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Irene Macfayden

Irene Macfadyen was a member of the Cape Women’s Enfranchisement League (WEL) and for a time served as its first president. In this capacity she appears to have caused considerable friction in the WEL, for she was concurrently also a member of the conservative, pro-imperialist Loyal Ladies League, an organisation which was opposed to the enfranchisement of women. Schreiner wrote a number of letters to her friends and colleagues in the WEL, in particular Julia Solly, in which she expressed her reservations about Irene Macfadyen’s ability to unite South African women, and also about her lack of ‘tact’. Schreiner made it clear that she backed Caroline Murray for the position of WEL president, because Mrs Macfadyen’s ‘jingoistic’ tendencies were likely to alienate South African-born and especially Dutch or Afrikaans women. By 1908 it had also become clear that Mrs Macfadyen had made overtures to suffrage societies in the Transvaal which were fighting for women’s enfranchisement on the same basis as men, and thus willing to accept a racial franchise. This ultimately led to Schreiner resigning from the WEL, and in a 1908 she described Macfadyen as a “wicked woman” in a letter to Lucy Molteno. In 1911 Schreiner’s letters indicate that Mrs Facfadyen was one of the fomenters of the so-called ‘Black Peril’ scare as well (on this, see James Henderson). It is likely that some letters were exchanged between Schreiner and Macfadyen, although none have been traced.
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