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REID, Elizabeth Jesser (1789-1866)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0505 RF100-106
Held at: Royal Holloway, University of London
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Full title: REID, Elizabeth Jesser (1789-1866)
Date(s): 1786-1885, [1938], 1965
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 5 boxes or 0.05m3
Name of creator(s): Reid | Elizabeth Jesser | 1789-1866 | anti-slavery activist and founder of Bedford College
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Elizabeth Jesser Sturch was born on 25 December 1789 in London, daughter of William Sturch, a wealthy Unitarian ironmonger. In 1821 she married John Reid, M.D., author of 'Essay on hypochondriasis and other nervous affections' (1816). His father and brother had been hosiers in Leicester, but the family's roots appear to have been in Scotland, and Dr Reid had inherited land on the River Clyde at Glasgow which had become extremely valuable as the port grew in size. His death in July 1822 gave Mrs Reid an independent income with which she patronised various philanthropic causes. Active in liberal Unitarian circles, she was an anti-slavery activist, attending the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 and taking a close interest in the American Civil War (1860-1865), and was in contact with leading figures in the revolutions in France and Germany in 1848, and the struggles for Italian independence. In 1849 she founded the 'Ladies College' in Bedford Square, London, which became Bedford College for Women. She died on 1st April 1866.


Scope and content/abstract:

Mrs Reid (EJR)'s papers include material inherited from her husband, Dr John Reid (d.1822), several files of correspondence and legal documents relating to the land inherited by Dr Reid from his brother, which throw light on the development of Glasgow's port in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and letters to and from members of Dr Reid's family, in some of which medical remedies are discussed. Dr Reid's brother, Matthew Reid, appears to have suffered from a condition which caused incontinence or urethral discharge. EJR's own papers largely comprise correspondence. Business correspondence with her solicitor, James Sowton, concerns the lease and purchase of properties in London, including in South Lambeth, Park Square, Cumberland Terrace and Grenville Street; and legal matters relating to Bedford College, such as the lease of the houses in Bedford Square and questions over the need for a licence from the Duke of Bedford for a school on the premises. A valuer's report for fixtures and fittings, 1855, mentioned in a former list of these papers, is now missing. There is one file relating to EJR's sponsorship of pupils at Ockham Industrial School in Surrey and elsewhere, 1859-1862. Personal correspondence, 1832-1865, includes a large number of letters from Eliza Bostock, Henry Crabb Robinson and Mary Clarke (Madame Julius Mohl), a dozen from Anna Brownell Jameson and single letters or small numbers from many other figures in the literary, liberal and feminist circles in which EJR moved, and from Bedford College alumnae. There are typescript extracts from letters from Harriet Martineau; the whereabouts of the originals are unknown. A separate file was found of letters from famous people [not all to EJR] including Florence Nightingale, William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens, and there is an autograph book containing parts of letters, 1834-1862. Material collected by Bedford College relating to the foundation of the College includes papers of Sophia Elizabeth de Morgan, Secretary of the Ladies Committee, 1848-9, typescript copies of extracts from the diary, 1840-1866, and correspondence, 1838-1866, of Henry Crabb Robinson, a copy of a letter, [1860], from Mrs Reid to Jane Martineau and Elizabeth Bostock giving instructions regarding the future of the College and the establishment of the Reid Trustees, and correspondence, 1965, about Dr John Reid. A volume relating to the fund for a memorial to EJR, 1884-1885, has also been added to the archive.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The papers had been listed, file by file, as part of the 'reference' section of the Bedford College Archives (Ref. RF100-106). This listing expands upon that, but has divided the material collected by the college (probably mainly for the history published in 1939) from Mrs Reid's own papers. The 'miscellaneous' correspondence has been divided into letters to EJR and letters to others, each file now listed in alphabetical order of correspondent. Items are still to be ordered by the old reference.

Conditions governing access:

Open to all registered users of the Royal Holloway, University of London Archives.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies may be supplied, subject to the condition of the original. Requests to publish original material should be directed to the College Archivist.

Finding aids:

A handlist available in the College Archives reading room expands upon the entry on Page 106 of the 'Catalogue of the Archives of Bedford College, University of London, 1849-1985' by Elizabeth Bennett and Claire Gobbi Daunton (1987). Detailed listing also available via online catalogue at

Archival Information

Archival history:

The papers were transferred from the Bedford College Archives when the College merged with Royal Holloway in 1985.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Royal Holloway, University of London Archives contain the will of Elizabeth Jesser Reid (BC GB100/1/2); minutes of the Ladies Committee, 1849-1893 (BC GB121/1) and notes by the Lady Visitors, 1850-1851 (BC GB121/2); legal documents relating to the Reid Trustees, 1860-1931 (BC GB130); and a model of Mrs Reid, made as part of the Development Appeal, 1980 (BC RF174/2).

Diaries of Henry Crabb Robinson are held at the Dr Williams's Library, 14 Gordon Square, London (Ref: 101).

Publication note:

The papers were used in research for A History of Bedford College for Women, 1849-1937 (Oxford University Press, London, 1939) by Dame Margaret Janson Tuke. Some of Mary Clarke's letters to EJR are published in 'Clarkey' by Margaret Lesser (Oxford University Press, 1984).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Sarah Aitchison as part of the AIM25 project. Expanded and revised by Shirley Dixon as part of the HLF A2A project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with general International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Mar 2000, revised Aug 2003.

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