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General Women's Movement: (Autograph Letter Collection)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 106 9/02
Held at: Women's Library
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Full title: General Women's Movement: (Autograph Letter Collection)
Date(s): 1825-1896
Level of description: fonds
Extent: 1 A box (1 volume)
Name of creator(s): Various
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

The movement to gain the vote for women was a mass movement that evolved most fully in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was not, however, the only area of activity with the aim of improving the social and political situation of women in Britain. Earlier in the century, the idea of the 'sacred' protective duty of women gave them a 'high' ideological status in society that far outstripped their legal status. The social work that was undertaken by women's groups in the areas of housing and nursing led to changes regarding national laws on the poor, education and the treatment of the infirm. However, despite these achievements, the women who were responsible for them still found themselves legally impotent. This was also a time when the proportion of women compared with men in the country was increasing and the number of unmarried women without the expected financial support of a husband was growing as a consequence. Reformers therefore began to focus on the most immediate ways of improving the status and economic position of women, focusing on improvements to female education and the employment opportunities available to them. Schemes in the 1860s such as Emily Faithfull's Victoria Press and the plethora of female emigration societies that sprang up at the time and directed by individuals such as Maria Rye were designed to give women who were reasonably educated the means of supporting themselves. These developments were followed by activities centred on women's legal status regarding property and their ability to stand for election at the local level. None of the strands of activity was independent from the other as attitudes towards one affected perceptions of the others, and those who were active in one area such as women's employment also worked with colleagues more commonly associated with others such as education.


Scope and content/abstract:

The collection includes letters to, from and about women engaged in activities in the general women's movement and public life arranged in chronological order. Correspondents include Frances Elizabeth King to Mr CN Warren (on schools and poor relief); the Duchess of Clarence to Miss Lloyd, c. 1825 (acceptance of patron role), Mary Anning to Sir Astley Cooper, 1830 (safe arrival of dinosaur skeleton), Mary Howitt to Mary Carpenter, 1847 (ragged schools report, poem); Mary Linwood to Mrs Barnaby, 1841 (marriage congratulations); Mr JG Marshall to unknown, 1851 (distressed female shop-workers); League of Universal Brotherhood to Mary Carpenter, 1848 (refusal of Sunday School publication material); Lady Leigh to Mary Carpenter, 1855 (girls reformatory scheme); Mary Carpenter, 1857 (on regional reformatories) and 1872 (to Prof Fawcett requesting interview); Emily Faithfull, to Mrs Newnham, c. 1860 (on publications of letters and poems) to Miss Bethell, 1862 (on women printers), c. 1869 (on photographic session), 1871 (on patterns for the Victoria Press and procedure for submission to the 'Englishwoman's Review'), to the Duke of Argyll, 1871 (on Training Institution vice-presidency), to Mr Baynham, 1880 and 1884 (on visits to Glasgow), to Pritchard, 1887; Lady Strangford to unknown recipient, 1887 (request copy of paper); Barbara Leigh Bodichon, to Lord Shaftsbury and to unnamed woman, 1862 (on the Female Middle Class Emigration Society); Lord Shaftesbury to Barbara Leigh Bodichon, 1862 (donation to Female Middle Class Emigration Society); Maria Rye to Barbara Leigh Bodichon, 1862 and 1865 (on the work of the Female Middle Class Emigration Society); Maria Rye to Miss Paget, c.1868 (on child emigrants to Canada); Maria Rye to Miss Buss, 1883 (on interview acceptance); Mr John Knapp to Maria Rye, 1862 (sale of her stationer's business); Ellice Hopkins to Elihu Burritt, c. 1863 (thanks); Helen Taylor to Barbara Leigh Bodichon, 1865 (on published paper) and 1869 (on interrelationship of all aspects of women's movement); John Stuart Mill to Mary Carpenter, 1867 (London prison conditions); Frances Power Cobbe to Mrs Fawcett (1870: women's property taxation; 1895: Matrimonial Clauses Act); Florence Nightingale, 1868 (to Anne Clough: nursing and teaching as arts; to Mary Carpenter: nursing books for journey to India and review by FN); Sir Leopold McClintock to Mary Carpenter, 1869 (thanks for pamphlet); Baroness Burdett-Coutts, (1869: to Mary Carpenter, letter on value of animal life; 1886: to Octavia Hill inviting her to meeting); Duke of Argyll to Mary Carpenter, 1869 (thanks for report); Louisa Hubbard to Miss Ridley, 1 letter, 1870 (request for information); Annie McPherson, 1870 (Bible texts with signature); Sir Edward Clarke to Mr James Hain Friswell, 1870 (Matrimonial Women's Property Act); Sir Alexander Grant to Mrs Blyth, 1870 (Patron of Society for Promoting the Employment of Women); Miss Winkworth to Miss Warren, 1870 (Victoria Press); Louisa Gann to Miss Ridley, 1872 (offer of help from former, reply from latter); Joanna Chandler to Miss Ridley, 1874 (entitlement to recommendations); Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, 10 letters (1875: to George Eliot forwarding Bodichon letter and on legal case; 1877: to Barbara Leigh Bodichon on book on relations of the sexes; 1880 five letters: to Bodichon on Poor Law Guardian elections, repeal work, workhouses, legal injustices to women and their future, etc; 1886: 3 letters to Bodichon on Liberal policy, the National Vigilance Association and pamphlet 'Purchase of Women'); Agnes Ward to Miss Ridley, 1875 (Holloway College); Duke of Westminster to Octavia Hill, 1875 (insertion of Hill's clause in the Artisans' Dwellings Act Bill); Millicent Garrett Fawcett to Mrs Edbury, 1875 (requests Edbury resigns from Married Women's Property Committee); James Stuart to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 1875; Henrietta Barnett to Miss Ridley, 1876 (Little Girl Pauper Committee); Alice Westlake to Miss Ridley, 1876 (thanks); Ursula M Bright to unnamed, 1878 (request sign declaration against war); Rev. Selwyn Image to Miss Garrett, 1879 (notice of visit); Mary Hyett Bunting to Miss Ridley, 1880 (apologies); Emma Paterson to Ernest Hart, 1881 (rescue work); Lady Strangford to Emily Faithfull, 1882 (LS's Red Cross Decoration); Daniel Cooper to unknown, 1882 (Rescue Society work); Earl of Dalhousie to editor, 1883 (article on marriage to deceased wife's sister); Edmund Yates to Emily Faithfull, 1884 ('World' article); Lady Brabazon to Mrs Stirling, 1885 (trip to United States of America); May H Steer to Miss Ridley, 1885 (thanks for donation to rescue work); William Walsham How to Octavia Hill, 1885 (volunteer placement); Mr L Ormiston Chant to Miss Ridley, 1886 (meeting of MABZS); Lord Ripon to Emily Faithfull, 1886 (meeting of London Colonial Emigration Society); Lord Derby: 1886 to Emily Faithfull (on a donation), 1891: to Millicent Garrett Fawcett (on women's working conditions); inquiry regarding Emily Faithfull, 1886; Lord Brabazon to Emily Faithfull, 1886 (role in Society of the National Association for Promoting State Directed Colonisation); John Morley to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 1888 (pantomime children); Princess Victoria of Battenburg to Octavia Hill, 1888 (care of illegitimate children); Octavia Hill, 1874 (to unknown man, on local elections candidate), 1888 (to Miss Sunderland on holidays), 1888 (to Archdeacon Farrar on park for the poor); Elizabeth Wordsworth to Mr Lock, 1890; Countess Aberdeen to Mr Miles, 1890 (permission to print stories); Miss EP Phipson to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 1891 (mill workers petition); Lester Drummond to Mrs Bidder 1893 (legal status of women re municipal franchise); Elizabeth Wordsworth to Miss Donne, 1893; Lady Dufferin Ava to Miss TF de la Forse (London nursing); Walter McLaren to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 1895 (Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act); Walter McLaren's Notice of a Motion on the Matrimonial Causes Act 1867 and copy of Bill; Ellen Pinsent to Miss Hughes, 1896 (NSPCC committee); Eleanor Marx to unnamed, 1896 (invitation to Subcommittee of International Socialist Workers and Trade Union Congress); a notice of a Christmas sale of furniture by Agnes and Rhoda Garrett.

The Female Middle Class Emigration Society (1862-1908) was founded in 1862. The population explosion in England during the first half of the nineteenth century led government policy to encourage large scale emigration, while simultaneous concerns over the number of 'superfluous', unmarried women led to projects to stimulate female emigration. At the Social Sciences conference of 1860, Bessie Parkes advocated emigration as a solution to the population. This was also the belief and advice of Miss Maria S Rye after her experiences in the Society for Promoting Employment of Women, when she was deluged with applicants for a limited number of posts. She herself helped twenty-two women emigrate before attending the 1861 Social Sciences conference, when she appealed for help in establishing a new society to these ends. The Female Middle Class Emigration Society (FMCES) was therefore founded in May 1862 at 12 Portugal Street by a group which included Maria Rye, Jane E. Lewin, Emily Faithfull and Elizabeth (Bessie) Rayner Parkes, with the fund-raising assistance of Barbara Bodichon and with Lord Shaftsbury as its first president. Its stated aims were to assist middle class women who did not benefit from the government sponsorship for which working class women were eligible. Financed by public subscription and private donation, the society aimed to provide interest-free loans to enable educated women to emigrate. In addition, it established contacts at both departure and arrival points (mainly colonial ports). The first party, which included Maria Rye, was sent out to New Zealand in the autumn of 1862. At this point, Jane Lewin took over as Secretary, running the organisation from Sep 1862. Difficulties arose when it became clear that employers wanted working class domestics rather than middle-class governess and Rye, on her return in 1865, left to work with the emigrating working class with a particular interest in children's emigration. Lewin continued to concentrate on recruiting educators. In 1872, a further appeal for financial help was issued as the restricted funds which the society had at its disposal were limiting the number of emigrants being sent abroad. Lewin retired as secretary in 1881 to be replaced by Miss Strongitharm. The Female Middle Class Emigration Society was never a wealthy organisation and from 1884 to 1886 the funds were administered by the Colonial Emigration Society (CES) under Miss Julia Blake, its Secretary. The FMES was officially absorbed into the CES in 1886. In 1892 arrangements were made for the United British Women's Emigration Association to administer the loan fund. In 1908 Miss Lewin retired, and the Female Middle Class Emigration Society's later history is bound up with the British Women's Emigration Association.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

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.

Conditions governing reproduction:

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.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

All collections within The Women's Library Strand 5 relate to women's campaigning organisations. Furthermore, personal papers of prominent suffragists, e.g Millicent Garrett Fawcett (7MGF) are held at The Women's Library. Other Collections within Strand 9 which may be of interest include 9/01 Women's Suffrage, 9/03 Emancipation of Women, 9/04 Female Education, 9/09 Suffrage and Women in Industry.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Finding aid created by export from CALM v7.2.14 Archives Hub EAD2002. Edited for AIM25 by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
In compliance with ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description - 2nd Edition (1999); UNESCO Thesaurus, December 2001; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:

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