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Slum Travelers

Slum Travelers: Ladies and London Poverty, 1860-1920

Edited with Introductions by Ellen Ross
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 342
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  • Book Info
    Slum Travelers
    Book Description:

    Late-nineteenth-century Britain saw the privileged classes forsake society balls and gatherings to turn their considerable resources to investigating and relieving poverty. By the 1890s at least half a million women were involved in philanthropy, particularly in London.Slum Travelers,edited, annotated, and with a superb introduction by Ellen Ross, collects a fascinating array of the writings of these "lady explorers," who were active in the east, south, and central London slums from around 1870 until the end of World War I. Contributors range from the well known, including Annie Besant, Sylvia Pankhurst, and Beatrice Webb (then Potter), to the obscure. The collection reclaims an important group of writers whose representations of urban poverty have been eclipsed by better-known male authors such as Charles Dickens and Jack London.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94005-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. xii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. MAP OF LONDON IN 1888
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. INTRODUCTION: Adventures among the Poor
    (pp. 1-39)

    THE POOREST URBAN DISTRICTS OF BRITAIN exerted a magnetic pull on the middle-and upper-class women of the two generations that preceded World War I. Thousands from “the best circles” forsook dinner parties, balls, and picnics, and headed instead for the slums. The termslumshad been in existence since the 1820s; I will use it in implied quotation marks to denote districts of concentrated poverty.¹ Long before cities were routinely seen from the sky, these women journeyed at ground level, often as pedestrians, into the undiscovered “dark space” inhabited by the London poor.² Along with their male peers, the women...

  9. 1 “Sketch of Life in Buildings,” 1889 “A Lady Resident”
    (pp. 40-44)

    THIS APPEALING ACCOUNT APPEARED in the first edition, titledEast London,of Charles Booth’sLife and Labourin 1889. By “buildings” the author is referring to what Americans would call apartment buildings—a new form of housing in London where few dwellings were over four stories high.¹ The “T. Buildings” is not the block of buildings that Beatrice Potter mentioned in herPall Mall Gazettearticle of February 18, 1886, “A Lady’s View on the Unemployed in the East,” and I have been unable to go beyond the Booth piece’s pseudonym.² Some possible candidates, all of whom lived for at...

  10. 2 “White Slavery in London,” 1888 Annie (Wood) Besant
    (pp. 45-51)

    BEFORE HER FINAL CONVERSION TO THEOSOPHY in 1891, Annie (Wood) Besant (1847–1933) went through a series of dramatic political and philosophical transformations. Later in her life, she explained this succession of passions as different aspects of a “longing for sacrifice to something felt as greater than the self,” “a tendency,” she said, “brought over from a previous life.”¹

    She was born Annie Wood in Clapham, London. (The first full paragraph of her autobiography is a horoscope showing the position of the planets at the moment of her birth, 5:30 P.M.) Annie Wood was the daughter of a brilliant, scholarly,...

  11. 3 From Makers of Our Clothes, 1909 Clementina Black and Adele (Lady Carl) Meyer
    (pp. 52-63)

    CLEMENTINA BLACK (1854–1922) began her writing career as a novelist. At the age of twenty-three, still at home in Brighton caring for her sick father and two of her eight siblings, she wroteA Sussex Idyll.She went on to write at least half a dozen more novels of middle-class manners, the most successful of which,The Linleys of Bath(1911), was published in three different editions. Only one of her novels (The Agitator[1894], apparently now lost) dealt with the themes of her extensive social investigation into industrial workers’ homes, wages, and working conditions.

    Clementina Black was the...

  12. 4 “Marriage in East London,” 1895 Helen (Dendy) Bosanquet
    (pp. 64-71)

    HELEN (DENDY) BOSANQUET (1860–1925) was a prolific and well-informed commentator on family and neighborhood poverty, on social work methods, and on social policy more generally. Social historians often cite her observations of life in Shoreditch, where she lived as a Charity Organisation Society (COS) district secretary for five years, until her marriage in 1895. She was also an influence on her husband, idealist social philosopher Bernard Bosanquet. Unlike Beatrice Webb, her contemporary, Bosanquet has not been the frequent subject of admiring biography; there are only a few studies of her work.¹ Webb’s intense dislike of Bosanquet has been immortalized...

  13. 5 From Munition Lasses, 1917 Agnes Kate Foxwell
    (pp. 72-80)

    DURING WORLD WAR I, up to a thousand educated women worked in munitions factories as forewomen, supervisors, or social workers in charge of the mainly young working-class women who flocked to the factories for their good pay and chance to advance the war effort. The Woolwich Arsenal staff included about twenty of such supervisors.¹ Agnes Kate Foxwell (1871–1957)² worked in one of the more dangerous departments as a welfare supervisor at Woolwich Arsenal on the south side of the Thames in 1916 and 1917 (possibly through 1918).

    Foxwell began her university education at age thirty-two, completing her studies at...

  14. 6 “A School Settlement,” 1911 Clara Ellen Grant
    (pp. 81-88)

    SHE WAS ONE OF AT LEAST NINE CHILDREN of a fairly prosperous family in a quiet Wiltshire village; her musical and self-educated father owned an interior decoration business. But Clara Ellen Grant (1867–1949) had dreams of living in a wider world. As a young girl she aspired to be a teacher in London. Later, her plans shifted to working with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, “but the East End gripped me, as it grips so many,” she said later. Her missionary ambitions appear to have been linked to her marriage plans. She told a reporter for theSomerset...

  15. 7 “Barmaids,” 1889 Margaret Harkness
    (pp. 89-96)

    MARGARET HARKNESS (1854–1923) was born into a family thick with clergymen, which was also her father’s profession. When she was eleven her family moved to the country parish of Wimborne St. Giles in Dorset. From an early age Harkness felt cramped and bored at home. Because of the need to “repress her extraordinary activity of mind,” as her famous cousin Beatrice Potter (Webb) later wrote, she was “an hysterical egotistical girl with wretched health and still worse spirits.”¹ Despite her intelligence, Harkness only received a few years of belated formal schooling. She attended Stirling House, in Bournemouth, a finishing...

  16. 8 “In a London Tramp Ward,” 1906 Mary (Kingsland) Higgs
    (pp. 97-103)

    MARY (KINGSLAND) HIGGS (1854–1937) was a prolific writer and social reformer whose range extended from the needs of the itinerant poor, to early childhood, the rejuvenation of Christianity, Depression-era unemployment, and urban beautification. The selection included here is from one of her several incognito investigations of the lives of homeless women, this one undertaken in 1903, when she was nearly fifty. In one of her London investigations, her adult son accompanied her dressed as a working man.¹

    Higgs first encountered homeless women when she served as Secretary of the Ladies Committee visiting the Oldham workhouse. By 1899 she had...

  17. 9 “The Fur-Pullers of South London,” 1897 Edith (Mrs. F. G.) Hogg
    (pp. 104-116)

    EDITH (MRS. F. G.) HOGG (1856–1900) was a vice president of the Women’s Industrial Council (WIC) and one of its founders.¹ When her death at age forty-four was regretfully announced at a WIC business meeting in November of 1900, speakers referred to some of the qualities that may be visible in this account of a visit to the South London homes of rabbit fur workers: “personal charm,” “true womanly qualities,” and also “generous sympathy, unremitting labours, and brilliant intellect.”² She must have been an effective public speaker as well, for an audience member who heard her lecture at a...

  18. 10 From A London Plane-Tree, and Other Verse, 1889 Amy Levy
    (pp. 117-123)

    AMY LEVY (1861 – 1889), THE GIFTED AND PRECOCIOUS daughter of middle-class Anglo-Jewish parents who eventually made their home in Bloomsbury, read fluently in several languages, including Greek and Latin. She began producing sophisticated work as a teenager. “Xantippe,” her defense of Socrates’ much ridiculed wife, was published in theDublin University Magazinein 1880, when Levy was only nineteen. She attended Newnham College, Cambridge, the first Jewish woman to do so. Her literary output during her short life was prodigious and included three novels, three volumes of poetry, and many short stories and works of literary criticism. But she struggled...

  19. 11 “A Slum Mother” (1908) and “Guy and the Stars” (1919) Margaret McMillan
    (pp. 124-135)

    MARGARET MCMILLAN’S NAME IS ASSOCIATED not only with education, but also with 1890s socialist and labor politics. Her political orientation shifted, however, to the “Liberal reformism and welfare philanthropism”¹ that characterized her in the late 1910s and 1920s. By the 1920s, for instance, she was a close friend and admirer of the wealthy American-born Conservative M.P. Lady Astor, who shared McMillan’s commitment to nursery education and helped to subsidize her work.

    Despite the enormous body of writing she has left, Margaret McMillan (1860–1931) remains a somewhat mysterious figure. For one thing, her vague and flowery writing style, “altogether too...

  20. 12 “Gilding the Gutter,” 1905 Olive Christian Malvery
    (pp. 136-147)

    OLIVE CHRISTIAN MALVERY (1877 [1882]–1914), of mixed European and Indian ancestry, was born in Lahore in the Punjab.¹ Her parents having separated, she, along with her brother, was raised in India as an Anglican by her maternal grandparents. The siblings were well educated. Malvery arrived in London around the turn of the twentieth century to attend music school.² She earned her living, meanwhile, giving elocution lessons and drawing-room performances based on Indian legends, as well as writing fiction for periodicals. In 1904 she was hired to do a photojournalism series on London’s poor forPearson’s Magazine,from which this...

  21. 13 “The Irresponsibility of the Father,” 1918 Anna Martin
    (pp. 148-160)

    WHEN SHE DIED AT AGE SEVENTY-NINE in December of 1937, Anna Martin (born in 1858) was well known in her adoptive neighborhood, the South London dockside district of Rotherhithe. An obituary notice in the South London Press called her “a tireless worker right up to her death” who had given “hundreds of pounds away to the poor she loved.” The writer gushed, “A distressed man or woman had only to call at her door to receive help. Often, in the street, she would stop to care for anyone looking ill or hungry.”¹

    Martin was not only a kindly personage, but...

  22. 14 “Eating the Apple,” 1899 Honnor Morten
    (pp. 161-171)

    BETHNAL GREEN AUTOBIOGRAPHER GEORGE ACORN recalled a sour note in Honnor Morten’s lecture to working-class schoolboys (probably in the mid-1890s) on hygiene in the home. Most of the boys lived in overcrowded and sparsely furnished quarters. They were dumbfounded when Morten advised them, as Acorn recalled, to “let the sunshine into our homes whether the carpets suffered or not. Carpets!”¹ Morten (1861–1913), daughter of a wealthy Richmond solicitor and niece of a well-known novelist, would learn much more about London poverty.

    In her late thirties, Morten, “the merriest of saints,” as one friend described her, was depicted by a...

  23. 15 “The Evacuation of the Workhouse,” 1918 Margaret Wynne Nevinson
    (pp. 172-177)

    BORN MARGARET WYNNE JONES IN LEICESTER, Margaret Nevinson (1858–1932) was yet another clergyman’s daughter. Her high church Anglican father, the Rev. Timothy Jones, was a classical scholar who taught his five sons and his only daughter Latin and Greek. He was Welsh born and Welsh speaking, his wife was half Welsh, and Margaret valued her Welsh identity throughout her life.¹ The death of her beloved father in the late 1870s led to family financial problems, and Margaret Jones looked for work. A university education was out of the question. She eventually spent time as a teacher and accompanist at...

  24. 16 Selections from The Woman’s Dreadnought, 1916–1917 Sylvia Pankhurst
    (pp. 178-191)

    IN HER LONG POLITICAL LIFE, Sylvia Pankhurst (1882–1960) was a women’s suffrage crusader, socialist, pacifist, Communist, anti-Fascist activist, and friend and protector of Ethiopia. Arriving in her thirties, she lived for twelve years in the East London dock and industrial district of Bow and was a passionate defender of its women. Her life in the neighborhood is commemorated by a statue in East London’s Victoria Park, the starting point of many of her suffrage processions. A House of Lords committee has been holding off a campaign led by feminist M.P.’s and others to place a lifesize sculpture of Pankhurst...

  25. 17 From The Pudding Lady, 1910 Florence Petty
    (pp. 192-197)

    FLORENCE PETTY (1870–1930s or 1940s) was associated with the St. Pancras School for Mothers, founded in 1907 primarily as a clinic and school of “mothercraft” for the very poor population in Somers Town, the overcrowded district just west of Euston Station.¹ Petty defined herself as a “Lecturer and Demonstrator in Health Foods.” She was one of a small group of nutrition experts who criticized the way cooking was taught in schools on the grounds that the appliances and recipes used were completely inappropriate for working-class wives. Instructors needed to learn how people actually cooked and ate.² Thus Petty stepped...

  26. 18 Selections from The Missing Link Magazine, 1878 Ellen Henrietta Ranyard
    (pp. 198-207)

    BORN TO A NONCONFORMIST FAMILY in the poor south London waterside district of Nine Elms, Ellen Henrietta Ranyard, née White (1810–1879), moved to exurban Kent with her family during her teens. She began doing missionary work as a teenager, but explained her lifelong commitment to the church with a story of a close friend’s death. At age sixteen, she and her friend together visited a household where there was “fever.” Both girls became ill. Ellen survived, but her friend died and was deeply mourned.¹

    Her exposition of the Bible for children,The Book and Its Story: A Narrative for...

  27. 19 Selections from Round about a Pound a Week, 1913 Maud Pember Reeves
    (pp. 208-225)

    THE NARRATOR OF THIS RESPECTFUL AND GRAPHIC ACCOUNT of working-class life in the London district of North Lambeth (just south of the Thames) is Maud Pember Reeves (1865–1953), describing a project carried out by the Fabian Women’s Group (FWG). Founded in 1908 by Pember Reeves and the anarchist Charlotte Wilson, the FWG intended both to give women more prominence in the Fabian Society and “to study women’s economic independence in relation to socialism.” In 1910 the group had more than two hundred members. They included Beatrice Webb; the historian Alice Clark; the popular children’s author Edith Nesbit; LCC member...

  28. 20 “Drunkenness,” 1878 Maude Alethea Stanley
    (pp. 226-238)

    MAUDE ALETHEA STANLEY (1833–1915) was one of nine siblings (two others died in infancy) who grew up in a remarkable family: ancient, wealthy, multiply titled, Liberal, and eccentric.¹ Alderley Park, the house in Cheshire to which the Stanley family moved in 1850, had about forty bedrooms (not counting servants’ rooms), six large reception rooms, and three hundred acres of parkland.² Maude’s sharp-tongued and no-nonsense mother, Henrietta Maria, Lady Stanley of Alderley, was a founder of Girton College.³ She steadfastly vetoed the building of a college chapel, but willingly donated Girton’s first chemical laboratory and library.⁴ Maude’s younger sister Kate,...

  29. 21 From London Street Arabs, 1890 Dorothy Tennant (Lady Stanley)
    (pp. 239-248)

    DOROTHY TENNANT (LADY STANLEY; 1855–1926) was a successful printmaker and portrait and genre painter. She specialized in sympathetically depicting children, especially poor and ragged ones, but her portrait of French President Leon Gambetta was bought by U.S. newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer for his own collection. She studied art in the 1870s with Edward Poynter at the Slade School, and with other renowned artists in London and in Paris. Her work was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Manchester City Art Gallery, the Royal Academy, and the Salon de Paris, among other...

  30. 22 “Petticoat-Lane,” 1895 Ethel Brilliana (Mrs. Alec) Tweedie
    (pp. 249-255)

    THE QUEENWAS A TOP-NOTCH PERIODICAL that published serious articles on literary and social subjects along with accounts of the doings of royalty, the latest fashions, and advertisements for elegant merchandise. Tweedie’s piece on the Petticoat Lane Sunday outdoor market is notable both for its somewhat friendly depiction of Jews in the district, many of them Yiddish speakers with whom she communicated easily in German, and for its dense collection of stereotypes. However, it is mainly the story of a shopping outing that celebrates London’s movement, excitement, and diversity as the narrator moves about in semidisguise. The market was (and...

  31. 23 “An Epiphany Pilgrimage,” 1906 Kate Warburton
    (pp. 256-261)

    BORN KATHERINE ANNE EGERTON WARBURTON, “Mother Kate” (1840–1923), as she was known for her entire adult life, became an Anglican nun in her teens.¹ She was a Church of England priest’s daughter from “an ancient Cheshire family.”² Like many clerical children, Kate spent a lot of time outdoors with her horses and dogs so that the house would be quiet for her father’s work.³ Her father, who died when she was nine, was keenly interested in the Oxford movement and brought his children up with “high church views,” including reverence for religious orders—viewed with far less sympathy by...

  32. 24 “Pages from a Work-Girl’s Diary,” 1888 Beatrice (Potter) Webb
    (pp. 262-280)

    THIS ARTICLE FROM A WELL-KNOWN PERIODICAL originated during Beatrice Potter’s period as a London slum explorer and philanthropist, from about 1883 to 1888 or 1889. In 1883, encouraged by two of her sisters already at work there, Beatrice Potter (1867–1954), one of nine daughters born to a wealthy Gloucestershire businessman and his Lancashire-born wife, got involved with the Charity Organisation Society (COS). Her first assignment was as a house-to-house “visitor” investigating Soho applicants. As she wrote in her diary, she took this post not in the “spirit of charity” but in the conviction that the problem of poverty was...

    (pp. 281-286)
    (pp. 287-290)
    (pp. 291-304)
  36. INDEX
    (pp. 305-319)
  37. Back Matter
    (pp. 320-320)