ARC SSR Edition 2018


ARC SSR Edition 2018

Unsung Heroines
Sophie Gibbs, Section for Specialist Repositories (SSR) Section Editor

In celebration of the centenary of the Representation of People Act 1918, which allowed some women to vote in the UK for the first time, 2018’s SSR issue of the ARC Magazine features a number of amazing, pioneering women from across the UK and Ireland, brought together under the theme ‘Unsung Heroines’.

In order to identify women to include in this issue, a call was put out to the SSR group mailing list asking for individuals to nominate women, represented in their archives, who they believed have not received the recognition they deserve for their achievements.

The response to this call was extraordinary.

Due to the large volume of nominations, only a handful were able to be included in the issue, leaving many incredible stories of fascinating, high achieving women unfeatured in the publication itself.

We at the SSR Committee are delighted to share with you three articles, commissioned expressly for inclusion on this website, covering the stories of four such women:

• Dame Kathleen Annie Raven (1910 - 1999)
Nurse/Government Health Official/educational philanthropist

• Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz) (1868 - 1927) and Edith Chaplin (Lady Londonderry) (1878 - 1959)
Politician/suffragette, and political hostess/suffragette respectively

• Frances Margaret Taylor (Mother Magdalen of the Sacred Heart) (1832 - 1900)
Nurse/editor/writer/founder of religious congregation the Poor Servants of the Mother of God


While these women are not included in the issue itself, their stories are too inspiring not to share. Other honourable mentions include the geologists Gertrude Elles (1872 - 1960) and Mary Hughes (1862- 1916), whose papers can be accessed via the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences.

We must not underestimate the power of sharing stories from the archives. It is by shedding light on individual stories from groups typically underrepresented in the history books, like those of these women, that archives can inform and mould the collective memory and societal identity for the better.

To read up on more amazing women, see the July 2018 issue of the ARC Magazine ‘Unsung Heroines’. ARA members can access an online version of this issue at:


Dame Kathleen Raven: A Nursing Heroine

Reduced MS 1721 10 1 Kathleen Raven Nursing Times Photograph

Photograph of Kathleen Raven at desk, c.1960. Photographer: Nursing Times. Held at Leeds University Library Special Collections [ref: MS 1721/10/1]. The photograph has been reproduced with the permission of Nursing Times.

Dame Kathleen Annie Raven (1910-1999) was an influential nurse and unsung pioneer of the UK intensive care ward system. The Kathleen Raven Archive at Leeds University Library Special Collections charts her fascinating life and career.

Raven was born in Coniston, Lancashire. She had wanted to pursue a career as a nurse from a young age and took her first steps into the profession by training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. She continued working there after qualifying in 1936, rising up the ranks to become Assistant Matron.

Raven worked at St Bart’s during the Second World War and was actually on shift at the hospital when it was bombed during the Blitz. She was blown across the ward but thankfully went unhurt. She later reflected on how much the war had affected her in the 1995 lecture War and Peace.

Her career continued to progress with her next post as Matron at the Leeds General Infirmary (1949-1957). She then went on to become Chief Nursing Officer at the Ministry of Health between 1959 and 1972.

During her time in post she was responsible for significant developments in NHS nursing. In 1960, she was awarded a scholarship by the World Health Organisation to visit hospitals in the USA to study their practice of “progressive patient care” – the grouping of patients according to their care needs rather than by medical specialism. Her report on her observations became policy at the Department of Health and Social Services. She also advocated for the use of intensive care units, which were introduced in 1961.

After retirement, Raven continued to use her wealth of nursing expertise as an advisor to the healthcare management company Allied Medical Group, until 1986. She was involved with a number of charities and she served on the Council of the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association between 1974 and 1989.

This fascinating archive was catalogued in 2017 as part of our project Medicine and Health in Leeds 1760-1999, funded by the Wellcome Trust. It has also been repackaged to help preserve the material for generations of future researchers.

The records not only relate to Raven’s professional career but her personal and family life as well. There are photographs, letters, and a number of artworks by Raven, who counted painting as one of her favourite hobbies. Raven’s family also had a link to the famous art critic John Ruskin. Her maternal grandmother, Kate Raven (née Smith), was Ruskin’s housekeeper at Brantwood. The archive contains a small collection of letters from Ruskin to Kate Raven.

Find out more about this inspirational nurse on the Leeds University Library Special Collections catalogue (ref: MS 1721).


Kathleen Raven, Royal College of Nursing Kathleen A. Raven Lecture, War and Peace, 8th June 1995 (ref: MS 1721/8/1/1)

Sheila Quinn, Raven, Dame Kathleen Annie (1910-1999), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004


Pushing the Boundaries: Lady Edith Londonderry and Countess Markievicz

Edith Chaplin (later Lady Londonderry) and Constance Gore-Booth (later Countess Markievicz) were near contemporaries, both were intelligent, strong-minded women from privileged backgrounds. Both individuals pushed the boundaries of the limits set for women during the early decades of the twentieth century. However, as documented within papers held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), their lives were to follow dramatically different trajectories.

Lady Edith Londonderry
Lady Edith Londonderry, wife of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, was a charismatic individual and an astute political hostess who moved in the highest echelons of Irish and British society. Papers relating to Lady Edith held in PRONI reveal the impact she had in successfully challenging perceptions of what was deemed appropriate for women and their role in society.

Lady Edith’s writings and public addresses, from the first decade of the twentieth century, on the subject of female suffrage are passionate and informed. In one handwritten document, she asks: ‘Why should women be Queens, Mayors, or County Councillors, and not considered fit to have a vote’ or why a female doctor may issue ‘a certificate of insanity which would deprive a man a man of his vote, but may not vote herself?’ (D3099/3/6/1/7). However, she firmly advocated for achieving female suffrage through constitutional means and cautioned against the 'many there may be, who rush impetuously and rashly forward into the fray and in so doing, must suffer grievous consequences.’ (D3099/3/1/2).

 Reduced 123 Lady Edith Londonderry travel document D3099 3 10 7 4

Travel document for Lady Londonderry (then Viscountess Castlereagh) used during a visit to France with Princess Victoria for a tour of YMCA hospitals and field support units, 1915 (PRONI, D3099/3/10/7/4).


Lady Edith realised that the First World War presented an opportunity for women to demonstrate their abilities and capabilities through assisting with the war effort. She served as Colonel-in-Chief of the Women’s Volunteer Reserve in the early stages of the war. Realising that there was scope for the large scale organisation of women who wished to participate more fully in the war effort, she established the Women’s Legion in 1915. From the outset, the scope of Lady Edith’s vision was ambitious: ‘I have in my mind's eye the ultimate development of this movement into a very large organisation, comprising all sorts and classes of women, and women's work' (D3099/14/2/1/1/1/5).

More than 40,000 women joined the organisation and became involved in many forms of work. Volunteers worked on farms, they worked as cooks at military camps and hospitals, or became motor and ambulance drivers and dispatch riders and technicians. Lady Edith became the first Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1917 in recognition of her contribution to the war effort.

 Reduced 123Lady Edith Londonderry Womens Legion Uniform D4567 2 3


The success of the Women’s Legion was a definite factor in influencing the British government to organise women’s auxiliary military services in the latter half of the war. The success of the organisation also contributed towards a gradual change in the perception of the role that women could play in society. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that this attitudinal shift contributed, in some measure, to the eventual passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918.

PRONI, with assistance from postgraduate interns from Queen’s University, Belfast, is currently cataloguing papers relating to the attempted revival of the Women’s Legion in the 1930s. Correspondence relating to conditions in women's military service organisations during the 1930s and 1940s demonstrate how the struggle for women to be judged on their own merit and abilities continued long beyond 1918. One letter recounts a young women’s negative experience in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, noting that ‘the only way to keep in with them [the corporals] is to flirt with them...It makes me absolutely wild to have to submit to these uneducated men’ (D3099/14/2/1/2/2/3/8/2/11).


Countess Markievicz

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) holds the papers of the Gore-Booth family, the Lissadell Papers (D4131), many of which relate to the life and work of Constance Gore-Booth. Constance (Countess Markievicz) was a politician and revolutionary, a suffragette, and a tireless worker with the poor and dispossessed.
Constance Gore-Booth, born in 1868 was the eldest child of Henry Gore-Booth, a philanthropist and explorer. Constance entered a world characterised by privilege, comfort and security - a world against which she ultimately rebelled.

Growing up at Lissadell in County Sligo, Constance displayed skills in country pursuits. Her initial passion however, was for art and the dramatics, and at the age of 25 Constance entered the Slade School of Art in London. Here, she became involved in the issue of suffrage for women, joining the 'National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies'. Later, she went to Paris to study, where she met fellow art student, Count Casimir Joseph Dunin Markievicz. They married in September 1900, and moved to Dublin where they became an integral part of the art and drama scene. The marriage would not last however, and they separated in 1909. By this time, Constance had already turned to Irish Nationalism and had joined Sinn Fein. In 1909 she wrote “A Call to the Women of Ireland’ and 'Women, Ideals and the Nation', lectures given to the Students’ National Literary Society (D4131/K/5/1).

 Reduced 20 Countess Markievicz and Family D4131 K 4 1 15

 Constance with her daughter Maeve and stepson Staskow (PRONI, D4131/K/4/1/33).


After meeting James Larkin and later, James Connolly, Constance became more socialist in her outlook. During the Dublin 'lock-out' of 1913 she set up a food kitchen and tirelessly supplied soup to strikers and their families, earning her the undying love of the Dublin poor.

Constance joined the Irish Citizen Army, and participated in the Easter Rising in 1916. She was posted in St Stephen's Green, as second-in-command. Following the rebels' surrender she was court-martialled and was sentenced to death. Her reply to the charge was, “I went out to fight for Ireland's Freedom and it doesn't matter what happens to me” (D4131/K/4). The charge was later commuted to a life sentence of penal servitude, 'solely on the basis of her sex' (D4131/K/4). She was released in 1917 and returned to a hero's welcome in Dublin.

Reduced 30 Countess Markievicz 1916 Christmas Card D4131 K 1 1 1 3

Christmas card from Eva Gore-Booth to her sister, Constance, who was in Alyesbury prison at the time, December 1916 (PRONI, D4131/K/1/1/1/3).


Constance was elected to Westminster at the general election of 1918, becoming the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons. As a Sinn Fein member she did not take her seat, but when the first Dáil met in January 1919 she was made Minister for Labour. After losing her seat in the election of 1922, she was re-elected in 1923 and retained the seat until she died. She was a founding member of Fianna Fáil, presiding over the meeting which launched de Valera's new party.

Constance continued to work with the poor and disadvantaged. In the winter of 1926-1927 there was a serious shortage of coal due to a strike and Constance went out to the Wicklow hills in her car, loaded it up with turf, and single-handedly hauled the heavy bags of turf up the flights of stairs of the Dublin tenement dwellings of her old constituents.

In 1927, Constance was taken ill and was admitted, at her own insistence, to the public ward of Sir Patrick Dunn's Hospital. She died on 15 July 1927. At her funeral three hundred thousand people lined the streets and eight lorries were needed to carry the floral tributes.


Mother Magdalen Taylor (1832-1900)

 It is well known that the Victorian period was a great age of religiously-motivated philanthropy, and recent academic work has shown that women were particularly actively involved in this sphere. However, the names of women such as Mother Magdalen Taylor are still often less well known than those of their male counterparts. At a time of great social change, religious orders of women were heavily involved in the provision of nursing, social provision, schooling and pastoral work, and the successful founders and superiors of such communities were of necessity remarkable and dynamic individuals.

Mother Magdalen was born Fanny Margaret Taylor, daughter of a Lincolnshire Anglican clergyman. Following the death of her father in 1842, she and her family, which was not wealthy, moved to London. Even in her teenage years, Fanny showed an interest in charitable works for the poor, and in seeking a vocation to the religious life. In 1854 she joined the second body of volunteer nurses sent to the Turkish hospitals of the Crimean War. Her account of her experiences, Eastern Hospitals and English Nurses (1856-7), was immensely popular, and while there she converted to Roman Catholicism.

Fanny’s subsequent career as a pioneering woman author and journalist is reflected in another highly acclaimed book, Irish Homes and Irish Hearts (1867), an account of Irish Catholic social institutions. Her sympathy for the precarious position of Irish Catholics was a challenge to the establishment verities of the time. As founder-editor of the Catholic literary journal, The Month, her persistence and hard work obtained her the honour of being the first to publish Cardinal Newman’s famous poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ (1865).

 Reduced Frances Taylor full image amended

 Nonetheless, Fanny continued to be actively involved in social work with the London poor, and was particularly concerned with the difficulties of working class women in obtaining stable employment. With the support of her friends, Lady Georgiana Fullerton and Cardinal Henry Manning, she was inspired to explore the idea of a religious community whose members would live and work with the poor. In 1869, she set out on an adventurous journey across Europe to Poland seeking models of community life. But she soon concluded that the needs of British and Irish urban society required her to establish her own religious order. This she did in 1872, taking the religious name ‘Mother Magdalen of the Sacred Heart’. The work of the community was focused on the support of the poor, particularly through nursing, elementary education, employment training, and the provision of refuges and hostels.

By 1900 her ‘Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God’ administered over twenty convents and institutions, predominantly in England and Ireland, but also in Paris and Rome, and the order expanded internationally after Mother Magdalen’s death. Her talents as an administrator are reflected in the large archive which survives documenting her life, work and family relationships. Her courage and efficiency as a community leader and woman of business were only matched by her warmth, wit and good humour.

Reduced Mother Magdalen early habit I A1 pt