Untold lives blog

48 posts categorized "Reform"

29 April 2021

Bhicoo Batlivala, Campaigner for Indian Independence

The names of the leading proponents of Indian independence from British rule are well known, but the fight was carried on by many thousands of campaigners and activists who devoted their lives to this important cause.  One such campaigner was Bhicoo Batlivala.

Bhicoo Batlivala - head and shoulders photographic portraitPortrait photograph by Douglas of Bhicoo Batlivala from The Bystander 16 February 1938 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

Bhicoo Batlivala was born in Bombay on 1 January 1911.  Her father, Sorabji Batlivala, was a successful mill owner.  When she was only ten years old she was sent to Britain for her education, where she attended the Cheltenham Ladies College, before studying law and becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple in 1932.  In July that year, the Dundee Courier listed her in its piece on ‘Men and Women of Today’, describing her as ‘dark, slender, and with dark auburn hair and regular features’.  Intelligent with an adventurous spirit, Batlivala was also a pilot, and a keen player of polo and tennis.

Bhicoo Batlivala - article in Dundee Courier 14 July 1932Dundee Courier 14 July 1932 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

After practising as a barrister in the UK for a few years, she returned to India.  It was reported in British newspapers that she was the first woman to be admitted to the State Service of Baroda, where she held a variety of Government positions, including Inspector of Schools.  On returning to England, she married Guy Mansell in London in 1939.  They set up home in Cobham, Surrey.

Batlivala was an active member of the India League, an organisation founded in 1916 to promote the cause of Indian independence.  She regularly attended meetings throughout the 1940s, often as a speaker, a fact noted in Government intelligence reports.  She also became associated with Jawaharlal Nehru, at one point acting as his secretary, and campaigning for his release from prison.  In 1940, she embarked on a six month lecture tour in America causing the British Government considerable anxiety.

On 24 February 1943, Batlivala led a delegation of Indian women to the Central lobby of the House of Commons.  Once there they met several women M.P.s, and put their case for the release of Gandhi who had been imprisoned in India at the start of the Quit India Campaign.  The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that the Indian women wore ‘beautiful native robes’, and quoted Batlivala as saying ‘We are urging that the release of Gandhi should be put before the Government as a very urgent matter.  It is not a question only of Hindus or of one particular community.  Indians of all communities here are very deeply concerned about the present drift of the situation as it is being handled by the Government’.

In an article for International Woman Suffrage News, Batlivala highlighted the hypocrisy of Britain using India’s resources to fight the threat of Nazism, while denying India her own freedom.  She concluded; ‘The Indian people have repeatedly declared that they have no quarrel with the British people, but they will no longer tolerate a system of Imperialism.  If the British Government declares that its fight is for the liberation of all nations then it must liberate India.  The world is watching’.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Miss Bhicoo Batlivala, 1938-1940, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1295.

Indian Political Intelligence files:
India League: reports on members and activities, 1940-1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/453.
India League: reports on members and activities, 1943-1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/456.
Bhicoo Batlivala alias Mansell, India League: activities in USA, 1939-1943, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/631.

The British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Dundee Courier, 14 July 1932.
Gloucestershire Echo, 06 November 1936.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 January 1938.
International Woman Suffrage News, 03 January 1941.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 February 1943.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’  - Bhicoo Batlivala

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

16 March 2021

Sources for Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Abul Kalam Azad was born on 11 November 1888 in Mecca, the youngest child of Sheikh Khairuddin Dehlavi, an Islamic scholar, and the niece of the mufti of Medina.  In 1898, the family moved to Calcutta.  Azad was given a traditional Indo-Islamic education at home by his father, which included Arabic, Persian and Urdu, study of the Quran and the Hadith, Islamic philosophy and theology, and mathematics.  He also began to explore the new religious and political ideas in the wider Arab world.

The Cabinet Mission with Congress President Maulana AzadPhoto 134/2(18) The Cabinet Mission with Congress President, Maulana Azad, 17 April 1946 Images Online

Azad began a career in journalism writing for Urdu newspapers, and in 1906 he became editor of the Amritsar newspaper Vakil, the best known Urdu newspaper of the time.  He introduced literary and historical features, and wrote about events in Turkey and the Middle East.  In 1912, he founded the journal al-Hilal in order to more widely raise the cause of Indian Muslims.  Al-Hilal was politically and religiously radical, and was closed by the Bengal Government in 1915.  In 1916, he was interned in Ranchi and detained there until the end of 1919.  During his internment he began work on a translation and commentary on the Koran, called Tarjuman al-Quran.  He was imprisoned again in 1921, along with other nationalist leaders.

In 1923, Azad was elected president of the special session of the National Congress held in Delhi to decide the future course of nationalist action, where he called for Hindu-Muslim co-operation.  He was again imprisoned in 1930 after taking part in Gandhi’s disobedience movement.

In 1940 he was elected President of Congress, a post he held until 1946, and was fully involved in the constitutional negotiations leading up to Independence.  He strove to bring Muslim and Hindu together and vehemently opposed partition.  The principal of a united India was fundamental to Azad’s political ideology, and he resolutely held to it throughout the negotiations.  He believed that there was no harm in deferring freedom by a few years if partition could be avoided.  In India Wins Freedom [p.205] he describes how at the beginning of 1947 he tried to persuade Gandhi of this:

'I pleaded with him that the present state of affairs might be allowed to continue for two years.  De facto power was already in Indian hands and if the de jure transfer was delayed for two years, this might enable Congress and the League to come to a settlement….I realised that if a decision was taken now, partition was inevitable but a better solution might emerge after a year or two.  Gandhi did not reject my suggestion but neither did he indicate any enthusiasm for it'.

In the final years of his life, Azad held the post of Minister for Education, and dictated a political memoir called India Wins Freedom.  He died in Delhi on 22 February 1958.  The India Office Records at the British Library holds many files relating to this fascinating and influential man.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1287.

Prosecution of Mr A K Azad for delivering a seditious speech at Mirzapore Square, Calcutta; judgement, 1922, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1791, File 963.

Government of Bengal refusal of a passport to Mr M A K Azad to proceed to Europe for medical treatment: Parliamentary question, July 1924, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1882, File 2692.

Election of Abul Kalam Azad as Congress President by an overwhelming majority, Feb 1940, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/3553.

Telegram regarding an attempt made by an Indian lawyer to smuggle two unauthorised letters to Abul Kalam Azad, Congress President, in Naini Central Jail, March 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4371.

Correspondence between the Viceroy and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, regarding the Indian political situation, Oct-Nov 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/8486.

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad: passport application, 1924-1925, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/183.

Congress Working Committee: Abul Kalam Azad's letters to Viceroy, dated 28 November 1944, Dec 1944-Apr 1945, shelfmark IOR/R/3/1/329.

Private Office Paper’s file on the Cabinet Mission to India; includes papers on Abul Kalam Azad's response to Cripps and Cabinet Mission's proposals for formation of Interim Government, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/115.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1945-1947, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/22, IOR/L/PO/10/23 and IOR/L/PO/10/24.

Subject file on Maulana Azad, Apr 1947, shelfmark Mss Eur IOR Neg 15539/6 (in the papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma as Viceroy 1947 and Governor-General 1947-48 of India).

Correspondence between Jinnah, Nehru, Azad, Prasad, and others, 1938-1939, shelfmark IOR Neg 10762/4 (in the papers of Quaid-i-Azam Mahomed Ali Jinnah, leader of Muslim League in India and founder of Pakistan).

Photographs of Maulana Azad, 1946, shelfmarks Photo 1117/1(31), Photo 1117/1(36), Photo 1117/2(4), Photo 134/1(31), Photo 134/2(17), Photo 134/2(18), Photo 134/2(24), Photo 134/2(27)

Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom (the complete version) (London: Sangam, 1988), shelfmarks YC.1989.a.5439 and ORW.1989.a.1244.

For printed collections of Abul Kalam Azad’s writings search the British Library catalogue.

 

25 February 2021

Sources for Dr B R Ambedkar

The India Office Records and Private Papers contains much fascinating material relating to one of the most inspiring figures in India’s struggle for independence from British rule, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.  Despite the obstacles put in his way, Dr Ambedkar rose to become one of the leaders in the Indian Independence movement and championed the poorest and most disadvantaged in Indian society.

Popular colour print depicting Dr Ambedkar, shown wearing glasses and in a European suit and tie.Popular colour print depicting Dr Ambedkar © The Trustees of the British Museum 

Dr Ambedkar was born on the 14th April 1891 at Mhow, India, into a Dalit Mahar family.  During his childhood he regularly experienced discrimination from higher caste members of his school and community.  A scholarship awarded by the Gaekwad of Baroda enabled him to continue his education, and he studied economics and law in New York and London, following which he set up a legal practice in Bombay.

He quickly became a leading campaigner for the rights of Dalits, starting protest groups, founding newspapers and journals to raise awareness of their plight, and entering the political arena to push for reforms.  He served in the first government following independence as Minister for Law, and helped shape India’s future through his contributions to the writing of India’s Constitution.

Dr Ambedkar has inspired people around the world fighting discrimination and injustice, and the British Library’s collections illustrate the many stages of his life.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1272.

Journey to England from the USA of British subject Bhimrao, alias Brimvran Ambedkar, 1916, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1443, File 2349.

Correspondence regarding a proposed scheme by Dr B R Ambedkar to start a Social Centre for Depressed Classes in Bombay, 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4410.

Publication in English entitled Mr Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables by Dr B R Ambedkar (Bombay, 1943), shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/7068.

Cabinet Mission; Depressed Classes, Apr-Dec 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/10/50. This file contains a note marked ‘Secret’ of a meeting between the Cabinet Delegation, the Viceroy and Dr Ambedkar on the 5th April 1946. It also has a letter from Dr Ambedkar to the Viceroy, Lord Wavell regarding the Cabinet Mission, and the Viceroy’s reply.

Duplicate passport for Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1932, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/11/1/585.

File on political developments, including Ambedkar on scheduled castes, 1943-1947, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/102C.

File on the Poona Pact including correspondence with Dr Ambedkar regarding Depressed Classes, 1931-1933, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/77.

File on the Poona Pact, including Ambedkar on modification of Depressed Classes seats, 1933-1935, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/89A.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1944-1946, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/21, IOR/L/PO/10/22 and IOR/L/PO/10/23.

Submissions to the Indian Statutory Commission, 1928-1929, shelfmarks IOR/Q/13/1/6, item 3; IOR/Q/13/1/23, item 10; and IOR/Q/13/4/23.

Submissions to the Round Table Conference, 1930-1931, shelfmarks IOR/Q/RTC/2, IOR/Q/RTC/24 and IOR/Q/RTC/25.

Submissions to the Indian Franchise Committee, 1932, shelfmarks IOR/Q/IFC/41, IOR/Q/IFC/51, IOR/Q/IFC/74 and IOR/Q/IFC/80.

Correspondence with Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar and Ramsay MacDonald, 1932, shelfmark Mss Eur E240/16 (from the papers of Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India 1931-35).

Ambedkar is discussed in the correspondence between Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy Lord Willingdon, 1932-1933, shelfmarks Mss Eur E240/2, Mss Eur E240/3 and Mss Eur E240/6.

Papers relating to the resignation of Dr Ambedkar as Minister for Law, 1951, shelfmark Mss Eur F158/1015 (from the papers of the India, Pakistan and Burma Association). It also contains two bulletins from the Reuters news agency reporting the death of Dr Ambedkar on the 6th December 1956.

Correspondence, papers and pamphlets concerning Indian constitutional reforms, particularly the Communal Award and the Poona Pact, 1933-1934, shelfmark Mss Eur D609/22 (from the papers of 2nd Marquess of Zetland as Governor of Bengal 1917-22, and Secretary of State for India 1935-40).

Photographs of Dr Ambedkar, 1930-1946, shelfmarks Mss Eur F138/16(1), Photo 81(13), Photo 1117/1(44) and Photo 134/1(37).

Castes in India, by Bhimrao R Ambedkar, (Bombay, 1917), shelfmark 10005.g.19. (Re-printed from the “Indian Antiquary”, Vol. XLVI, Part DLXXXII, May 1917).

Making Britain website

 

26 November 2020

George Poland & Son – furriers to the rich, friends to the poor

When furrier George Poland died at his home in Oxford Street, London, on 10 May 1860 at the age of 64, many local shops closed as a sign of respect.  Obituaries described him as a benevolent guardian to the poor, diligent, courteous and conscientious.

Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880
Advert for G Poland and Son furriers at 90 Oxford Street London from London Daily News 2 December 1880 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland was churchwarden for Marylebone at the time of his death.  He was first elected to serve on the St Marylebone Vestry in 1850.  He joked in 1852 that he had lived for 50 years in one house in Oxford Street, but was only two years old as a vestry man.

In September 1853 George Poland joined a committee appointed by the St Marylebone Board of Guardians to enquire into cholera and scarlet fever and the sanitary condition of the crowded and populous local districts.  Poland was also a director of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes which was incorporated by Royal Charter in April 1854.

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - list of directors

Advert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 - properties owned with rentsAdvert promoting the work of the Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 10 July 1858 British Newspaper Archive

The aim of the Association was to acquire houses or ground in densely populated districts and provide clean and healthy dwellings for the poor by converting existing properties or building new ones.   Money was raised from shareholders and dividends paid.

By 1858 the Association owned a number of properties, many around Lisson Grove, a very poor area of Marylebone with appalling sanitary conditions.  Rents varied from 1s 3d to 5s 6d per week.  Some accommodation provided water and a sink in each room, whilst others had sculleries, dust shafts, and coppers and flat roofs for washing and drying clothes.  One of the properties acquired by the Association was Lisson Cottages.  The old houses were renovated in 1855 and let as apartments.  The Cottages are now listed artisans’ dwellings

Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes 3
Advert listing rooms to let from Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes from Marylebone Mercury 16 October 1858 British Newspaper Archive

George Poland and his wife Jane (née Minton) had five sons, but two died as babies.  Charles became a quantity surveyor.  Edward worked as shopman and clerk to his father.  In 1847 Edward incurred debts for a diamond ring and the hire of horses and gigs.  He was admonished at the Insolvent Debtors’ Court for idleness, folly and vain extravagance.  Edward died in 1851 at the age of 27.

The eldest son George Arthur Poland, born in 1820, followed his father into the fur trade, apart from a brief period around 1850 when he worked as a straw hat maker.  He married Hetty Rosina Esquilant in 1842 and they had eleven children, two of whom died in infancy. By 1880, George Poland & Son were furriers to the Royal family.

George Arthur Poland also followed his father in his commitment to public duty.  He was a member of the St Marylebone Vestry for 23 years, serving as chairman and churchwarden.  He represented St Marylebone on the Metropolitan Board of Works and was involved in Liberal politics in the borough.  Poland was Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in 1875.

Poland supported many local social improvement initiatives with both time and money.  When he died in 1883, his obituary in the Marylebone Mercury praised him as ‘an honest, warm-hearted, upright man; an excellent and willing worker; a friend to the poor. To know him was to love him; and the respect and esteem in which he was held by all classes are strong testimony to his excellence and worth’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Marylebone Mercury 10 July and 16 October 1858; 10 May 1879; 3 February 1883.
The Observer 12 January 1852; 14 May 1860
Records of Marylebone Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes are held at Westminster City Archives ht
Anthony S. Wohl, The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London (London, 1977)

 

03 November 2020

Tracing the Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 2 Thomas Peters

This blog post explores some of the documents within the British Library collection relating to Thomas Peters.  Peters was a former slave who had joined the British Army Regiment, the Black Pioneers, during the American Revolutionary War.  Like many other ex-slaves, he was evacuated to British Territory in Nova Scotia after the British had lost the war.  These documents relate Peters’ campaign to secure better lives for his black community in Nova Scotia, where conditions were inhospitable both environmentally and socially.

Peters formed a petition which outlined the grievances of the community in Nova Scotia and he sailed to England in the aim of presenting it to the British government.  There he met Granville Sharp, abolitionist and activist, who had previously relocated some of the ‘London black poor’ to Sierra Leone as part of a philanthropic project.  Granville probably helped Peters to meet Sierra Leone Company directors.  The following document records the essence of Peters’ petition and gives an account of the meeting.  It describes how the Company was willing to instigate a relocation of the ‘free blacks’ of Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, and how Peters was given a set of terms upon which people would be considered for the trip.

A record of Thomas Peters meeting the Sierra Leone Company officialsA record of Thomas Peters meeting the Sierra Leone Company officials, Add MS 41263, f.158.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On return to Nova Scotia Peters took on the task of finding people who would be willing to re-locate to Sierra Leone.  In this letter, Peters writes to Lawrence Hartshorne outlining his progress.  He describes people as in ‘high spirits’ and expresses his eagerness to see John Clarkson, the Company Agent who was in charge of the mission to Sierra Leone.

A letter from Thomas Peters to Lawrence Hartshorne  written from Saint John  New BrunswickA letter from Thomas Peters to Lawrence Hartshorne, written from Saint John, New Brunswick, [which at the time, was part of Nova Scotia] October 1791, Add MS 41262, f.13.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Peters writes again to the Company in the letter below.  This letter was sent shortly before the departure of the ships to Sierra Leone for a new life.  In the letter,  Peters and his friend David Edmon[d]s ask humbly that the ‘black people of Halifax bound for Sierra Leone’ have some ‘frish beef for Christmas diner’ for their last Christmas Day in America.

Letter requesting provisions for Christmas from Thomas Peters and David EdmondsLetter requesting provisions for Christmas from Thomas Peters and David Edmonds, December 1791. Add MS 41262, f.24.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The handwriting differs between these two letters, so it seems that one of them was drafted on behalf of Peters.  The extent of Peters’ literacy is difficult to determine.  It is noted that his petition of grievances was redrafted to correct his spelling and grammar before it reached the British Government – implying a general level of literary.  However, putting the physical penmanship aside, these letters record the words of an individual who had lived through kidnap from Africa, the horror of the journey through the middle-passage, enslavement in South Carolina and the American Revolutionary War.  Peters was then influential in establishing a colony of free black people in Sierra Leone, where today is he remembered as one of the founding fathers of Freetown.  These few documents are therefore a rare and important recorded legacy of a voice so regularly absent from the written record.

The next blog post in this series will expand on this written legacy by examining some of the other letters written by the Sierra Leone settlers.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

Tracing the lives and letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 1 The Journey to Sierra Leone

26 June 2020

Researching Women Social Reformers in the Modern Manuscript Collections

Given the fact that for most of history women were excluded from higher education institutions and most forms of professional employment, there is a marked presence of women working in areas of social reform in the archives.  Being excluded from areas of official policy making meant that women used their own intuition to seek changes in areas such as public health, access to education, prison conditions, civil liberties and women’s rights.  They did this through such means as philanthropy, campaigning and protest.

The Modern Manuscript collections holds significant collections from figures such as, health reformer Florence Nightingale, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry and the papers of prominent suffrage campaigners but, as well as these, we hold papers across collections of less well-known reformers.  We have taking the opportunity to examine some of these figures below.

Caroline Norton (née Sheridan) 1808 – 1877 - Law Reformer

Photograph of Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton née Sheridan, later Lady Stirling Maxwell by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company c.1863 NPG x26597 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The social reformer Caroline Norton, ironically still primarily known by her married name, ran an extensive campaign for the reform of divorce law after separation from her husband left her without her own earnings, denied access to her children and a divorce.  She campaigned for changes to current laws and submitted a detailed account of her marriage to Parliament to consider when debating.  s a result of her campaigning Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act 1839, The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and the Women’s Property Act 1870.  These acts gave women some (but not substantial) access to their children post-divorce and access to legal representation.  There is a volume concerning her separation in the Sheridan Papers at Add MS 42767, as well as various letters from her to William Gladstone in the Gladstone Papers.

 

Mary Carpenter, 1807 – 1877, Education reformer and Abolitionist

Head and shoulders portrait drawing of Mary Carpenter from The Illustrated London NewsMary Carpenter from The Illustrated London News 7 July 1877 British Newspaper Archive

Mary Carpenter worked in Bristol setting up ragged schools and reformatories to help bring education to impoverished and imprisoned youngsters.  She lobbied for several educational acts and was an accomplished public speaker on education.  In 1846 she attended a lecture by Frederick Douglass and became committed to the anti-slavery movement directed at the continuing slavery in the United States.  She also travelled to India where she worked with philosopher and reformer, Keschab Chandra Sen, to improve women’s education in India.  Papers relating to this endeavour can be found at Add MS 74237 PP, and some items of her correspondence can be found in the Margaret Elliot Papers at Add MS 73485.

 

Gertrude Tuckwell, 1861-1951, Trade Unionist and Women’s Rights Reformer

Photograph of Gertrude Mary Tuckwell wearig a fur stoleGertrude Mary Tuckwell by Bassano Ltd, 20 January 1930  NPG x124853 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Gertrude Tuckwell was a committed trade unionist and advocate for women’s rights.  She was president of the Women’s Trade Union League and the National Federation of Women Workers, where she worked to improve women’s safety and prospects in employment.  She was one of the first women in the country to qualify as a magistrate.  Her correspondence with her Aunt, Lady Emilia Dilke, who was also a trade unionist, is available at Add MS 49610 – 49612.  There are also items of her correspondence in the papers of trade unionist and politician, John Elliot Burns (Add MS 46297 – Add MS 46298).

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Women, Peace and Welfare: A Suppressed History of Social Reform, 1880 – 1920, by Ann Oakley. (Bristol: Policy Press, 2019).

Researching Suffragettes in the Modern Manuscripts collection.

The National Indian Association - founded in Bristol in 1871 by Mary Carpenter.

 

22 June 2020

Solving a suffragette mystery – who was Miss Wolff van Sandau?

In 2019 a Women’s Social and Political Union medal was sold at auction in London.  It was awarded in 1912 to Elsie Wolff van Sandau in recognition of ‘ a gallant action, whereby through endurance to the last extremity of hunger and hardship, a great principle of political justice was vindicated’.

WSPU membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen’s Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe Sennett


On 4 March 1912 Miss Wolff van Sandau broke a window of the post office in Howick Place, Victoria.  She was sentenced to two months’ hard labour in prison for wilful damage.

 

Arrest of Miss Wolff Van Sandau reported in 'Votes for Women' 29 March 1912
Votes for Women 29 March 1912 British Newspaper Archive

Miss Wolff van Sandau had previously been imprisoned in February 1907 after taking part in a suffragette deputation, and again in November 1910 when she was arrested in Parliament Square on ‘Black Friday’.

The name van Sandau rang bells with me.  We published a blog post featuring Lewis van Sandau of the Bengal Army who was shot dead when mistaken for a ghost.  I wondered if I could find a connection between our unfortunate officer and the suffragette.

There are references to both Elsie Wolff van Sandau and Mathilde (or Matilda) Wolff van Sandau in suffragette records, leading some to conclude that there were two sisters campaigning.  But I believe that there was only one Miss Wolff van Sandau.

Votes for Women published a brief biography in 1910 stating that ‘Miss Wolff von Sandau’ had worked for women’s suffrage for nearly 30 years.  She was a music teacher.  Her grandfather Reverend Dr Ernst Schwabe had been private chaplain to Queen Victoria’s mother.

Biographical note from 'Votes for Women'
Votes for Women 25 November 1910 British Newspaper Archive

I found the marriage in London in 1832 of Ernst Schwabe’s daughter Bethia Friedericke to Ernst Woolf, who was a flax manufacturer in Leeds.  In the early 1840s Ernst and Bethia moved with their children to Dresden in Germany.  Their daughter Elise Eugenie Mathilde Wolff was born there in 1843.

In the 1881 census Elise Eugenie M. Wolff is a music professor aged 37 living in Clapham, South London.  In 1891 she is listed in Kensington as Mathilda Wolff, pianist.

A newspaper advertisement in 1888 names her as Fraulein Mathilde Wolff of the Dresden Conservatoire.

Advertisement for the Hastings and St Leonards College of Music in The Hastings and St Leonards Observer 22 September 1888Advertisement for the Hastings and St Leonards College of Music in The Hastings and St Leonards Observer 22 September 1888 British Newspaper Archive

There are reports of her concerts, such as this one in 1888 at Collard’s Rooms in Grosvenor Street London.


Report of concert in 'The Era' 16 June 1888Report of concert at Collard’s Rooms in Grosvenor Street London The Era 16 June 1888 British Newspaper Archive

 

Miss Wolff advertised in newspapers for pupils and for lodgers. She entertained members of the Women’s Vegetarian Union at her home.

Meeting of Women's Vegetarian Union reported in 'The Queen' 20 July 1895Meeting of Women's Vegetarian Union - The Queen 20 July 1895 British Newspaper Archive

 

In 1889 she used the name Wolff  van Sandau when publishing a song ‘David’s Message’.

 Article mentioning song 'David's Message' in 'The Graphic' 12 January 1889
The Graphic 12 January 1889 British Newspaper Archive

 

It was reported in 1895 that Miss Mathilde Wolff van Sandau was managing the new Equitable International Chess Club for Ladies.


Newspaper article about Equitable International Chess Club for LadiesMorning Post 10 June 1895 British Newspaper Archive

 

In 1911 she refused to provide information to the 1911 census and is recorded as simply ’Miss Wolfe – Suffragette’.

Her brother Henry William Wolff (1840-1931) also left Germany to live in England. He was a well-known journalist and writer and founder of the Co-Operative Alliance.

Portrait of Henry William Wolff writing at the Reform Club

Henry William Wolff at the Reform Club by Eyre Crowe, 1905 NPG D6688 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

In the 1920s Matilda van Sandau of Brooklyn Road, Shepherds Bush, was offering typewriting and translation services.  Is this the same woman?

By 1926 our Matilda was lodging in Putney.  She died in a local nursing home on 29 August 1926 aged 83 and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery as Matilda Wolff.

One mystery remains.  Why did Matilda adopt the name van Sandau?  I have found one connection between the families.  Andrew van Sandau, brother to Lewis, was a witness at her parents’ marriage.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Her recorded surname varies between Wolff and Wolff van/von Sandau in census returns, electoral registers and directories, and her first names are any combination of Elise Eugenie Mathilde with variant spellings. It appears she is named as Elsie only in suffragette records and related newspaper reports.

British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast.

The National Archives papers from Home Office, Director of Public Prosecutions, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner – see the Suffragette Collection on Findmypast .

Entry in Who Was Who for Henry William Wolff.

Researching Suffragettes in the British Library’s Modern Manuscripts and Archive Collections.

 

21 May 2020

Researching Suffragettes in the British Library’s Modern Manuscripts and Archive Collections

Like many, the Covid-19 lockdown has provided British Library staff a bit more space and time to get through some spring cleaning.  You might think that archivists would find themselves a little distanced from their cleaning tasks with all their precious archives locked up in their respective institutions, but there is always more to sort in the archive sector, whether physically or digitally.  Whilst quarantined the Modern Manuscripts team has taken this opportunity to sort through reams of our metadata in order to write new collection guides.

We have been working on summarising our archive collections relating to the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom.  The women’s suffrage collection contains the archives of Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethel Smyth and Harriet McIlquham, but we have also had the opportunity to sift through some of our catalogue records and identify some fascinating suffrage campaigners, whose correspondence is held across various collections.

Some examples of these campaigners include:

Barbara Bodichon, 1827-1891

Sketch of Barbara BodichonBarbara Bodichon, Sketch by Samuel Lawrence, 1861 Wikimedia Commons

Barbara Bodichon was an early suffragist and women’s rights activist.  She began meeting with friends in the 1850s to discuss women’s rights in a group which became known as the ‘Ladies of Langham Place’.  She co-founded the English Woman’s Journal, which examined women’s position and rights in society.  She published her thoughts on women’s right to property in her essay, Brief Summary of the Laws of England Concerning Women.  Items of her correspondence can be found in the Clough-Shore papers (Add MS 72832 A) and the William Lovett Papers (Add MS 78161).

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, 1833-1918

Photograph of Elizabeth Wolstenholme ElmyElizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy Photo via Wikipedia

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy was a feminist and suffrage campaigner.  She founded the Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women in 1866 and would campaign for women’s suffrage for over 50 years.  The British Library holds six volumes of papers relating to her work in the suffragette movement at Add MS 47449-47455, which contains her correspondence with many prominent women activists.

Hertha Ayrton, 1854-1923

Painting of Hertha AyrtonPainting of Hertha Ayrton, c. 1905, by Héléna Arsène Darmesteter via Wikimedia Commons

Hertha Ayrton campaigned for the women’s vote with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, as well as Emily Davison.  She was also an engineer, mathematician and physicist whose work was awarded the Hughes Medal.  There is correspondence between her and her friend Marie Stopes in the Stopes Papers (Add MS 58685 and Add MS 58689).

Ethel Snowden, 1881 -1951

Photograph of Ethel SnowdenPhotograph of Ethel Snowden, by S. A. Chandler & Co, 1921 via Wikimedia Commons

Ethel Snowden was a socialist, feminist activist and campaigner for women’s suffrage. In 1907 she wrote a book called The Woman Socialist, which advocated the collective organisation of housework and a state salary for mothers.  Items of her correspondence can be found in the Mary Gladstone papers (Add MS 46253), the Burns Papers (Add MS 46300) and the Koteliansky Papers (Add MS 48974).

These individuals are just a few of the many fascinating women who feature in the Modern Manuscripts collections.  As we continue to explore our collections from home, we hope that we will find many more which we can bring to light in our collection guides, so that many more people will eventually be able to explore the papers of these ground-breaking women.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
For more information on British Library collections relating to the women’s suffrage campaign, visit Votes for Women BL.

 

Untold lives blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs