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Mary Drew (nee Gladstone)

Mary Drew nee Gladstone (1847 - 1927), was a political secretary and a writer, and also an active feminist. She was the third daughter of William Ewart Gladstone, four times British Prime Minister, and his wife Catherine Gladstone. Mary Drew came to prominence as her father’s advisor, confidante and private secretary, and by tactfully controlling access to him she gained a considerable measure of political influence. She developed an interest in politics during the 1870s and began working for her father in an unofficial capacity. When Gladstone became Prime Minister again in 1880, she was appointed to his official secretarial team and given particular responsibility for correspondence concerning ecclesiastical patronage. In February 1886 Mary Gladstone married a curate, Harry Drew, who was ten years her junior. After Gladstone’s final retirement in 1894, her formal political influence waned, although she continued to be friend and correspondent of many high-profile political figures and remained active in feminist concerns. Mary Drew was also opposed to the 1899-1902 South African War. She was a keen diarist and a selection from her diaries and letters was published in 1930.

Schreiner’s letters to Mary Drew read as quite formal, careful letters. They start in 1887 and are mainly clustered around 1888 and 1889 when Schreiner was living in Britain and Europe, and then pick up again in 1911 when Mary Drew visited South Africa, and in 1914 and 1915 when Schreiner was once again living in London. Schreiner’s first letter in 1887 thanks Drew for a note and the implication is that Drew had initiated the correspondence. By the time Schreiner left Britain for South Africa in 1889 it appears (but is not certain) that she and Drew had not yet met and that in fact their first meeting took place briefly in South African in 1911. It seems that this was not a ‘keeping in touch’ correspondence, but instead Schreiner and Drew exchanged letters around particular moments, and especially when they were in close geographical proximity so as to facilitate the possibility of meeting. The letters coalesce around a number of ‘themes’ including Schreiner’s and Drew’s writing, but also Christianity, faith, books and ‘woman’s work’. Schreiner sent Drew a number of her unpublished writings, and that Drew in turn sent Schreiner some of her own writings including poems and stories. Schreiner’s letters to Drew also offers a small amount of political commentary, for example on women’s work and attitudes, the ‘native question’ and later on, the evils of war.

For further information see:
Mary Gladstone (1930) Mary Gladstone (Mrs Drew): Her Diaries and Letters, edited by Lucy Masterman London: Methuen
Sheila Goodie (2003) Mary Gladstone: A Gentle Rebel Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons
K. D. Reynolds (2004) ‘Drew, Mary (1847-1927)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press
http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/41175
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