I have written two previous posts about the Bloomsbury Group and Women’s Suffrage – see here and here, the latter one dealing with the involvement of Lady Strachey and her children. In this third Bloomsbury post I describe something of the importance of one of her daughters-in-law – Ray Strachey.
In 1911 Lady Strachey’s son, Oliver, married, as his second wife, Ray, the daughter of Mary Costelloe (later Mary Berenson) and granddaughter of Hannah Whitall Smith, a Philadelphian Quaker and feminist.
The Costelloes’ association with the Cause stretched well back into the 19th century. In 1889 both Mary Costelloe and her mother had signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage organized by the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In the 1890s Mary, with her parents, her husband, and her sister Alys (who was later to marry Bertrand Russell), subscribed to the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In March 1890 Frank Costelloe, Ray’s father, was described as a ‘warm friend’ to the Women’s Franchise League. It is therefore not surprising to discover that Ray Costelloe while a student at Newnham (1905-08) was an active member of the Cambridge University Women’s Suffrage Society, probably to the detriment of her academic work.
In the summer of 1908 Ray and her friend Elinor Rendel conducted a suffrage caravan tour of the Lake District. While on this tour the young women stayed at Keswick, at Hawse End, the home of Frank and Caroline Marshall, who had founded the local branch of the NUWSS, and who were the uncle and aunt of Ray (later Garnett) and Frances (later Partridge).
The Marshalls’ daughter, Catherine, moved to London and became parliamentary secretary of the NUWSS, in 1912 masterminding that society’s alliance withe the Labour party. Through family association the suffrage campaign drew into is maw the least likely followers; Julia Strachey, Oliver’s daughter by his first marriage, led an NUWSS procession in Littlehampton on 19 July 1913.
By 1913 Ray Strachey was chairman of the LSWS and Philippa Strachey was its secretary, the two forming an extremely affectionate and close working relationship that lasted until Ray’s death in 1940. A fellow worker for the Cause described how Ray Strachey was ‘someone who takes up lost causes and then they are no longer lost’ and particularly remarked how Ray always sought Pippa’s advice.
In 1916 Ray Strachey succeeded Catherine Marshall as parliamentary secretary of the NUWSS and in this capacity was responsible for supervising the passage of the Reform Bill that in 1918 at last gave women (over 30) the vote. Ray moved her household from Bloomsbury to Marsham Street in Westminster in order to be close to the society’s office.
After the end of the First World War Ray Strachey was editor of The Common Cause and then of its successor, The Woman’s Leader, 1920-23, and acted as political private secretary to Lady Astor after the latter’s election as the first woman member of the House of Commons. Ray Strachey was the author The Cause (1928) which stood for very many years as the only history of the ‘constitutional’ suffrage movement, and of Women’s suffrage and Women’s service: the history of the London and National Society for Women’s Service, 1927.
In 1938 Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press published Our Freedom and Its Results, a collection of essays edited by Ray Strachey, which charts the effect of women’s emancipation on politics, law, employment, morals and social life.
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