Widow of US Civil War officer takes Cambridge by storm


One of the most influential American women in the history of Cambridge – but how many of you had heard of her before?

Caroline Lane Reynolds – later Mrs Caroline Slemmer, Mrs Caroline Jebb, and finally Lady Jebb, was one of the most influential of women in Cambridge during the late 19th/early 20th Century, yet we seem to have forgotten all about her. All the more striking given how she took Cambridge by storm.

Much of what I’ve discovered – and am still to discover – is from within this rare book which arrived a few days ago.


Mary Reed Bobbitt was Caroline’s great niece, and also a cousin of Margaret Darwin, who would later marry Sir Geoffrey Keynes – brother of John Maynard Keynes, and Florence Ada Keynes’ younger son. Indeed, Margaret is included in the acknowledgements.

The daughter of an English cleric

Caroline was the daughter of Rev John Reynolds who emigrated from England – according to that other Cambridge great, Gwen Raverat – sister of Margaret Darwin. Gwen and Margaret were also great-nieces of Caroline through their mother, Maud Darwin – again another Cambridge hero who shaped modern Cambridge. Furthermore, one of Gwen and husband Jacques’ closest friends was a certain Virginia Woolfas this book reveals. The circle comes back around with Woolf’s friendship with the poet Rupert Brooke, who was a close friend of future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton (who spent many years in-and-out of Cambridge), and Sir Geoffrey Keynes, who edited and published a huge volume of Rupert Brooke’s letters.

Thus we get a picture of two generations of incredibly influential groups of people who changed the future destiny of Cambridge – for the better I would like to think.

Caroline marries US Army Officer Adam J Slemmer

Caroline married Lt A.J. Slemmer in 1856 at the age of 16. Five years later, they found themselves caught between a rock and a very hard place. The Slemmers were based in Florida on the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. According to Mary R Bobbitt, Slemmer was in conference with fellow officers deciding what to do given their precarious situation. They were aware that Florida was about to leave the Union, and they would find themselves hopelessly outnumbered against the forces being assembled by that state. Furthermore, they all had friends who were taking the side of their state rather than the union/federal government. But Slemmer and his fellow officers owed their allegiance to the President of the United States – which was in transition from President Johnson to President Lincoln. Bobbitt states that their options were:

  1. Stand and fight – knowing that the opposing forces outnumbered them and that they could not defend the whole of the fort
  2. Take a ship and sail north
  3. Surrender

21 year old Caroline decided it for them


And thus the first shots of the American Civil War were shortly fired. A more extended account online has been written by Ann Kennedy Smith here.

“So…how did Caroline end up in Cambridge?”

Adam died an untimely death in 1868, aged 40, leaving Caroline who was still grieving the death in infancy of her first child, a widow. She was still in her late 20s.

It was shortly after that Caroline headed eastwards over the Atlantic to the UK – to Cambridge, to visit her cousin Jeanette Potts. It was through those visits that she got to meet Richard Jebb. But that was not before she had turned down many-a-proposal from admirers on both sides of the Atlantic.

“So…why did she marry Richard?”

Because she had a dream.


Yes – according to this anecdote again from Mary R Bobbitt.


…and thus she changed her mind having overslept, and being in when Richard came to call.


From The Letters & Life of Lady Jebb, Mary Reed Bobbitt. (published 1960).

740822 Caroline Richard Jebb marriage notice

The official notice in the Cambridge Independent Press of Richard and Caroline Jebb.

The Cambridge Ladies Dining Society

Possibly the most influential group of women in Cambridge’s history, they were as follows:

  • Caroline Jebb,
  • Mary Paley Marshall,
  • Ida Darwin,
  • Eleanor Sidgwick,
  • Kathleen Lyttelton,
  • Ellen Darwin,
  • Mary Ward,
  • Louise Creighton,
  • Margaret Verrall,
  • Maud Darwin,
  • Fanny Prothero …and
  • Eliza Von Hügel.

…as listed by Ann Kennedy Smith here.

This club was formed in 1890 and is covered more by Ann Kennedy Smith here.  This was about four years after the formation of the Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society – later the Cambridge branch of the National Union of Women Workers, and later the National Council of Women, of which Cambridge Mayors Eva Hartree and Florence Ada Keynes would become national presidents in the 1930s. If it wasn’t for the actions of the twelve listed women above, it’s hard to see how the likes of Florence Ada Keynes and Eglantyne Jebb could have thrived in the way that they did, preparing the ground for Eva Hartree, Leah Manning, Clara Rackham and others in the pre and post-WWI years.

Caroline Jebb joins the committee of the Cambridge Association for Women’s Suffrage

921202 Caroline Jebb joins Womens Suffrage Cttee

The above – a gem of a find written by another Cambridge hero – Catherine Tillyard in the Cambridge Independent. From the British Newspaper Archive. 

One of the reasons we are able to find out about Caroline Jebb’s activities in Cambridge is because the wife of the editor of the Cambridge Independent, Catherine Tillyard, had a weekly column in the newspaper – which she kept up for over 20 years. Historians of women in Cambridge owe her a huge debt of gratitude because unlike successor ‘women’s columns’ in later papers, Catherine very much covered what was happening in politics as it affected, and was influenced by women.

What we also know about the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association is that shortly after the removal of the subscription for membership, and Caroline joining the committee, it would become one of the largest civic society organisations in town.

Caroline meets The Queen.

A year after joining the Suffragist movement, Caroline Jebb met Queen Victoria, and introduced her niece, Maud Darwin (married to George – later Sir George Darwin) – introduced by Lady Kelvin.

930512 Caroline Jebb Maud Darwin meet Queen Victoria

Yes – ‘That’ Kelvin – the wife of the physicist of ‘absolute zero’ fame. Again, we know this because Catherine Tillyard wrote this up in her column, digitised by the British Newspaper Archive. Throughout the 1890s, Caroline regularly appears in the local newspapers at civic and society events.

941207 Caroline Jebb Cambs Volunteers Suffolk Regiment

Above – Prize-giving for the Cambridge Volunteer Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. Some sources have stated that Richard Jebb held a commission in the volunteers. The notice above was placed by Lt Col. William Milner Fawcett – the battalion’s commanding officer who was also a very prominent architect.

Fundraising for Addenbrooke’s Hospital

A couple of years before her father became King Edward VII, Princess Maud of Wales, who had recently married her cousin, Prince Christian of Denmark (her mother and his aunt being Queen Alexandra – previously the eldest daughter of the King of Denmark), visited Cambridge.  One of the events in the visit was opening a fundraising bazaar for Addenbrooke’s Hospital at The Guildhall.

990127 Caroline Jebb Addenbrookes Fundraiser

Caroline, along with her niece Maud, were stallholders as the above-notice shows. We know that this is Caroline as opposed to Eglantyne’s mother, Tye, who had recently moved to Cambridge, because of the address: Springfield – just off Queen’s Road. (Today it’s a nursery). Tye lived in a house on Adams Road, close to where Robinson College is on Grange Road.



“Caroline died in the USA – why did she leave the UK?”

One of the saddest classified adverts I saw was this one.

170719 Caroline Lady Jebb Auction of belongings return to USA

She lived in the USA for the remainder of her life before passing away in 1930. Wartime England wasn’t a great place to be.

A long lost painting of Caroline Jebb


I spotted this in Mary Reed Bobbitt’s book – a photo of a portrait of Caroline by Sir William Blake Richmond. It states that it is owned by the author (since deceased). Two questions: 1) Where is it now? 2) Can we get it back to Cambridge? (eg persuade Sir Richard Jebb’s old college Trinity, to purchase it for town & gown?)


One thought on “Widow of US Civil War officer takes Cambridge by storm

  1. Hello Thank you for your extensive research on Caroline Jebb. I have reason to believe I am a relative of Adam J. Slemmer. Knowing of his heroism I further discovered Caroline or Aunt Cara’s amazing life story many years ago obtaining the book by Mary Reed Bobbitt years ago. I actually purchased two copies. What a phenomenonial Woman she must have been.


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