Scope and Contents
The bulk of the papers consists of the letters which were written to Margaret Llewelyn Davies by her mother, Mary Llewelyn Davies, circa 1864 to 1895. There are also some biographical materials.
Biographical / Historical
Margaret Caroline Llewelyn Davies was born in London in 1861, the daughter of John Llewelyn Davies (who was the brother of Emily Davies and successively Rector of Christchurch, Marylebone, and Vicar of Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland) and Mary, née Crompton.
Margaret was educated at Queen’s College, London before studying at Girton College for seven terms, from the Easter Term of 1881 to the Easter Term of 1883. She appears to have left Girton in order to look after her mother during a period of ill health. Margaret had six brothers - Theo[dore], Arthur, Harry, Crompton [also known as 'Tony'], Charles and Maurice - several of whom also studied at Cambridge [Charles (1878), Arthur (1881), Crompton (1887) and Theo (also 1887). Theo became a Fellow of Trinity College in 1894]. Margaret appears to have undertaken a large degree of domestic responsibility generally: by 1890 she appears to be not only looking after her younger brothers at times but also doing some of the parish work which her mother normally undertook.
Margaret appears nonetheless to have undertaken some teaching between leaving Girton in 1883 and beginning work for the Marylebone Co-operative Society in 1886. She became, in 1887, secretary of the Marylebone branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild [an auxiliary organisation of the co-operative movement in the UK, founded to promote women in co-operative structures and provide social and other services to its members]. In 1889 she was elected General Secretary of the Guild. This was to be her life’s work until she retired in 1921.
In June 1889 she had turned down a proposal of marriage from 'A' [full name not given in the letters listed at GCPP LLD 1]. In late 1894 there was discussion of the possibility of Margaret spending several months in Ceylon. It is not possible to tell from the letters whether this ever came about, as the letters cease with the death of Mary Llewelyn Davies in February 1895.
Meantime, Margaret had moved with the family to Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland in 1889. She conducted Guild business from a small office in the vicarage there, with the help of her close associate and lifelong friend, Lilian Harris, who, after serving as cashier to the Guild for a time, was Assistant Secretary for twenty years. They later conducted Guild business from Hampstead, London.
Margaret is widely considered to have been the guiding figure of the Women’s Co-operative Guild in its early years, developing it as a social and educational body for working class women at a local level and as a pressure group of considerable influence for women’s rights at a national level. The Guild campaigned, inter alia, for the suffrage, a minimum wage for women and girls in the Co-operative movement itself, and maternity benefit. Peace and disarmament were also matters of concern to the Guild.
On retiring from their respective positions in 1921, both Margaret and Lilian were awarded the Freedom of the Guild. They continued to live in Hampstead for some time, then moved to Dorking in Surrey. In retirement, Margaret remained active in Guild and other matters: in 1922 she was the first woman to be elected president of the Co-operative Congress, which met that year in Brighton; she took an active part in the founding of the International Women’s Co-operative Guild at Basle in 1921; she continued her pacifist interests and activities; she supported trade relations between the English and Russian co-operative movements and for some years she was secretary of the Society for Cultural Relations between the USSR and Britain. She and Lilian Harris remained Trustees of the Women’s Co-operative Guild until the late 1930s.
During her years as Guild secretary, Margaret had written much and lectured widely. Her publications included pamphlets on social and political questions, editions of collections of letters from working women (in particular ‘Maternity: Letters from Working Women’, 1915), and histories of the Women’s Co-operative Guild. Margaret Llewelyn Davies died in 1944 at Dorking.
[Information derived from the Girton College Register; from the letters and biographical articles listed below at GCPP LLD 1 and 2 respectively; and from the archives of the Women’s Co-operative Guild held at Bishopsgate Library in London.]