Why are women continually written out of Cambridge’s history?

Summary

On discovering another hero who was ignored by her contemporaries

I made a vlogpost (video blogpost) about Eglantyne Jebb who wrote a fascinating book about the social issues/questions that Cambridge faced in 1906.

I mentioned wanting to digitise the book in the vlogpost above, but it turns out someone else has already done so – and you can have a look at it here!

Eglantyne Jebb – before she founded Save the Children

Some of you might be familiar with her role in founding Save the Children.

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This is her above from the Save the Children site linked above.

The thing I don’t get is how and why her research and publication was ignored by the powers that be in Cambridge. Other than institutionalised sexism.

“What do the newspaper archives say?”

To their credit, the Cambridge Independent Press gave a very good write up in their review.

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They picked up on one of the pillars of her book – the rapid growth of Cambridge in a very short space of time.

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And finally, they say the book is so good they are going to write more about it in a future edition.

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All three snapshots from the British Newspaper Archives – the last of the snapshots makes me wonder how this compares with the Cambridge of today as far as civic, co-operatives and similar societies are concerned.

Eglantyne Jebb the democracy activist?

Despite the Wiki-P entry stating that she didn’t do much other than care for her mother between the book’s publication and WWI, the newspaper archives hint at something different. Florence Ada Keynes organised the collation and submission of the letter below that was sent to the editor of the Cambridge Independent Press.

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Note this was at the time of significant activities of Women’s Suffrage activists across the country – including in Cambridge. Lots of people signed the letter to indicate not just their support but also consent to join the committee to get more women as candidates and councillors. Jebb was one of those signatories.

I should add that for those of us in Cambridge the town, Florence Ada Keynes is more than just “The mother of the famous economist John Maynard Keynes”, but was a politician, councillor, author and a Mayor of Cambridge in her own right.

We also know from the newspaper archives that Jebb took part in a number of debates and conferences – such as the British Constitution Association’s annual conference that was held in Cambridge on 18-20 Nov 1909, where on 19 Nov. the Cambridge Independent cites Jebb as one of the keynote speakers on a debate about ‘Pauperism & Education’. Finally, we come to 1910 and the local political coming of age of Jebb.

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She’s about 34 years old in the photograph above, having had her book about the social issues of Cambridge published some four years previously. We also know that she got deeply involved in local politics and public services.

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I want to quote the opening paragraph on the left at length.

“Miss Eglantyne Jebb is a recent and valuable accession in the ranks of Liberalism. She made her first appearance on a Liberal platform at the last General Election, when she spoke with great earnestness and eloquence on behalf of Mr Buckmaster.* Immediately after the misfortune of January she organised the Liberal Political Education Committee, of which she became the Hon. Secretary. This organisation includes members of both the University and the Town. It has collected a large sum of money, and has been most active in promoting education in all possible forms – by public meetings indoors and out of doors, by lectures, discussions, and classes. Never has educational work been so thoroughly done in Cambridge as during the last six months and this happy result is owing to Miss Jebb more than to anybody else.”

*Stanley Owen Buckmaster, Liberal MP for Cambridge 1906-1910, defeated by Almeric Hugh Paget of the Conservatives at both the January and December 1910 general elections.

“That doesn’t look like being written out of history”

As someone who has spent more than a fair amount of time ploughing through books, archives and the like, the first time I had head or Eglantyne Jebb was…yesterday. So much so that in my vlogpost from the library and in a separate blogpost, I was singing the praises of her 1906 book before I had even done any research into who the author was.

One for the Museum of Cambridge – and for a few tabled questions at future council meetings no doubt to make up for yet another example of Cambridge not properly remembering its civic heroes.

[UPDATED TO ADD]

Helen Weinstein of HistoryWorks in Cambridge wrote this extended article on Eglantyne Jebb http://www.creatingmycambridge.com/history-stories/eglantyne-jebb/ as part of the Creating My Cambridge project. Well worth a read!

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