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Anna Purcell (nee Cambier Faure)

Anna Purcell (nee Cambier Faure) was a close South African friend of Olive Schreiner’s. She married William Frederick Purcell (known as Fred), an etymologist who became head of the Cape Town Museum; they had two children, Frederick and Margaretha. Anna Purcell was a cousin of Barry Hertzog, and her sister Joey married a Smuts. Anna Purcell herself was involved in relief work for Boer women and children during the 1899-1902 South African War and later also became involved in the Cape Women’s Enfranchisement League, of which Schreiner was a high profile member before resigning because it adopted a policy demanding women’s enfranchisement on the same basis as men, and therefore having a racial basis in the South African context. The Purcells lived on a country estate on the outskirts of Cape Town called Bergvliet.

Schreiner’s first extant letter to Purcell dates from 1902, and from its tone (‘Good bye darling’) it is clear that their friendship pre-existed this letter, and the twenty-two now extant letters from Schreiner to Purcell must be taken to represent only a fraction of what must have once been a greater number of letters. While Schreiner’s letters to Purcell are at times dominated by expressions of loving friendship (although this may be a result of the kinds of letters Purcell kept), there are also some interesting political comments across the letters. The 1902 letter referred to above was written shortly after Schreiner had heard of Cecil Rhodes’ death, and in it she notes to Purcell that he was “A great ‘might have been.’” The letters contain much about Purcell’s children and in particular Purcell’s daughter Margaretha, in whom Schreiner seems to have seen a freer future for women: “It’s nice to think little Magraretha will grow up in a larger freer world than we did.” In spite of Schreiner’s warm and loving letters to Purcell, it is clear from her letters to others that she did not support some of Anna Purcell’s actions in her capacity as a WEL committee member. In May 1908 for example, Schreiner wrote an angry letter to Julia Solly denouncing the WEL’s committee’s overtures to the Transvaal women’s suffrage societies (which supported the granting of a racial franchise), urging them to admit their mistake: “I know that you & Anna Purcell at least, & I believe all the other members of the committee are to large to refuse to allow you might have made a constitutional mistake so that I absolutely cannot understand why you have refused so to deal with the matter”. However, Schreiner it seems maintained her friendship with Anna Purcell until her death in 1920; her final letters to Purcell concern the death of Purcell’s husband Fred in 1919.
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recipient icon Recipient Of
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
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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mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon National Archives Depot, Pretoria: The National Archives Depot is Pretoria is a leading location for archival papers across a wide time-period, organisations an... 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 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
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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