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Emmeline Pethick Lawrence

Emmeline Pethick Lawrence (1867-1954) was a prominent British suffragette and married to Frederick Pethick Lawrence, with both of the Pethick Lawrences being key figures in the Women’s Social and Political Union. There are no letters from Schreiner to just Emmeline individually, but several to both of the Pethick Lawrences, while Emmeline’s political behaviour is written about and her private conduct is implied in others of those addressed to Frederick Pethick Lawrence. It is clear that it was Fred who was Schreiner’s friend, while Emmeline was seen by Schreiner as both a bold activist and also something of a loose cannon.

These letters are concerned with a number of overlapping matters. The first concerns Emmeline’s role in relation to the South African Women’s Enfranchisement League and her encouragement for it - Schreiner suggests without knowledge of the ‘local’ political (and racial) context - to adopt a policy of women’s suffrage on the same terms as men. The second concerns Emmeline Pethick Lawrence not only having made the contents of a private letter from Schreiner public, but also publishing part of it without Schreiner’s knowledge let alone consent. The third concerns Emmeline ‘misunderstanding’ Schreiner’s (1911) Woman and Labour, with the implication being she had either not read it or was using a ‘mistaken’ view of it to publish her own views.

It is difficult now to place these matters in context, and in particular the enormous importance Schreiner gave to seeing women’s issues in the framework of those of race politics and racism, obviously of key importance regarding South Africa. However, later during the First World War, Emmeline Pethick Lawrence was a pacifist and played an important role in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; and in other letters Schreiner invokes some happy relaxed weekends with the Pethick Lawrences and other like-minded friends.

For further information see:
Brian Harrison (2004) ‘Lawrence, Emmeline Pethick-, Lady Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37846
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1938) My Part in a Changing World London: Victor Gollancz
Melanie Phillips (2004) The Ascent of Woman: A History of the Suffragette Movement London: Abacus
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