CHRISTIAN AND JEWISH WOMEN IN BRITAIN, 1880 -1940
This book offers an entirely new contribution to the history of multiculturalism in Britain, 1880-1940. It shows how friendship and co-operation between Christian and Jewish women changed lives and, as the Second World War approached, actually saved them. The networks and relationships explored include the thousand-plus women from every district in Manchester who combined to send a letter of sympathy to the Frenchwoman at the heart of the Dreyfus Affair; the religious leagues for women’s suffrage who initiated the first interfaith campaigning movement in British history; the collaborations, often problematic, on refugee relief in the 1930s; the close ties between the founder of Liberal Judaism in Britain, and the wife of the leader of the Labour Party, between the wealthy leader of the Zionist women’s movement and a passionate socialist woman MP. A great variety of sources are thoughtfully interrogated, and concluding remarks address some of the social concerns of the present century.
Recent Visit to the Christina Broom Exhibition
On 28 September, Friends paid a group visit to the Museum of London at Docklands to see a remarkable exhibition of work by the pioneer female press photographer Christina Broom (1863-1939). Our visit included a fascinating lecture from the Curator, Anna Sparham, about Broom’s unusual career, and about the emergence of new techniques of producing and marketing photography at the turn of the 20th century. The exhibition was titled ‘Soldiers and Suffragettes’. Broom obtained remarkably close access to military quarters in London, and it was impossible not to be touched by the intimacy and directness of her group portraits of servicemen, especially those made during World War I. However, the suffrage photographs (the title notwithstanding, the constitutional movement also featured here) which were taken between 1908 and 1913 were inevitably the most moving and interesting for us. We saw many familiar and unfamiliar faces, pictured at indoor and outdoor meetings,in pageants, processions, drum and fife bands, wearing historical costume: these were all wonderfully vivid images, hitherto largely unseen. Now that the exhibition is closed, we can only recommend that Friends purchase the fully illustrated catalogue from the Museum of London as a Christmas present for themselves.
The Women’s National Memorial at York Minster.
Yes, cathedrals, and cathedral windows, can tell us a lot about women and their history.
At Bristol, as the notes below show us, the windows give a vivid, pictorial account of women’s civilian war work. In York Minster, by contrast, the Five Sisters window that fills the end of the minster’s north transept with its grisaille glass, invites us to ponder rather than read a story. The window forms a memorial to women who died in the First World War. The names of over 1,500 are recorded on the panels of a screen to the side-chapel of St Nicholas, also in the transept. The window is very ancient, dating from the mid-thirteenth century; the panels were installed ninety years ago. There are no images and little colour, only the greenish-grey tones of the glass and the gleam of polished and gilded oak. This almost abstract statement of loss and absence leaves a very powerful impression.
The creation of this memorial is intriguing, combining as it does touches of mysticism with clear-sighted planning. The initiative came from a woman named Helen Little, who lived in York. Searching for a way to bring into being the national memorial she longed to see raised to the women who had died, she conceived the idea of a restoration of the Five Sisters window in a dream, or vision, of her two little sisters, long dead, as they stood in the north transept. This vision came to her in the autumn of 1922 and continued to guide her interpretation of the memorial. The Dean and Chapter of York Minster gave their backing. The practical aspects of fundraising were then put in the hands of Mrs Almyra Gray, also of York, a JP and past president of the National Council of Women.
The restoration of the Five Sisters window formed part of a comprehensive post-war restoration of the minster’s glass. The sum required for this particular project was £3,000. In the first instance Mrs Gray proposed a direct approach to every woman in Yorkshire, who would be invited to donate and raise further funds. Princess Mary, the daughter of George V and Queen Mary, gave her patronage to the scheme and contributed £50. The appeal took off when women living in other parts of Britain and, further afield, in the British Dominions—the Commonwealth of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa—requested that they too might be allowed to donate to the fund. Within nine weeks of its launch in February 1923, the appeal had produced £3,555, enough to cover the restoration of the window and to permit the erection of a screen and memorial panels.
From May 1923, the window’s sixty-five panels were progressively removed to the minster’s workshops. There the grisaille glass of which they were largely formed was restored and re-leaded. (Grisaille was produced through painting panels of clear or white or silvery-grey glass with designs, often geometric or of foliage, in black or brown pigment. The pieces were re-fired, then held together with lead rods to form an intricate whole. The resulting effect is a pearly or grey tone.) Construction of the screen and twelve commemorative panels and collection of the names to be recorded were put in hand. On the panels, military ranks mingle with civilian organisations, and the names of British women with those of women from the Dominions. Well over half of the women had been active as nurses, medical and hospital workers and doctors. Women members of all three branches of the armed forces appear. Women munition workers are recorded in large numbers, accompanied by nearly fifty stewardesses who had served in the Mercantile Marine. A further panel lists women from seven small civilian organisations, some engaged in relief work.
Finally, on 24 June 1925, the restored window was unveiled by the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, wife of George VI) and the screen dedicated. The memorial remembers the women who died, but also celebrates an initiative conceived and funded by women for other women.
There are many good reasons for visiting the Cathedrals of this country, but one might not think of them as places for exploring and celebrating modern women’s history. On a recent visit to Bristol, I realised how mistaken I had been. On entering the Cathedral, you are almost literally dazzled by gorgeous modern stained glass windows celebrating women’s and men’s war work.
Arnold Wathen Robinson (1888-1955), a local artist of great distinction, executed four windows commemorating civilian services in Bristol during World War II, when the city suffered severe bombardment. The window nearest the entrance is dedicated to the St John Ambulance and Nursing Services, showing a St John stretcher-bearer, a matron at her medicine cabinet and a nurse with a sick child. The next window is dedicated to the British Red Cross and the Fire Service, and includes a Red Cross stretcher-bearer and a nurse with trolley; both a firewoman and a fireman are shown for the Fire Service. Next to them is a depiction of the Wardens’ Service – a male air-raid warden with axe, stirrup pump and bell and a female warden with rattle – alongside two officers, male and female, of the Bristol Police. The fourth window shows on one side two Home Guardsmen, and on the other the Women’s Voluntary Service, illustrated by a WVS telephonist and a woman caring for a small girl clutching her teddy bear.
Walking round the Cathedral I saw a memorial to an earlier representative of the female tradition of voluntary work.
Mary Clifford (1842-1919) is a more recognizably modern figure than one might guess from the rather 18th-century headgear she is wearing in this relief portrait. One of a cohort of late 19th-century women who stood for election as Guardians of the Poor, she was also involved at an early stage with the National Union of Women Workers (which became the National Council of Women) and served a term as its President in 1904-5. A devout Christian, she is said to have ‘feared the secular spirit of the foreign Women’s Unions’, but this did not prevent her representing Britain at the International Council of Women in Berlin in 1904 and speaking on the contemporary-sounding topic of ‘The Unmarried Mother and her Child’. She was also a staunch Anglican, saying of a meeting concerning an NUWW conference in 1890: ‘the tone was on the whole, one felt, rather Churchy, and I think it’s very sweet of the Non. Cons. [sic] to endure with entire meekness the unconscious attitude of superiority that Church people take. At the same time, it seemed to be a proof that they recognised the value of our ways and our stand’.No surprise, perhaps, to find such a loyal churchwoman commemorated in the Cathedral where she must often have attended divine service.
But the third commemoration which I found on my visit was of a member of a distinguished family of Unitarians. Mary Carpenter (1807-77) was a passionate social and educational reformer, who pioneered special provision outside adult prisons for children and adolescents who fell foul of the law.
The ‘Red House’ where she offered residence and training to girls can still be visited in Central Bristol. Her interest in social reform in India is also mentioned on her memorial plaque. Clearly, her influence extended far beyond the circles in which she grew up; and her fellow-citizens in Bristol took pride in her achievements ‘in this City and Realm’.
My question to my readers is this: have I been walking round other Cathedrals with my eyes closed? Or is Bristol exceptional in the notice in takes of women’s work?
In Search of Muriel Carew Hunt
In 1941 Newnham College, Cambridge received a bequest of funds to create a memorial in stained glass to ‘the noble work done by women in the Great War’. The bequest came in fulfilment of the will of Miss Muriel Ada Sneyd Carew Hunt, made in 1931. The money was eventually used to commission a series of four sculptures in glass and steel, representing the Four Seasons, from the distinguished sculptor, Geoffrey Clarke. His description of the works appears below. They are displayed in the glass corridor which connects Strachey and Pfeiffer Buildings in Newnham College.
Newnham College would like very much to know more about this benefactor. If you are able to help, please contact the College Archivist, Anne Thomson at Newnham College, Cambridge CB3 9DF or e-mail: email@example.com
Miss Carew Hunt was not an alumna of the College and according to her brother, her only surviving close relative, had no connection of any kind to Newnham. One hypothesis is that she knew of and shared the commitment of the College and its students to the work of Dr Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospital Units. The Units, who worked predominantly on the Eastern Front, were supported with funds and supplies throughout the War by the students of Newnham and Girton; and a number of them went to work in various capacities for the Units after completing their courses. The remainder of Miss Carew Hunt’s estate was bequeathed to two London hospitals.
The sculptures continue to make a powerful impact. They have perhaps added resonance because they are one of only two examples of twentieth century glass in Cambridge colleges; and because in these years we mark the centenary of the Great War.
The Four Seasons – an allegory
Geoffrey Clarke ARCA
Each season is represented by a plant-like form in various stages of development. The plant symbolises man. The horizontal represents the surface of the earth in each instance. The beginning is really in winter. The young shoot, on the right, is appearing.
Upward movement of young plant form. The root is undeveloped.
Plant opens revealing bloom. The sun is high. Root develops.
Plant physically past its prime. Seed drops. Identity of root almost complete.
Plant dies, Root life continues now fully developed, more obviously a cross, symbolising man’s soul.