Alice Corthorn was a British medical doctor whose studies were in part funded by Olive Schreiner. Schreiner first met Corthorn at the British Museum in the 1880s when Corthorn was working as a governess, and she encouraged her ambition to become a doctor. To this end Schreiner secured the financial assistance of John Brown, as well as using some of her own income to support Corthorn. After John and Mary Brown lost money in the 1890 crash of the Cape of Good Hope Bank, Schreiner became solely responsible for Corthorn’s upkeep.
No letters from Schreiner to Corthorn survive, although it seems likely Schreiner maintained a correspondence with her, and certainly her receipt of letters from Corthorn is mentioned in her letters to others. She worked for a time running a major Plague Hospital for women in India before returning to private practice in Britain. Later Alice Corthorn for a time became part of Schreiner’s wider family circle; Will and Fan Schreiner and their children stayed at her home at St Mary Abbott’s Terrace, Kensington, in London on several occasions. Dot, Ursula and Oliver Schreiner all stayed with her at times during vacations when they were students in Britain. Corthorn did not marry but she adopted a little girl, the later Olive Renier, who it seems was ‘troubled’ in some way and placed a strain on Corthorn, whose health was precarious anyway.
When Schreiner arrived in Britain at the end of 1913 she stayed at Corthorn’s home at St Mary Abbott’s Terrace in Kensington, and she boarded with her for periods after that until she took her own rooms at Porchester Place. It is evident from the Schreiner’s letters written during the First World War that her relations with Alice Corthorn became increasingly strained. Corthorn’s behaviour seemingly became strange and erratic (something her adopted daughter’s book also hints at, as well as providing interesting comments about Olive Schreiner), and certainly her support of the war estranged her from Schreiner, who in letters to other friends said that she ‘never mentioned’ the war to Alice. By the time Schreiner departed for South Africa it seems that she and Corthorn were no longer close, and in letters to the Browns, for example, she refers to Corthorn’s ill health and fragility.
For further information see:
Olive Renier (1984) Before the Bombfire Shipstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire: P. Drinkwater