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Alys Pearsall Smith

Alys Whitall Pearsall Smith (1867 - 1951) was born in Philadelphia, USA. Her parents were Robert Pearsall Smith and Hannah Whitall Smith, both prominent Quakers. The family lived in England between 1873 and 1875, and settled there permanently from 1888 onwards. Pearsall Smith married Bertrand Russell in 1894, although their marriage was unhappy and they separated in 1911 and were divorced in 1921. During the 1930s Alys Pearsall Smith chaired the Italian Refugees’ Relief Committee which assisted people fleeing fascism in Mussolini’s Italy.

All but one of the letters from Schreiner to Pearsall Smith were written in 1888 and 1889 when both women were living in England and evidently seeing one another on a regular basis. Many of these letters concern these social meetings, either in the past and of an ‘it was so lovely to see you last Tuesday’ kind, or regarding the future, of a ‘would you come to see me on Saturday’ kind. It seems that Schreiner admired Pearsall Smith and urged her not to waste her talents and to continue with her studies. She exhorted her to plan her life and work, and to be decisive and focused: “So many women are drifting through life, instead of swimming, knowing in which direction they are going”, lamented Schreiner in July 1888.

A 1908 letter stands apart. It was written when there had clearly been a long lapse in communication between Schreiner and Alys Russell, as she was by this time. The resumption of contact seems to have been sparked by Schreiner’s niece Dot having become friendly with Alys Russell’s Costelloe nieces at Newnham College, Cambridge. In this letter Schreiner attempts to give Russell a flavour of her life in De Aar, and also raises matters of mutual political interest around problems concerning the enfranchisement of women in South Africa.
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recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon Women’s Library Autograph Collection: Schreiner’s letters to Alys Pearsall-Smith (later Russell) are archived as part of the ‘Literary Ladies’ su... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin: The HRC, Austin, is one of the world leading locations for archival papers pertaining to literary life and manuscripts across... 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
collection icon Women’s Library Autograph Collection: Schreiner’s letters to Alys Pearsall-Smith (later Russell) are archived as part of the ‘Literary Ladies’ su... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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