"Not a personal matter, all women of Cape Colony, Women's Enfranchisement League" Read the full letter


Mimmie or Minnie Murray (nee Parkes)

Mimmie or Minnie Murray nee Parkes (1865-1929) was a friend of Schreiner's who lived and worked on the farm Portlock in the Graaff-Reinet area. Here, according to one source, it was Mimmie Murray, rather than her husband Haldane, 'who turned out to be the champion farmer' (Baartman 2007: 6), an activity she continued after his death. Mimmie Murray also became involved in the women's suffrage movement and was active in setting up a local branch of the Women's Enfranchisement League in the Graaff-Reinet area.

These letters suggest that Mimme Murray made the first overture, with the first starting with Schreiner thanking her for writing. The earlier letters are strongly focused on women's enfranchisement issues, the politics of the Women's Enfranchisement League, the importance of educating women through grassroots work of drawing room meetings. Clearly there was much common ground around such matters, although even more clearly there were important differences concerning the basis of women's franchise and whether or not this was to be on same basis as men. Schreiner totally opposed this being on the same terms as men - and therefore having a racial basis - and some of the letters evidence her efforts to persuade (at least indirectly) Mimmie Murray to see the great mistake in this, or at the very least to grasp the principle at the basis of Schreiner's stance, which she seemed unable to appreciate.

Schreiner's letters to Mimme Murray include a number of her great letters. This importantly includes a January - September 1911 letter expressing her anger about the US feminist Carrie Chapman Catt as overbearing and dictatorial and 'meddling' by promoting women?s enfranchisement on the same terms as men, in ignorance of what this meant in the South African situation; a 13 May 1911 letter concerning 'occupations versus professions' for women, and a 25 April 1912 letter which deals with the political work of South African feminist women and where this should be focused, with Schreiner wanting this to be rousing other women and building a mass movement. In spite of their political differences, Schreiner's letters also include Murray in her wider suffrage and women's circles, by for instance by passing on news of British suffragist Constance Lytton, perhaps as a means of broadening Murray's thinking.

These letters are often addressed to 'Dear Friend' and they express much affection. However, in a letter to her sister Ettie Stakesby Lewis of 1912 Schreiner also writes of the difficulties of spending the summer with 'strangers however kind', which puts the friendship in a somewhat different light. Nonetheless both the Murrays and the farm Portlock were important for Schreiner, regarding her health and Portlock as somewhere she would be welcomed and where she could recover around her quest for the right environment in which to live and work, one which would neither affect her heart problems nor trigger her asthma. There is also the sense of Schreiner writing 'to the person' in these letters, which contain much about gardening and flowers, a passion Schreiner shared with Murray. After 1913 it is mostly postcards that Schreiner writes and they mainly contain little beyond 'keeping in touch'. The exception concerns the death of Haldane Murray and Mimmie Murray's great loneliness without him, with some powerful passages too on war and its effects.

Mimmie Murray had gone to stay in Cape Town to see Schreiner off to Europe in 1913. On her 1920 return to South Africa, Schreiner wrote that it would be a joy to see her once again and planned to go to Graaff-Reinet for this in 1921.

For further information see:
Hermi Baartman (2007) 'Haldane Murray' Graaff-Reinet Museum pp.6-7 http://www.graaffreinetmuseums.co.za/images/News07_02.doc
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collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon SCCS Edited Extracts: Four groups of edited extracts from Olive Schreiner's letters can be accessed from here, made by her estranged husband Cronwr... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon Aletta: The Aletta Jacobs collection is extensive and available on microfilm at the Aletta IIVA archive in Amsterdam. Schreiner’... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: The National English Literary Museum is the leading location for collections pertaining to the imaginative and creative writi... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon National Library of South Africa, Cape Town: Special Collections at the NLSA provide one of the leading locations for archival papers across many periods, organisations a... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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