.

The collection consists mainly of the papers of Violet Milner. It contains material relating to 19th- and 20th-century British and Imperial history, in particular the Boer War. The coverage of 20th-century South African politics is notable. Most major British politicians and political events of this period are documented in some way.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Margery Fry (1874-1958) (held at Somerville College, Oxford)

Penal reformer and Principal of Somerville College 1927-30. Archive comprises correspondence and papers.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Correspondence and papers of Lady Violet Bonham Carter (1887-1969)

(Helen) Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury by Howard Coster. 1933.  NPG x3017

Liberal political figure and daughter of H.H. Asquith and his first wife Helen.

Held the position of President of the Women’s Liberal Federation twice, from 1923-5 and again 1939-45. In 1945 she was invited to become President of the Liberal Party Organization, the first woman to do so, holding office until 1947. In 1963 she became the first woman to give the Romanes lecture at the University of Oxford, speaking on ‘The Impact of Personality on Politics’.

She also wrote articles for magazines, mainly for women, and letters to newspapers on national and international causes. Awarded a life peerage in 1964 and attended House of Lords until her death in 1969.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Papers of Evelyn Emmet, Baroness Emmet of Amberley (1901-75)

Evelyn Emmet, Baroness Emmet of Amberley by Walter Bird, November 1958. NPG x167398

Politician and Conservative MP.

Educated at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (1917-20) where she read literae humaniores. Her political career began in local government but played a national role serving on the Home Office probation advisory committee and of the Home Office special commission on cinema and the child in 1950. In 1952 and 1953 she was the UK delegate to the UN’s general assembly. Became an MP in 1955 and elevated to the Lords in 1964, serving there as deputy speaker and deputy chair of committees 1968-77.

The papers include diaries, correspondence, speeches, articles, broadcasts, and printed papers relating to her political career.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Papers of Vera Brittain  1893-1970

Vera Brittain by Howard Coster. 1936. NPG x24033

Writer, feminist, pacifist.

Best known as the author of the memoir Testament of Youth. She was accepted to read English at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1915; returned after World War I in 1919, changing her course to Modern History. Papers of Vera Brittain consist of:

  • Notebooks concerning her participation in the World Pacifist Conference and her lecture tour in India, 1949-50
  • Volume of photographs of Cape Comorin, India, n.d.

Papers of Vera Brittain held at Somerville College: the Somerville archive contains a collection of her letters, diaries, photos and books left to the College by her friend and one-time literary executor Paul Berry.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

LITERATURE & CULTURE

Abinger Papers

The Abinger collection comprises the correspondence and papers of three generations of the Godwin & Shelley families. This includes the majority of the surviving correspondence and papers of the philosopher and author William Godwin and his first wife, the feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft, and second wife, the translator and bookshop owner Mary Jane Clairmont, as well as the correspondence of Everina Wollstonecraft and Eliza Bishop, Mary Wollstonecraft’s sisters.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie. oil on canvas, circa 1797. NPG 1237

Writer, advocator of women’s rights and philosopher.

Best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), a best seller of its day, but also wrote novels and a book on the history of the French Revolution.

Archive includes correspondence & papers from 1785 to 1797.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

 

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell. oil on canvas, exhibited 1840. NPG 1235

Writer and daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft. Best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus(1818).

Archive includes correspondence and papers, manuscripts of novels, short stories, poems, non-fiction works, personal papers (drawing, inventories, financial papers).

A fair copy of Shelley’s 1817 script for Frankenstein (MS. Abinger c.58) is available in Digital.Bodleian.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

 

Papers of Barbara Mary Crampton Pym (1913-80)

Novelist.

Read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Papers include the manuscripts of published and unpublished novels and short stories, literary papers, notebooks, diaries and correspondence. Loose leaves removed from some of the bound volumes, including notes and drafts for novels, are in MS. Pym 99.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Papers of Sibyl, Lady Colefax (1874-1950)

English interior decorator, hostess and socialite. The collection includes letters from many of the literary and society figures of her day, some personal and family papers, a few diaries of Lady Colefax, her visitors’ books, and a number of photograph albums.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879)

Victoria photographic pioneer. Cameron’s work was largely forgotten until the 1940s, but she has been widely recognised since then as one of the most important and innovative photographers of all time.

Her photographs can be found in a number of albums held at the Bodleian Library, amongst them an album, which she had compiled for Sir Henry Taylor. These photos are collectively known as The Henry Taylor Album.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Elizabeth Maconchy Archive (1907-94) (held at St Hilda’s College, Oxford)

Dame Elizabeth Maconchy by Howard Coster. 1938. NPG x23833

Irish composer.

The archive contains almost all the manuscripts of her compositions as well as some printed scores, programmes, press cuttings, and some correspondence.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

SCIENCE

Mary Somerville (1780-1872) Collection, [c.1700]-1972 (in Bodleian Library, owned by Somerville College)

Mary Somerville by James Rannie Swinton. chalk, 1848. NPG 690

Science writer and mathematics expositor.

Received many honours during her lifetime, and after her death, Somerville College, Oxford, founded in 1879 as a women’s college, was named after her. A Somerville scholarship for women also commemorates her name.

Archive includes correspondence and papers, also relating to the Somerville family.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

 

Correspondence of Ada Lovelace (1815-52) (part of Papers of the Noel, Byron and Lovelace families)

Ada Lovelace by William Henry Mote, after Alfred Edward Chalon. stipple engraving, published 1839. NPG D5124

English writer, mathematician and early computer pioneer.

Active in Victorian London’s social and scientific elite alongside Mary Somerville. The main part of this collection of papers belonged to Annabella, Lady Byron.

The collection also contains correspondence of Ada and her husband William, 1st Earl of Lovelace, used by Doris Langley Moore in her biography Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1978). See Bodleian Ada Lovelace blog.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

Archive of Mabel FitzGerald (1872-1973)

Physiologist (esp. on respiration) and clinical pathologist.

Studied unofficially (women were not yet admitted to the university for that subject) and then researched physiology in Oxford. The archive comprises personal and scientific papers, spanning her lifetime, as well as family papers.

> Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article (subscribers only)

SUFFRAGE AT OXFORD

Archive of the Association for the Education of Women in Oxford, 1878-1922

Papers relating to the education of women at Oxford University. Women were not admitted to membership of the University until 1920, although they had been allowed to sit some University examinations and attend lectures for over forty years by that date. It was the work of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW), founded 1878, that women’s colleges came to be established in Oxford.

The archive includes minute books, 1878-1920; papers relating to the finances of the Association, 1878-1922; papers relating to students, 1883-1920; and printed and miscellaneous papers, 1877-1920.

More from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscribers only):

National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage (act. 1910–1918) by Julia Bush
National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (act. 1896–1918) by Sandra Stanley Holton

USEFUL LINKS

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