Posts Tagged ray strachey

Suffrage Stories: The First Women General Election Candidates, 1918: Ray Strachey

21 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament(Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.

It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.

The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.

With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.

This is the sixteenth:


Ray Strachey

Mrs Oliver Strachey, who was standing as an Independent for the Brentford and Chiswick constituency in Middlesex, supported by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

Ray Strachey (1887-1940) (née Costelloe) was educated at Newnham College, where she was an active member of the Cambridge University Women’s Suffrage Society. In 1911 she married Oliver Strachey and by 1913 was chairman of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, of which her sister-in-law, Philippa, was secretary. From 1916 until 1921 Ray was honorary parliamentary secretary to the NUWSS, responsible for supervising the passage of the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

Common Cause (20 December 1918) reported that she was asked to stand by ‘a large section of the electors, who were dissatisfied with Col Grant Morden [the candidate backed by the Coalition ‘coupon’]. Her meetings are always crowded. One of the things most widely resented was the sayin gof Col Grant Morden ‘the lady candidate ought to stay at home and look after her kiddies’. Mrs Strachey replied “She wants to go to Parliament in order to look after the kiddies. They need mothers there”; and Mrs Henry Fawcett, speaking on her behalf, has said it would be well to have among the 707 members of the House of Commons someone who knew one end of a baby from the other. The candidate herself, however, is not appealing for support on account of her sex. She is asking the elector for their votes, not because she is a woman, but because “she is a good candidate, and will represent them well.”

In her election address Ray Strachey declared:

I stand as a supporter of the Coalition Government. We have kept a united front during the war, and we must keep that unity until a good and lasting peace shall be established abroad, and until we have built up a t home those measures of reconstruction for which the whole nation waits.

It falls to us now to see that the victory is not in vain. This war must be the last war. I therefore support the establishment of a League of Nations, with such immediate mutual disarmament as is safe, and I trust that the question of the future economic policies and tariffs of the whole world will be settled through the agency of the League itself.

With regard to domestic reforms, I believe that housing is the most urgent and important question before us. In it I see the solution of many pressing social evils.

I attach the greatest importance to the question of the pensions to be paid to those brave men who have won our safety for us, and to the widows of those who have laid down their lives. Their well-being must be a first charge upon the State.

I care also, very particularly for the drastic improvement of industrial conditions, for education, and the care of public health and infant welfare,, and for all those public matters which affect the domestic life of the community.

I make no apology for asking you to vote for a woman. Women have their contribution to make to public thought and public service. I believe, with a profound conviction, that men and women should work together for the progress and good government of the Nation as they must for that of their homes. I hold the interests of men and women are so closely bound up together that they cannot be divided, and that what is for the good of one sex, must certainly be for the good of the other. It is for this reason that I support the perfect equality of men and women in the eyes of the law and the state.

The 20 December issue of Common Cause mentioned that Col Morden, in a bid to undermine her candidature, issued a large poster stating in ‘bold scarlet letters that “A Vote for Strachey is a Vote for the League of Nations”. Mrs Strachey naturally displayed this poster with pride, and explained that the League of Nations was what she did stand for before anything else.’ ..Mrs Strachey’s Committee Rooms were said by impartial witnesses to be the liveliest Committee Rooms in London. Many old friends met there, members of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage came forward gallantly to the fray. Much devoted voluntary work was done by members of the Chiswick branch of the LSWS, some of whom came from distant constituencies in order to have the pleasure of doing voluntary work for Mrs Strachey.’

Alas, despite this effort, Ray Strachey came last in the contest, polling 1263 votes to Col Morden’s 9077, with a Labour candidate taking 2620 votes. She stood again at Chiswick in 1922 and this time in a straight fight with Morden (now a Unionist) polled 7804 votes against his 10,150.  In 1923, standing again at Chiswick as an Independent, she took 4828 votes, coming second to Morden, with the Labour candidate polling 3216 votes. She did not stand again for Parliament, but in 1931 became private political secretary to the first woman MP, Lady Astor.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links in Life And Literature (Part 4)

For my first two posts on the links between ‘Bloomsbury’ and women’s suffrage see here and hereIn ‘Bloomsbury Links’ (Part 3) I mentioned that in 1916  Ray Strachey took over the post of parliamentary secretary to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and  moved to Westminster to be close to the NUWSS office. From 1916 until 1934  she was also chairman of the Women’s Service Bureau, which originated in the war work of the London Society for Women’s Service. In 1925, when the financial position of the latter society (now called the London Society for Women’s Service) was critical, funds were raised by the presentation at the Scala Theatre of two specially-staged charity performances of The Son of Heaven, a play written by Ray’s brother-in-law, Lytton Strachey.

The play – a’tragic melodrama’ -was set in China at the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. It’s director was Alec Penrose, whose  (first) wife was the production’s wardrobe mistress, Ralph Partridge played ‘The Executioner’, Geoffrey Webb, later Slade professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, played ‘Wang Fu’ and Gerald Brennan was among the extras.  Gertrude Kingston -now elderly and a one-time member of the Actresses’ Franchise League, was the only ‘professional’ member of the cast.

The accompanying music was composed and conducted by William Walton – his first commission for the stage. Of it Constant Lambert (who played the timpany in the production’s orchestra) commented – ‘So great was [Walton’s] obsession with ragtime that he was unable to prevent some unmistakeable touches of Gershwin from entering the score!). The critic from The Stage described the music as ‘ambitious and decidedly heavy’.

Duncan Grant designed the costumes and sets. These included an Omega Workshop screen and a carpet designed by Vanessa Bell, who was also responsible for the cover of the programme.

Vanessa Bell, Original design for carpet for 'Son of Heaven' c 1924 (courtesy of Henry Sotheran Fine Prints)

Vanessa Bell, Original design for carpet for ‘Son of Heaven’ c 1924 (courtesy of Henry Sotheran Fine Prints)

Robert Medley, a painter and member of the cast, remembered the colours used –  ‘clear ochres and greys, offset by pinks, oranges and emerald greens’ (Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant). The costumes were painted in a decidedly Omega style by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell and proved all  too much for Gertrude Kingston. She refused to wear her costume and the designers were forced to dress her instead in a black brocade ‘Manchu’ robe belonging to Lady Strachey. All in all it seems to have been a rather entertaining venture, although I cannot tell you how much money it raised for the LSWS.

WomensServiceHseIn 1930, when the London and National Society for Women’s Service (as it had confusingly been renamed in 1926) wished to publicise not only its existence but also that of their new purpose-built hall , ‘Although very doubtful of success, Miss [Philippa] Strachey undertook to approach Virginia Woolf, to ask if she would be willing to give a talk on ‘Literature’. In the event Virginia Woolf did agree to speak and on the appointed evening, 21 January 1931, shared the platform with her new friend, Dame Ethel Smyth, who spoke on ‘Music’.

The hall, with a library, restaurant and offices, was part of Women’s Service House, the  LNSWS’s new Westminster premises. Millicent Fawcett laid the foundation stone on 29 April 1929, barely three months before her death; the hall was intended as her memorial – rather more useful than a statue  but, alas, without a statue’s popular appeal (on this bee in my bonnet see more here). Known as the Millicent Fawcett Hall, it still stands at 31 Marsham Street, now put to good use by Westminster School as its drama centre.

Back in January 1931 the sub-committee of the London Society responsible for arranging the  evening’s entertainment felt obliged to install a microphone for Mrs Woolf – at the cost of £8; there was no suggestion that Dame Ethel required amplification.

The speakers attracted one of the society’s largest audiences and Virginia Woolf received a review in The Woman’s Leader (now, incidentally, edited by a niece of Mrs Pankhurst): ‘She “was with us, but not of us”. Her eyes are on the stars, as though she listens to some far-off song – but a song of which even an audience of modern and practical minded young women can catch an echo when Mrs Woolf speaks.’

ThreeGuineasThe ‘song’ proved to be the genesis for Three Guineas, and it was to the LNSWS’s library, adjacent to the hall, and to its librarian, Vera Douie, that Virginia Woolf turned when seeking verification of the facts, gathered into footnotes, that fuelled the book’s anger.

The Library at Women’s Service House, 1924 © & source The Women's Library

The Library at Women’s Service House, 1924
© & source The Women’s Library

In March 1938, for instance, she wrote enquiring about peace organisations and the numbers of women involved in working for peace. Vera Douie sent her a full reply, enclosing Mrs Fawcett’s pamphlet on ‘What the Vote Has Done’. A couple of months later , in gratitude for the help she had received, Virginia Woolf offered to supply the library with any books, new or antiquarian that it required. The offer was gratefully accepted; in 1938, for example, Virginia Woolf gave to the library both volumes of the newly published Miss Weeton. Journal of a Governess, a text from which she had copied quotations into her Three Guineas Reading Notebook, and in July 1940 paid for two books by Mary Carpenter, Juvenile Delinquents (1853) and Our Convicts (1864), that had appeared in the catalogue of an antiquarian bookseller. Both the latter are still part of the Cavendish Bentinck collection in the Women’s Library@LSE – although the name of their donor is not noted in the catalogue entry.

On 26 March 1941 Vera Douie wrote to Mrs Woolf to say how much she had enjoyed reading her biography of Roger Fry and asking, in her usual delicate manner, for two more books. This time, however, her request was in vain. Virginia Woolf was dead by the time the letter was delivered to Monks’s House.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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Suffrage Stories: Bloomsbury Links (Part 3)

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.

Ray Strachey

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).

Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall

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.

strachey the causeAfter 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.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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