Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Ladies of the Committee - (5) Dr Jane Waterston

While she may be better-known as South Africa’s first accredited female doctor *, Dr Jane Elizabeth Waterston’s story of perseverance, dedication and compassion deserves wider recognition

Here is some of what Millicent Fawcett in her memoir “What I Remember” had to say about Dr Jane:-

She was an ardent defender of the rights of the native races of Africa, but full of common sense and practical wisdom upon this and other subjects. It was a joy to walk down Adderley Street, Cape Town, and watch the glow of ardent affection and reverence which lighted up the dark faces of almost every native we met as they recognized her. She was an indefatigable medical visitor at Robin [sic Robben] Island, the Leper Settlement near Cape Town. Her male colleagues wrote and spoke enthusiastically of her professional work, but rather annoyed me by referring to her as the best man among them! It is so difficult for most men to understand that it is a very left-handed compliment to a woman to say when she shows intelligence or force of character that she might be a man. ...

Throughout our camp work all the most difficult and fatiguing jobs were voluntarily undertaken by our dear Dr. Jane. Such things as the source of water supply to be investigated, involving a tramp of a mile or more over the veldt; slaughter places, drainage and sanitation to be inspected – these were the jobs which Dr. Jane claimed as hers by divine right. She was a great politician and an out-and-out Britisher by instinct, and training; but in the presence of a sick child or woman she was nothing but the skilled and tender physician sparing no pains or cost to restore the invalid to health.”

Born in Inverness in 1843, Jane was originally inspired by fellow Scot, David Livingstone, to become a missionary and in 1866 she accompanied the Reverend James Stewart, who had been involved with Livingstone’s Zambezi Expedition **, to South Africa where she became the head of the Girls’ Institution of the Lovedale School, training young black women. She realised, however, her heart wasn’t in school teaching and in 1874 returned to England and enrolled as one of the first students at the London School of Medicine for Women.

Five years later she was back in Africa, in Nyasaland [Malawi], where she joined the Livingstonia Mission. This proved to be a disaster. Her fellow male missionaries were dismissive of her abilities and qualifications and she, in turn, was appalled at the way they treated Africans. She lasted barely six months and returned to Lovedale where she opened a medical clinic.

The younger Dr Jane Waterston
Copyright ambaile.org.uk

In 1883 she moved to Cape Town and was working there when the three English ladies (Millicent Fawcett, Lucy Deane, Alice Knox) arrived at Cape Town to investigate conditions in the concentration camps.

Held in high regard by Sir Alfred Milner, Governor of the Cape Colony, Jane was appointed to the Ladies Committee but, given her past history, she must have been a force to be reckoned with given her main focus was in treating women and especially the black poor. Although she’d been involved in helping with relief services for Afrikaners during the war, her opinion of their treatment of black people did not endear her to them.

She was not openly active in the suffrage movement but a believer in the benefits of the British Empire and thus Jane may seem a contradictory figure when viewed through the eyes of modern or revisionist history, but there is no denying the impact she made.

Her Oxford Dictionary of Biography entry tells us:-

"Although she was the only woman doctor in a country not noted for its enlightened attitude to women, she was accepted by the local medical profession. This was partly because of her tact and strength of character, and partly because she chose to practise among women, the poor of Cape Town, and the Xhosa dock labourers, whose language she spoke.

... In her later years honours were showered upon her. In 1925 she was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the second woman to achieve this honour, and in 1929 she was made an honorary doctor of laws by the University of Cape Town.

This recognition was due partly to Waterston’s political activity. Although she never openly supported women’s suffrage, she lived opposite the Cape houses of parliament and regularly attended sessions there. She lobbied vigorously for the protection of black education and increasingly, from the 1880s, the promotion of the British empire.

... when she died there [Cape Town] on 7 November 1932 her funeral procession was one of the largest ever seen in the city."

The elderly Jane on her way to collect an honorary degree

* Dr James Barry is often considered the first female doctor in South Africa. However, Barry was officially a male doctor during his service there and it was not until after his death that it was revealed that he may have been a woman forced to disguise her sex.

** For more information on this disastrous Zambezi Expedition, see the series of posts on my companion blog, Digging the Dust.

Samples of more information on Jane Waterston:-

Journal of Medical Biography

Historical Publications South Africa


Gender, professionalism and power: The rise of the single female medical missionary in Britain and South Africa, 1875-1925 (this thesis is downloadable in PDF, H. Ingram.)

Links to other posts in this series about the members of the Ladies Committee sent to investigate the Concentration Camps in South Africa:-

Introduction to the Ladies

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Lucy Deane Streatfeild

Katherine Blanche Brereton

Lady Alice Knox

Personal library sources include:

"The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War, A Social History" by Elizabeth Van Heyningen

"Rebel English Woman, The Remarkable Life of Emily Hobhouse" by Elsabe Brits

"The Compassionate Englishwoman" by Robert Eales

"The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham

"Those Bloody Women, Three Heroines of the Boer War" by Brian Roberts

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Ladies of the Committee - (4) Lady Alice Knox

 In some ways, Lady Alice Knox is the odd woman out in the Ladies Committee. At the time of her appointment, she wasn’t a public campaigner for women’s rights or actively involved in improvements to education nor was she involved in health. 

Thus, she’s a shadowy figure, the wife of an important military man, Sir William George Knox, of the Royal Horse Artillery, who had served in all the famous British Empire conflicts of the latter 19th Century – the Abyssinian, Ashanti, Afghan and Zulu Wars and ultimately the Boer War.  (In appearance he looks to be the absolute epitome of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Major-General.)

Alice was most likely recruited because of her husband’s connections in South Africa during the time the Ladies Committee was travelling and reporting on the concentration camps, so she might best be described as a “facilitator” and purely there to smooth the way through authorities and red tape.

Alice and her husband had been trapped in Ladysmith during the famous siege so she did have some frontline experience although there is no record of her ever having talked or written about it afterwards.

Again, it is difficult to find any portrait or photo of the adult Alice and the only one readily available in the UK National Portrait Gallery is this one of her as a child with her brother and sister. Perhaps she is the one wearing a hat.

Below is an image of Alice’s mother, Emily, from the Dundas family website

Alice’s birth date seems to vary. In some reports it is shown as 1863, but Scottish records indicate that it was much earlier, 22 August 1855. Her father was Sir Robert Dundas, 1st Baronet of Arniston and her mother, Emily, was a member of the Knox family. Alice was a cousin of her future husband. She was married to Sir William in St Paul’s Knightsbridge in July, 1889. They would have no children.

Alice died at Marazion, Cornwall, on 5 August 1929 and left a substantial estate in excess of 45,000 pounds, or around 3 million pounds in today’s value.

An obituary from The London Times of August 10, 1929 indicates that Lady Knox was a council member of the Society for the Oversea Settlement of British Women.

The Society is an interesting body, long defunct and out of fashion, but its main purpose was finding jobs for British women in the dominions and colonies of the Empire. After so many men died in World War I, there was “surplus” of women in Britain. According to the thinking of the time, what better way to help them by despatching them around the Empire where they could find jobs, and no doubt husbands, and where they could begin again with new families and communities.

Alice was also involved in a similar scheme resettling soldiers and their whole families in a similar way. Like many of the grandiose soldier settlement schemes following WW1, the success rate was low and by the time it folded in 1930, Alice would be dead. Alice and her husband are both buried in the churchyard at Temple, Midlothian, Scotland, not far from Alice’s ancestral home at Arniston.

The grave at Temple

There are some smatterings in archival newspapers of Alice giving talks or reports on the overseas emigration scheme; here is a link to one about the first army settlement in Western Australia in the Country Life Stock and Station Journal 17 February 1925. Note that Lady Knox introduced the group to Queen Mary in Buckingham Palace shortly before their departure. It would be interesting to find out how the families fared.

Links to other posts in this series about the members of the Ladies Committee sent to investigate the Concentration Camps in South Africa:-

Introduction to the Ladies

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Lucy Deane Streatfeild

Katherine Blanche Brereton

Lady Alice Knox

Dr Jane Waterston

Personal library sources include:

"The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War, A Social History" by Elizabeth Van Heyningen

"Rebel English Woman, The Remarkable Life of Emily Hobhouse" by Elsabe Brits

"The Compassionate Englishwoman" by Robert Eales

"The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham

"Those Bloody Women, Three Heroines of the Boer War" by Brian Roberts

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Ladies of the Committee - (3) Katherine Blanche Brereton

Katherine Blanche Brereton was born into a prominent landowning family in Norfolk in 1861. Like her fellow Committee member, Lucy Deane, she had connections to the upper classes and the military. Her father, Shovell Henry Brereton, had served in the Norfolk Militia and her grandfather had once been the vicar of the English church at Versailles. Her brother, Cloudesley Shovell Henry Brereton, became a respected poet, translator and educator.

Katherine's father was opposed to her dream of becoming a nurse and she was nearly 30 years old before she defied him, left the comforts of  Briningham Hall and commenced training as a "lady pupil" nurse at Guy's Hospital in London. She became the head sister of the Bright Ward (named in honour of Richard Bright who was an early pioneer in kidney research).

Briningham Hall
Wikimedia Commons

She also worked at the Birkenhead and Wirrall Children's Hospitals and trained in midwifery at the York Road Lying-In Hospital. Katherine returned home to Norfolk in late 1899 when her father died suddenly after falling from his horse during a hunt. A short time later in 1900 she joined the nursing section of the Royal Army Medical Corps and sailed out to the war in South Africa. 

Katherine was involved in the establishment of hospitals at Pretoria and Elandsfontein, and served as night superintendent at the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein. 

The imperious ladies of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital Fund Committee
Wellcome Collection

Unnamed nurse and patients at Deelfontein
Wellcome Collection

Another unnamed nurse and patient in a bed donated by
Queen Alexandra for use at Deelfontein
Wellcome Collection

(This Youtube video shows the sad state of the Anglo-Boer War hospital at Deelfontein as it is today.)

Apart from her important English establishment connections, it was her experience in the hospitals that resulted in Katherine receiving a letter from the War Office requesting her to join the Ladies Committee to investigate the conditions in the concentration camps. She became a good friend of Millicent Fawcett and joined forces with her again in 1903 on a special mission to promote the conciliation of Boers and Britons.

After she returned permanentlyhome to England, Katherine often gave talks about her nursing experiences and being a member of the Ladies Committee investigating the concentration camps. (There are several reports on her talks in British Newspaper Archives). But she was always diplomatic and careful not to be overly critical of the camps or British policy in their operation.

Katherine's medal record for the Boer War shows she received the Queen's South Africa Medal and Clasp and also the highest nursing honour of the Royal Red Cross which she received at an investiture by King Edward VII in December, 1902.

These are not Katherine's medals, but she would have had a similar set,
including the Royal Red Cross and Anglo-Boer war medals

Katherine spent the remainder of her life in Norfolk where she managed the family's estates and set herself to master the farming of several hundred acres. She also devoted herself to public work, was President of the Holt Suffrage Society (later the National Women Citizens Association), also became a Justice of the Peace, served as a magistrate and was involved in numerous other causes. It seems she was also an avowed member of the Temperance Movement and may have not gained popularity by being instrumental in closing her local village pub!

When she died in October, 1930, she left her body to medical research. Her obituary in the feminist newspaper "Common Cause" sums her up as follows. 

"Her useful life of remarkably interesting and varied forms of service has come to an end; of her it may be said in the words proposed for the tablet to be erected in her memory: 'She asked nothing; she gave all'"

Sadly, there are no accessible images of Katherine Brereton to be found online although there must be some in family collections or records of the many organisations in which she was involved. 

Bed hangings belonging to her ancestors were donated by her in 1929 to the Norwich Museums. Read about them in the following links.

Brereton Bed Hangings

Frayed: Textiles on the Edge

Norfolk Museums

Introduction to the Ladies

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Lucy Deane Streatfeild

Katherine Blanche Brereton

Lady Alice Knox

Dr Jane Waterston

Personal library sources include:

"The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War, A Social History" by Elizabeth Van Heyningen

"Rebel English Woman, The Remarkable Life of Emily Hobhouse" by Elsabe Brits

"The Compassionate Englishwoman" by Robert Eales

"The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham

"Those Bloody Women, Three Heroines of the Boer War" by Brian Roberts

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Ladies of the Committee - (2) Lucy Deane Streatfeild

As I began my research into the next member of the Ladies Committee sent to South Africa to investigate the concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War, I was astonished to discover a fact unknown to me previously. Had Lucy Deane’s observations about the dangers of asbestos been taken seriously at the time and, better still acted upon, perhaps the lives of countless thousands of people, including my own husband, might have been longer. (He died of the asbestos disease mesothelioma.)

In 1898, just a few years before she was appointed to the Committee, Lucy Deane [later Streatfeild], wrote a report warning of the adverse effects on those working with asbestos in factories after she became aware of many individuals becoming ill and dying prematurely.

Lucy was one of seven women officially appointed by the Home Office as a female factory inspector. She travelled the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland, usually either by public transport or bicycle, studying and reporting on the working conditions of women in factories. At the time, it was vital that the inspectors didn’t reveal the nature of their work in order to protect the women themselves.

Lucy would raise many issues about working hours and conditions and it was during the course of this work, that she realised many women working in factories in which asbestos was being processed were suffering from severe bronchial and lung infections. She wrote:-

The evil effects of asbestos dust have also instigated a microscopic examination of the mineral dust by Her Majesty’s Medical Inspector. Clearly revealed was the sharp, glass-like jagged nature of the particles.

Why were her early warnings disregarded?  The answer comprises several reasons, not least male prejudice against opinionated women during that era when the battle for women’s rights was causing considerable trouble. However, it mainly came down to the greed of powerful and influential manufacturers of asbestos products and factory owners who didn’t want some nosy inconvenient feminist rocking their lucrative boat. Tragically, it would be another century before those greedy corporations and industrialists would get their comeuppance, but little comfort to the countless people  whose lives have been impacted by asbestos-related diseases.

After discovering this, and other facts about the remarkable Lucy Deane, I warmed to her and wondered how she managed to get along with the intimidating and imperious Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the head of the Ladies Committee. (See my earlier post here.)

Lucy does not seem to have had many photos taken,
this being the standard one freely available online, c. 1918

There are a number of feminist academic theses available online that discuss Lucy Deane and all have used her letters as sources of information. Her South African experience can be found in those written to her sister, Hyacinthe Mary Deane. They show that although she managed to get on socially with the other ladies, she did complain of their unprofessional standards and felt that she was “one against five” on many issues.

“It seemed to me that it would be most mischievous if we split. It would be more white-washy than ever. So I have struggled and fought and pleaded and argued for my main points and got nearly all of them. I couldn’t prevent all the jam and blarney at the beginning.

Unlike Millicent, she was not an Imperialist and had no illusions about British failings. By the end of the tour following the distressing scenes they had witnessed, Lucy managed to get all the other ladies to agree that the camps had been “a huge mistake”. It was Lucy who insisted that the Ladies Committee must not shy away from criticism in the way the camps were handled. She didn’t pull any punches:-
“We brought the women in to stop them from helping their husbands in the War and by so doing we have undoubtedly killed them in thousands as much as if we had shot them on their own doorsteps, and anyone but a British General would have realised this long ago.”

Concentration camp women bury their children, Anglo-Boer War Museun



Lucy in her later years

More biographical information on Lucy Deane Streatfeild:

Lucy was born in Madras, India, on 31 July 1865. Her parents were was Lieutenant-Colonel Bonar Millett Deane and his wife, the Hon. Lucy Boscawen, a sister of the sixth Viscount Falmouth. Her father served in India and South Africa, and was killed at Laing's Neck on 28 January 1881 during the Anglo-Transvaal War. Her mother died in March 1886.


In the 1890s, Lucy trained as a health worker and lecturer for the National Health Society, a body established to provide professional training for charities. In 1893 she was appointed by St Mary Abbots in Kensington as a sanitary inspector of workshops and factories that employed women. Subsequently, the Home Office appointed her a factory inspector.


Her work was arduous. The female inspectors faced antagonism from employers, male colleagues and sometimes even the workers themselves. In Ireland, Lucy was particularly angered by the truck system in which priests failed to support workers and that there was “utter disregard for law and justice, terrible tales of the corruption of the magistrates”.


Following her involvement in the Ladies Committee, Lucy’s health had begun to suffer, and a few years later she resigned from the factory inspectorate and moved to Westerham in Kent, where she lived until her death. In 1911 she married an old friend and architect, Granville Edward Stewart Streatfeild.


Lucy remained an active voluntary worker. She was the first female organizing officer for the National Health Insurance Commission, establishing infant welfare centres in London; she was also a member of various trade boards, her local county council and the Women’s Institute. She supported and lectured on female suffrage and was one of the organisers of the Great Pilgrimage and Rally held in Hyde Park in 1913.


Millicent Fawcett addressing the 1913 Rally

During the First World War, Lucy was a member of the executive committee of the Women's Land Army and the War Office appeals committee, which adjudicated on separation allowances for soldiers' and sailors' dependants, and of a special arbitration tribunal to settle disputes over wages and conditions in munitions works. In 1918 she chaired a committee of inquiry into the conduct of members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in France, and received a CBE.


After the war Lucy became was one of the first female Justices of the Peace. She was also an enthusiastic producer of amateur theatre in her local village. She wrote numerous articles on factory work and industrial legislation. She died on 3 July 1950 at her home, Cottage on the Hill, Westerham, Kent. Lucy had no children.


Lucy Deane Streatfeild was held in high regard by her contemporaries for her commitment and strong social conscience. Her legacy is just as important today as it was when she first stood up for the poor treatment of women and children more than a century ago.

Online sources include:-

Oxford Dictionary of Biography


These Dangerous Women

Lecture by Lucy Deane to the Industrial Law Committee on Women andChildren in Factories, Workshops and Laundries and How to Help Them.

Academic theses:-




Papers of Lucy Deane

Biography of Lucy

Introduction to the Ladies

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Lucy Deane Streatfeild

Katherine Blanche Brereton

Lady Alice Knox

Dr Jane Waterston

Personal library sources include:

"The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War, A Social History" by Elizabeth Van Heyningen

"Rebel English Woman, The Remarkable Life of Emily Hobhouse" by Elsabe Brits

"The Compassionate Englishwoman" by Robert Eales

"The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham

"Those Bloody Women, Three Heroines of the Boer War" by Brian Roberts

Friday, February 18, 2022

"In Quisling's Shadow. The Memoirs of Vidkun Quisling's first wife, Alexandra" (Book Review)

This is not a new book, being published in 2007, but I was interested in it as part of some genealogical research I’m doing and it has relevance to this blog as its subject was certainly a woman forced to carry a history bucket. It also has contemporary relevance in light of the current frictions between Ukraine and Russia reflecting a resurgence of old feuds.

In 1921, Alexandra Andreyevna Voronina lived in the city of Kharkov in the Ukraine with her mother. Once a very wealthy family, they had fallen on the hardest of times. Her father disappeared years earlier and it was never known whether he had deliberately abandoned them or was the victim of sinister action (common enough in the Bolshevik era). Not only had the region suffered the after-effects of the Russian Revolution and the ensuing Civil War, it was also devastated by an epic famine in which some starving individuals had resorted to cannibalisation to survive (there are verified images of this in the book).

Originally training to be a ballet dancer, Alexandra had to compromise her dreams and do whatever work she could. She found it in the office established by the Norwegian explorer and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen, from where famine relief was co-ordinated. Nansen’s representative in Ukraine was Captain Vidkun Quisling. Alexandra fell completely under his spell and, although barely seventeen years of age, married him.

There follows a lengthy, and often depressing, litany of what today would be classified as spousal abuse – not physical, but definitely mental. Quisling, who has left a highly controversial mark on history being the man who led Norway and sided with Hitler during World War II and for which he was later executed, was controlling, cold and calculating, probably psychotic. He manipulated Alexandra into an abortion and then forced her to accept - and even share a bedroom with - the new woman in his life, another Russian, Maria Vasilyevna Pasetchnikov.

A forcibly staged photograph of
the  two "wives"
on the balcony of the Quisling apartment

Maria, in turn, was a nasty character who may have been an agent sent to spy on Quisling and the Norwegian relief effort and she added further layers of scheming and subterfuge to the cruel treatment of Alexandra.

Back and forth across Europe, Alexandra was often left to fend for herself in places where she knew no-one, then with little warning, was drawn back into Quisling’s net, then abandoned again. In spite of promises that he’d keep her safe and secure as long as she lived, he was erratic with money. In spite of all that he did to her, Alexandra still hoped that Maria would be sent packing, that she and Quisling would get back together again.

My main quibble with her story is that some areas are overly detailed while others are glossed over and leave more questions. Alexandra often complained about being isolated for weeks or months in places, or left destitute without any means of support. She said she survived solely on a diet of bananas and cream for months on end - curious foods that may not have been as cheap as the poor person’s diet of bread and dripping (or the French equivalent). With Quisling being so mean in providing her with a regular income and unable to work, she must have had some regular source of money other than just help from generous friends. She would certainly have needed funds when travelling around Europe plus undertaking artistic and ballet studies in France and eventually being able to buy her passage to Shanghai. The latter part of her life in Shanghai and later in California includes two further marriages and a child, but this is all rushed through. The fact her mother was abandoned on her own in the Crimea for the rest of her life is also troubling and it would have been interesting to find out what efforts, if any, had been made to get her out

Alexandra seemed overly na├»ve, compliant and trusting. From our more liberated distance of a century later, it can be hard to understand why she did not stand up to her treatment and find a way of being self-sufficient. But one has to remember the attitude of the times and the fact she was still in her teens, subservient to her husband’s whims and not financially independent. Her story has its sad echoes today with still far too many women at the mercy of unscrupulous and controlling men.

Three stars.

Print copies may be hard to find, Kindle versions available from:


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Ladies of the Committee - (1) Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Formidable. Frosty. Forthright. Just a few of the words that have been applied to Millicent Garrett Fawcett by her biographers and those who knew her. Even at this distance in time, and although being physically tiny in stature, she looms large among the campaigning feminists of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Mrs Fawcett, 1890
Photograph by W. and D. Downey
National Portrait Gallery UK

Whether she was the best choice to head the Ladies Committee to investigate the concentration camps in South Africa is debatable, especially in the middle of a war in which opinions were sharply divided. Millicent was a dyed-in-the-wool Imperialist with little tolerance of anyone with opposing views. Like many of that era, she believed Britain had a right to rule the world. It would not go well for any of her fellow Committee members who questioned that idea.

In her memoir, "What I Remember", Millicent recalled it was in July 1901 that she received a visit from Edith Lyttleton, the wife of the sportsman/politician Alfred Lyttleton, asking her if she would be prepared to travel at short notice to South Africa to inspect the state of the camps there. Edith had became a founding member of the Empire friendship organisation, the Victoria League.

Millicent commented that Alfred "was admired, beloved and trusted by all parties and all sections of the country as few men have ever been" - rare praise for a politician - and he was most concerned about what was happening to the children in particular in the camps.

Edith informed Millicent that she would be joined by other women who were experts in health and child welfare. Millicent didn't hesitate but, when discussing her duties with the Secretary of War, St John Brodrick, she was vehement that she would not speak to Emily Hobhouse at all.

Emily Hobhouse

While it is understandable that Millicent might prefer to see things for herself, she was already biased against Emily. Apparently the knives had been out previously between the two women over another matter when Emily supported some tenants in a building owned by the Fawcett family.

Added to this, although it was Emily’s exposure of what was happening in the camps that initiated the Committee, she had suffered from bad press, with words like "excitability" and "hysterical" attached to her, compared to Millicent's personality with its cool detachment and control.

Emily's behaviour suggested she was more sympathetic to the Boer cause than she should have been, and she had been deported from the Cape for her activities. No wonder Millicent would have nothing to do with her.

Millicent left England on 22 July 1901, accompanied by Lady Alice Knox, wife of General Sir William Knox then on service in South Africa and Miss Lucy Deane, a trained Inspector of Factories and an expert in infant welfare. Also on the voyage were Millicent's daughter Philippa, Lucy Deane's sister and Lady Alice's maid. The three other ladies to make up the Committee were already in South Africa.

While on board ship, the women made plans and also learned from a fellow passenger a few words of the Cape Dutch Taal, although one can't imagine Millicent being that keen on learning what many English people disparagingly considered a pidgin or inferior language to the true Dutch of the Netherlands.

When they arrived at Cape Town, the ladies were accommodated in the grand Mount Nelson Hotel before meeting up with the two female doctors, Ella Scarlett and Jane Waterston and the nurse, Katherine Brereton. Millicent's memoir described the violent, hostile factions that were evident in the city and the many other charitable and relief committees who had differing viewpoints as to what needed to be done in the camps. There were many "cooks" stirring the broth and the ladies were discouraged from calling at Government House in case of trouble.

Mount Nelson Hotel
Still one of the world's grandest hotels

Emily Hobhouse had done much of her travel and investigation of the camps on her own, paying her own way, struggling with red tape permission, using primitive modes of transport and often going without food, water or a bath or shelter. She had experienced the deprivations of war at first-hand and wasn't impressed to learn that the Ladies Committee undertook their travels in a special train supplied by the Cape Government. Millicent described this as follows:

"Each of us had what was a second-class compartment fitted with sleeping accommodation. There was a large saloon for our meals, with a travelling kitchen attached, and we also had a Portuguese cook named Gomez, and the services of a young Tommy named Collins, lent to us by General Knox, Lady Knox’s husband. We looked all round the arrangements made for our comfort and security with interest, curiosity, and gratitude, for these railway carriages were to be our home for about five months."

(Details of the progress can be followed through Millicent's memoir that is available online, see Chapter XVII. More of it will feature in further posts on this topic.)

More biographical background on Millicent:-

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was born in Suffolk in 1847, one of eleven children of a wealthy industrialist Newson Garrett who encouraged his children in liberalism, to be outgoing and have enquiring minds. Millicent developed a passion for self-education, literature, the arts and there’s no doubt her elder sister, Elizabeth Garret Anderson, who would become Britain’s first female doctor, was a major influence on her.

At eighteen, she met the blind Cambridge professor and Reformist, Henry Fawcett, 14 years her senior, and they married in 1867. Her only child, Philippa, destined to be a prominent mathematician, was born a year later. They were a radical couple for the time and their successful partnership was strengthened by shared interests in outdoor pursuits, women’s education and suffrage.

Henry and Millicent by
Ford Madox Brown, 1872
National Portrait Gallery UK

Millicent developed her own writing and speaking career, specialising in politics and economics as well as women’s issues. It was rare for a woman to give a speech in public and, as still happens today, she had her critics than she must be neglecting her child while involved in such work.

When Henry died suddenly in 1884, Millicent was bereft and she and Philippa moved in with another sister Agnes Garrett, who was a pioneering businesswoman in her own right, but she continued on the same path. She became the leading force in women’s suffrage and a frequent lecturer at girls’ schools and women colleges.

She also espoused many other causes including moral rearmament and backed campaigns connected to prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women and children, but her puritanism and inflexible attitude towards private morality were often at odds with her support for public reforms. She was appalled by the idea of free love out of marriage, yet ahead of her time in advocating divorce by consent.

The rest of Millicent’s life as regards her activities during World War I and the advancement of women has been well-documented. She was bestowed with many honorary doctorates, and received a Damehood in 1925. She died in 1929.

Some of her liberal Victorian attitudes may seem at odds with her feminism and modern women will find her a challenge to evaluate. This closing paragraph from her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography seems to summarise her well.

"In contrast to the Pankhursts, she shrank from hero-worshippers and did not seek to be a charismatic leader. As a speaker she was persuasive rather than inspirational; she was not a good committee chairman. Victorian values lingered on in her sexual, social, and imperial politics. She took pride in her ‘Englishness’ and—not only in the context of war—had some of the defects that implies. Her statesmanlike qualities were nevertheless crucial in guiding the British women's movement. The range of her contributions to public and intellectual life in an exceptionally long and influential career has only recently been recognized. Once stereotyped as a narrowly bourgeois liberal feminist, she is now appreciated as a woman who also addressed the exploitation of working women and child abuse. She argued—while never adopting the language of ‘sex war’—for votes for women on the grounds that they had distinctive insights to offer and interests to defend. Changing fashions and values in politics and feminism, and her status as an emblem of the women's movement, have complicated the task of her biographers—and will continue to do so until it becomes possible to represent eminent feminists sympathetically as creatures of, as well as rebels against, their times."

Millicent Fawcett, c. 1910
Photograph by Olive Edis
National Portrait Gallery UK

Introduction to the Ladies

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Lucy Deane Streatfeild

Katherine Blanche Brereton

Lady Alice Knox

Personal library sources include:

"The Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer War, A Social History" by Elizabeth Van Heyningen

"Rebel English Woman, The Remarkable Life of Emily Hobhouse" by Elsabe Brits

"The Compassionate Englishwoman" by Robert Eales

"The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham

"Those Bloody Women, Three Heroines of the Boer War" by Brian Roberts

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Ladies of the Committee (Introduction)

Women were actively agitating for the vote and equal or greater representation in many areas of British life when an all-female Committee was appointed to investigate the concentration camps created during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. 

This new series of posts will look at the women who were part of that group. *

The leader, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, is perhaps the most famous. In 2018, she became the first woman to be commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square in London, unveiled by then Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Perhaps less well-known are the other members. They were Lucy Deane, Lady Alice Knox, Dr Jane Waterson, Dr Ella Scarlett and Katherine Brereton.

Emily Hobhouse brought the appalling conditions in the camps to wider knowledge in Britain and the world at large. Her explosive revelations caused outrage in the general public and embarrassment to the UK Government. **

Like Emily, the members of the Committee were progressive women in that era of struggle for feminist representation and advancement, but they weren't all compatible in their beliefs and ideals so the dynamic would have been an interesting one and Emily herself was not included or consulted.

All of them hailed from the respectable upper classes but if one bases success, achievement and historical recognition as being given the accolade of an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, only three of them - Fawcett, Deane and Waterston – are included in the ODNB. 

(Image source unknown)

Although often called the Fawcett Commission or Ladies Commission, it was not a Royal Commission in the true sense.

**  See my two previous posts about teachers for the camps and a book about Emily Hobhouse.