This paper explores modernist marriage in interwar Britain through an examination of the experience and the writings of the feminist activist Dora Black Russell (1894-1986). Dora Black's marriage in 1921 to the philosopher Bertrand Russell is well known. She took Russell's name; she and Russell had two children together, and she is often remembered as "Bertrand Russell's second wife. "This marriage ended in a bitter divorce. Dora Russell did marry again. However, her second marriage is usually overlooked in the Dora Russell literature. Its significance is examined in this paper, as is the significance of her other relationships with men, including Griffin Barry, the father of her two younger children. Dora Russell considered herself to be an exemplar of modernism, especially in the areas of sex, marriage, and childrearing. The author examines secondary and primary literature on sex, gender and modernism in relationship to Dora Black Russell herself, and to sex and modernism more generally.
Dans cet article, nous examinons le mariage moderniste de l'entre-deux guerres en Grande-Bretagne, en etudiant l'experience et les ecrits de l'activiste feministe Dora Black Russell (1894-1986). Le premier mariage de Dora Black en 1921 avec le philosophe Bertrand Russell est bien connu. Elle adopta le nom de Russell et ensemble ils eurent deux enfants; en evoquant sa memoire on l'appelle souvent << la deuxieme epouse de Bertrand Russell >>. Ce mariage se termina par un divorce amer. Dora Russell s 'est quand meme remariee. Toutefois, on neglige souvent ce second mariage dans la documentation sur Dora Russell. Nous analysons son importance ici de meme que la portee de ses relations avec d'autres hommes dont Griffin Barry, le pere de ses deux plus jeunes enfants. Dora Russell se considerait elle-meme un exemple de modernisme, partieulierement dans les domaines du sexe, du mariage et de la maternite. Nous examinons de la documentation primaire et secondaire sur le sexe, le gente et le modernisme en ce qui concerne Dora Black Russell elle-meme et au sexe et modernisme en plus general.
On the twenty-seventh of September 1921, Dora Black and Bertrand Russell were married at Battersea Town Hall. For twenty-eight year old Dora, this was the first of two marriages. For Bertrand, who was almost fifty, it was the second of four. While Dora was still unknown, Bertrand Russell was famous, as a mathematician and philosopher, as an anti-war activist, and as an aristocrat. The Registrar knew that Russell had been married before and "wished [him] 'a happier experience'." (2)
Many years later in The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love, her first and most successful volume of autobiography, Dora Russell would write about this wedding day. We know that this bride wore black, for in her own description of the event she speaks of herself as "rather large in a black cloak." (3) She was almost nine months pregnant, and would give birth to her first child in November. She tells us that she carried a bunch of sweet peas to this Registry Office wedding. Not the traditional bridal bouquet but flowers, nonetheless. The couple's witnesses were the distinguished historian Eileen Power and Bertrand's brother Frank. Afterwards the four of them went for tea at a nearby cafe.
In this paper I offer an interpretation of this marriage, which would end fewer than fifteen years later in an acrimonious divorce at a time when divorce was still uncommon in Great Britain and not easy to obtain. I ask what each party expected of the marriage, I speculate on why it fell apart, and I comment on the intersections between the public activities and the private experience of both Russells, but especially of Dora.
I am interested in this heterosexual union for its own sake and also for what it can tell us more generally about British interwar heterosexual couples in marriage and divorce, and as parents. How do discussions of marriage, love, and sex--both contemporary discussions and more recent ones--help us situate this marriage and this couple? How does the specific experience of the Russells as a couple, and of Dora Black Russell as an individual, help us understand early twentieth-century discourse about heterosexual relationships? How does it confirm or challenge recent historiographical analyses?
Questioning and analyzing social relationships is a characteristic of modernism in Britain and elsewhere. Indeed, a distinguishing feature of modern marriage, I would suggest, is the assumption that it can and should be examined. Such scrutiny and analysis flowed directly from the rise of the disciplines of sociology and psychology, but also from debates concerning gender.
The fact that marriage was defined and analyzed during the early twentieth century does not mean that most marriages were "modern." In Britain, as elsewhere, most marriages in fact remained "traditional," especially with respect to gender relations. Male privilege, or what feminist sociologist Jessie Bernard would term in 1972 "the institutional prescription of superiority" to men, remained central. (4) Accordingly, most British couples of all social classes established marriages in which patterns of male dominance and female passivity continued to be the norm, as they had been in the nineteenth century and earlier. The work of historians like Lesley Hall, Marcus Collins, and Kate Fisher, all of whom endeavour to illuminate the personal and sexual lives of the relatively Voiceless in early twentieth-century Britain, confirms the continuation of such traditional patterns. (5)
But the marriage--if not the wedding--of Bertrand and Dora Russell was one of several notable exceptions to this rule. This was the heterosexual union of two highly educated intellectuals. The man was a towering figure. The woman was exceptional even before her marriage. They both thought of themselves as modern. Dora, in particular, defined herself as a modern feminist, as a modern mother, and as a modernist sexual pioneer.
Avant-garde intellectual unions of the early twentieth century are more accessible to the historian and literary critic than the mass of ordinary, anonymous marriages. Even though they made up only a small minority, women and men who experimented with unconventional arrangements wrote about themselves and often contributed to debates about sex and marriage. Accordingly, such couples were well known at the time and have been written about since. Katie Roiphe, for example, in her book Uncommon Arrangements looks at seven couples and the men and women who surrounded them. These "uncommon arrangements" all belong to "a certain type of progressive marriage, occurring in literary circles in England, in the period from roughly 1910 to the beginning of the Second World War...." (6) Roiphe's couples include Vanessa and Clive Bell, Frank Russell and Elizabeth yon Arnim, and Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin. Roiphe has selected them because all were avant-garde, either in terms of sex--"[s]everal of the marriages in this book were to one degree or another open marriages: or at least marriages in which affairs were quietly tolerated"--or because of the freedom they allowed or professed to allow the woman partner. (7)
As Roiphe and others note, feminist discourse was well developed in the early twentieth century and it expanded in the interwar decades. For example, the writer Vera Brittain espoused what she called "semi-detached marriage," an arrangement that allowed Brittain and her husband to pursue their own interests and careers, while they lived for most of the year in different places.
Brittain wrote extensively about the heavy burden that domesticity and conventional marriage placed on women, and on society. She believed that her own egalitarian marriage made her an exemplar of feminist heterosexual union. As she wrote to her husband "If it seems arrogant to say that the success of our marriage matters to the world, to society, to politics, to feminism, I can only reply that it is the kind of arrogance that one ought to encourage in one's self." (8)
For her part, Dora Black Russell, like Brittain, believed that her union with Russell broke the mould of conventional marriage. Although it had more in common with conventional marriages of the period than either Dora or Bertrand recognized--as John Gillis points out, a Registry Office wedding for a pregnant bride was in fact usual in the 1920s--Dora was right. (9) With their public commitment to gender equality and sexual freedom, Dora and Bertrand, like Brittain and Catlin, stood out as exemplars and were recognized as such. They were part of a relatively small but significant group of experimenters.
In the early twentieth century, these unconventional patterns took several different forms. There was Ellen Wilkinson, the fiery Labour MP, who led the historic Jarrow Hunger March of 1936, and whose origins were working class. In her novel Clash, Wilkinson has one of her characters say: "[m]arriage takes so much more out of a woman, demands so much more time than it does for a man." (10) Wilkinson did have love affairs, but she never married (though her heroine Joan does in Clash), and she never had children. Wilkinson can be seen as a pioneer in terms of her support for, and exemplification of, a woman's right and duty to use her talents in the public sphere, but in terms of love, sex, and heterosexual union, she can be seen as conventional: she made the classic choice between marriage and career.
But Dora Russell, unlike the single Wilkinson, or the married Jennie Lee and Aneurin Bevan, (11) or Leonard and Virginia Woolf, to name just two early twentieth-century childless couples in which the woman achieved public success, had children--four of them--two with Russell, and two with another man. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin had two children, both decorously within wedlock. These unconventional unions with children should be seen as having a special significance. Marcus Collins's analysis is helpful in defining what it was. Collins outlines the rise of what he calls "mutualism" which he defines as an early twentieth-century development that represented a compromise between misogynist patriarchy, on the one hand, and the Victorian and Edwardian feminist valorisation of women's independence from men. The new feminists of the interwar period, Collins suggests, supported sharing and companionate relationships, in sex and in parenthood. He singles out Dora and Bertrand Russell, in particular, as exemplifying "a sex radical strain of mutuality." (12)
What specific circumstances led Dora Black and Bertrand Russell to the civil ceremony in Battersea Town Hall on that September Tuesday in 1921? Dora Winifred Black was born in 1894 into a comfortable upper-middle-class family. She was fortunate in her family of origin, being blessed with a kind and supportive mother and a distinguished father. Frederic Black's eminently successful career in the civil service was crowned with a knighthood. One of the most remarkable things about him as a father and family man was his belief in the education of girls. Dora was sent to Sutton High School, a Girls' Public Day School Trust school. She excelled at this fine school, where she was groomed for Girton College, Cambridge, which she entered in the autumn of 1912. (13) She herself did not realize how unusual this was.
As Sutton High School's star pupil, Dora Black achieved academic success, but at the same time she also remained imbued with the values of duty, earnestness, and self-sacrifice that were such a central part of socialization for upper middle class girls, even at schools like those managed by the Girls' Public Day School Trust. "Fortiter, Fideliter, Feliciter" she wrote in Latin on the flyleaf of the leather "Tagebuch" she had acquired during her stay in Germany in 1911, and which she used as a diary beginning in 1912. "I want to be this New Year thoughtful for others & unselfish & with God's help a bit of sunlight to friends & relations," she wrote in her first entry. The early diary entries contain her "German Reminiscences." She had been sent to a highly respectable pension in Halberstadt, Saxony, where she had improved her knowledge of the language and acquainted herself with German culture. Her German adventure included her first romance. She and Kurt Fromme never kissed--"he was too decent and honourable" for that--but she did give him a lock of her hair. (14)
The earnest girl who wrote those entries would transform herself, at Girton, into a modern woman. She lost her conventional religious faith and discovered feminism. At Girton, Dora read books like H.G. Wells's novel Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story (1909) whose heroine Dora, like other contemporary readers, perceived as a New Woman, who throws traditional Edwardian constraints to the winds and explores socialism, feminism, and free love. (15) While such an interpretation of this novel, which portrays feminism and socialism unfavourably, seems questionable in the early twenty-first century, the novel was widely accepted as radical when it was published.
Dora not only read Ann Veronica, she had passionate discussions about it at late night cocoa parties with such friends as Vera Mendel (later Vera Maynall), Dorothy Wrinch (who would introduce her to Bertrand Russell), and refugee Mafia Winska, all of whom considered themselves forward-looking. For these young students "talking about the universe" was a major part of their Girton experience. (16)
Beyond Girton, in the wider world of Cambridge, Dora embraced C.K. Ogden's Heretics Society. Girton's dons did not approve, but Dora and Dorothy Wrinch went to the Heretics' Sunday evening meetings, and the Heretics Society, unlike the semi-secret and more powerful and selective Cambridge Apostles, was open to women. (17) "If you joined the Society you were called upon to reject authority in matters of religion and belief, and to accept only conviction by reasonable argument," Dora would later write. (18) She also was an outstanding student, earning a First in Modern Languages when she completed her studies in 1915. She did not, of course, receive a degree, for which women were not then eligible.
Between 1915-19 she continued to fashion herself into an independent freespirited woman, consciously and deliberately breaking with the mores of the prewar era. In The Tamarisk Tree she provides a vivid account of this transition. She began graduate work at University College, London, and she fell in love, not with a man, but with the British Museum reading room:
My attachment to the B.M. Reading Room ... resembles that of a lover. The silence, the smell of old leather, the circle of massive catalogues in the centre; your shiny black desk, where you could be utterly alone with your thoughts or commune with the thoughts of men and women long dead, yet speaking to you, individually, with perhaps a new meaning and a new voice--how can I tell what that great library meant to me.... (19)
In 1915 Dora Black embraced the modern as a bold adventure. But what does modernism signify? Of course, in a sense "everyone" was modern in the 1920s as bobbed hair, short skirts, jazz, and cigarette smoking in public became fashionable symbols of the revolt against Victorianism. However, the self-conscious modernism of the avant-garde went deeper than the fashionable stereotypes we associate with the Jazz Age. In Modris Exteins's Rites of Spring, (20) Stravinsky's music for the ballet "The Rite of Spring," first performed in Paris in May 1913, serves as a landmark of modernism, "with its rebellious energy and its celebration of life through sacrificial death..." (21) Dora Black Russell never believed in sacred sacrifice, but she did exemplify rebellious energy and a quest for liberation.
In 1915 she was seriously committed to fashioning herself as a New Woman. What that meant for her was, first and foremost, the independence and dignity bestowed by serious scholarship. In 1915 a young woman like Dora, with her First from Cambridge, and her scholarly ambitions, was part of a tiny group of unusual women. Doing graduate work at University College, and indeed having a reader's ticket to the British Museum Reading Room were still unusual, as was her appointment as a junior Don at Girton in 1918. (22)
However, Dora Black's identity as a scholar was only one of her multiple allegiances, and indeed she would not be a scholar for long. Not all New Women wished to practice "free love," but Dora did. Her first full sexual encounter was with a man she met aboard ship when she made a brief but memorable trip to North America in 1917. On her return to her London life, free love was part of her experience. She describes her lover Marcel, a Belgian painter she herself characterizes as "bohemian," for whom she posed. Marcel, she notes, taught her how to make real French mayonnaise "adding the oil drop by drop." (23)
The real mayonnaise was part of her more general fascination with radicalism in aesthetics and design: Many early twentieth-century radicals discarded the decorous pastels of the Edwardians along with their social mores. (24) Dora Black adopted these new fashions in dress and household furnishings:
I had begun to abandon bourgeois styles of dress. The modern hippies are no pioneers in marking themselves out by unusual apparel; it has always been customary for 'arty' people to dress for beauty or bizarre effect rather than for fashion ... Bright colours in furnishings and decoration were replacing the patterned chintzes and soft hues of the ornate Edwardian period ... Roger Fry's Omega workshops made amazing carpets, Heals were there with new-style painted furniture, ornamented with a characteristic bright blue, red, green or orange.
In 1919, with her appointment to Girton, she took a flat in London so that she could continue her research in London while basing herself in Cambridge. Her lover Marcel accompanied her to modernist Heal's to help her pick curtain fabric. (25)
Dora's subtitle for The Tamarisk Tree, "my quest for liberty and love," is bittersweet. For the young Dora Black, achieving liberty along with love turned out to be a struggle, and her choice of Bertrand Russell as partner did not make it any easier. Dora Black already admired Bertrand Russell when she first met him in 1916. The occasion was a walking tour her Girton friend Dorothy Wrinch arranged during that summer. The party included Dorothy, Dora, Jean Nicod, a young pacifist protege of Bertrand's, and Bertrand himself. The famous philosopher (then in his forties), accompanied by the one young man and the two young women, walked over the downs near Guildford and spent the night at a country inn, where, by candlelight, they had an intense discussion about life and love. (26)
Dora and Bertrand became lovers by 1918, and by 1919 Dora had been swept off her feet--almost--by the glamour that attached to this larger-than-life intellectual figure twenty-two years her senior. Dora's conflicting desires for "liberty" and "love" are touchingly revealed in a note she wrote to Bertrand in the British Museum Reading Room while she was waiting for books to come:
BM July 28  "I have so much of the feminine instinct to give & give myself ... and serve and worship that I get ashamed of it, & proud & afraid of being despised--people do despise that part of women nowadays and I think it right for women to fight it because it is the biggest obstacle to their liberty.... (27)
She did not put up much of a fight. In 1920 the die was cast when she accepted Bertrand's offer to go to Peking. While in China, she became pregnant with their first child, John. On their return to England, as we have seen, she and Bertrand were married just before John's birth.
Dora may not have wanted this marriage because it deeply violated her feminist, modernist principles--"Nobody could be more disappointed than I was over the marriage" she wrote to her friend Rachel Brooks--but she went through with it nonetheless and, moreover, she took Bertrand's name and kept it, even after their divorce. (28) Dora would make the name "Russell" her own, but there is no question that in 1921 she settled for the position and, to some extent, the role of wife of a famous and powerful man.
What did this marriage mean for Bertrand Russell? Russell was 45 years old, and well established both as a philosopher and as a social activist when he met the young Dora Black in 1916. He was also an aristocrat: grandson of Lord John Russell, he would, after the death of his elder brother Frank in 1931, succeed to the earldom. Several aspects of his personal life are relevant to an analysis of his behaviour as a husband and parent. First it would appear-- although Russell himself does not describe it in this way--that he endured a joyless childhood. Orphaned early, he was raised by his grandparents in a stifling, judgmental, household. Because he was educated at home, he did not escape the loneliness, gloom, and confinement of this family setting until he went to Cambridge. Some of his biographers assert that his childhood experience left him unready to form adult relationships, most especially with women. In addition to his four marriages Russell had other affairs, some significant, and many that were casual. When he met and later married Dora, he was involved with two other women: Ottoline Morrell and Colette O'Niel. Dora knew this, but she also knew that there was little she could do about it. Although he was a brilliant, courageous, principled man, and a hero of the twentieth century, he was, I would suggest, estranged from his emotions and confused by them. His stunted emotional powers, which stand in striking contrast to his intelligence, are reflected in the curiously fiat tone and highly selective nature of his three volumes of autobiography. (29)
A rare occasion in which he does reveal himself points to the reason he married Dora Black. He may have valued her in other ways, but what this marriage brought him, above all else, was fatherhood. He and his first wife were childless and Bertrand relates that his childlessness was an emotional wound that grew "continually stronger, until it...[became] almost insupportable." He tells us he was initially attracted to Dora on that hike in 1916 because she said she "wanted to marry and have children." (30) The children brought him great joy. "When my first child was born, in November 1921, I felt an immense release of pent-up emotion, and during the next ten years my main purposes were parental."
But why did Dora marry Bertrand? When she was old, she offered the following explanation: "My dilemma was no different from that which faces many women deeply in love, who none the less have aims, purposes, perhaps a career, of their own." (31) Dora assumes we know what she means, when she talks of being deeply in love. But do we? Does "love" transcend history, or is the "historicization of love," as Claire Langhamer puts it, one of the tasks of the historian? (32) For Dora, the emotion of love was as much shaped by her Victorian upper middle-class upbringing as it was by the modernist persona she assumed as a young woman. The girl who believed that her first love, the German Kurt Frome, had not kissed her because he was too "decent and honourable" was still there in the woman scholar of 1919 who writes to her new lover of her "feminine instinct" and her desire to "worship." At the beginning of their relationship (although not later) Dora's love for Bertrand was shaped by traditional, conventional, attitudes towards patriarchy, notions her modernist feminism could all too easily absorb.
There are other reasons why she married Russell. While rhetoric of love spoke loudest, courtship and marriage amongst Britons in the early twentieth- century was also influenced by considerations related to status. Loye and physical attraction were supposed to dominate choices of a partner, but women and men alike, though in different ways, made assessments of potential partners based on physical appearance, social standing, and wealth. As the American sociologist Willard Waller put it in his classic article, "The Rating and Dating Complex," published in 1937: "There are certain men who are at the top of the social scramble; they may be placed in a hypothetical Class A." Dora and Bertie were not American college students, and did not "date," but, unavoidably, they did "rate." Bertie was definitely Class A. (33) Dora "fell in love" with Bertie in part because he just had too much to offer. As her daughter Harriet Ward has pointed out, Bertrand Russell's place in the world did figure in her mother's attachment to him. Ward says that while her mother was never a snob "[s]he undoubtedly enjoyed being Countess Russell, and even more so the intellectual climate of Bertie's world...." (34)
Dora's own background and achievements were more than adequate on their own to have secured her a successful professional life. But Russell had far more power and prestige than she would ever have had. Dora's liaison and then marriage to him instantly vaulted her into his select circle. This was a privilege but also a constraint.
Dora Black's marriage to Bertrand Russell determined the course her life took during their marriage, shaping her public activities as well as her private life. She had two children with Russell, John, born in 1921, and Kate, born in 1923. She thought a lot about marriage, feminism, and motherhood and she wrote about these topics. Perhaps she would have found an audience without her connection to Russell, but Bertrand Russell's reflected power and prestige gave her an audience. In the 1920s, it was as "Mrs Bertrand Russell" that she published widely on the subject of marriage, sex, and parenthood.
In Hypatia: or Women and Knowledge, written for C.K. Ogden's Today and Tomorrow series, she articulated her views on sex and marriage. The book was published in 1925 when her marriage was still a success. In Hypatia, her voice is that of a modern feminist: one who could praise older Victorian feminists as pioneers and forerunners, but still talk about them as the "spinster thwarted." (35) "To me the most important task of modern feminism is to accept and proclaim sex," she wrote. (36) Russell used "knowledge" in Hypatia's subtitle to refer specifically to sex education for girls, an area she believed the older feminists had avoided. Girls and women need knowledge of their bodies, of sex, and of mothering. It is not only sexual pleasure that is liberating, but also the right to fully understand sexuality.
In Hypatia Dora does support women's right to, and need for, sexual pleasure in heterosexual relationships. (Dora Russell avoided any discussion of Lesbian relationships in Hypatia and elsewhere.) For Dora's modern woman, sexual pleasure included the right to birth control. "It is the experience of modern women that sex is an instinctive need to them as it is to men, and further that the prevention of conception brings to them no loss of poise, health, or happiness." (37) Throughout her life Dora Russell continued to support women's fight to sexual exploration, but it was never as important to her as the right of women to control their bodies and achieve feminist motherhood. Dora Russell knew that sexual freedom did not in itself liberate women. Society remained patriarchal. As she put it in one of the articles she wrote for the Madrid newspaper, El Sol between 19261930, "Her body, it appears, by law, custom or superstition belongs to her husband, or the state, or religion, or the doctor, in fact to any and every authority except herself." But even when she does gain possession of her body, a woman's point of view differs from that of a man: "The fact remains that women bear children and this gives them a different attitude to life and to parental relationships." (38)
In the years of her marriage to Russell, most of Dora's public energies were devoted to two main causes, freedom for children and women's right to control their own bodies. This public work flowed directly from the views she espoused about marriage, including the right of women--and men--to free and informed expression of sexuality; sexual experimentation in open marriage; and women's fights, obligations, and responsibilities as mothers, and, as well, the rights of children.
Her concern for the rights of and freedom for children manifested itself most significantly in Beacon Hill, the experimental school for boys and girls that she and Bertrand launched in 1927. Their stated goal was to instill in their pupils a love of freedom. Children at Beacon Hill were encouraged to be independent--as learners and as participants in the school community. The school initially owed much of its success to the involvement of Bertrand Russell: it was often referred to as Russell's school, and many believed that it failed after he and Dora split up. But in fact, it was always more her school than his, and in the 1930s, when she ran it on her own, it became the crowning achievement of her working life. (39)
Dora Russell's public advocacy of a woman's right to control her own body began in 1923 and would continue until her death in 1986. She was most active from 1922-35, as a birth control advocate during the 1920s and early 1930s, then with the World League for Sexual Reform.
Dora, whose involvement with the Labour Party began in 1922 when Bertrand was asked to run as the Labour candidate for Chelsea, was a founder of the Workers' Birth Control Group. This was a women's group formed within the Labour Party that sought to encourage Labourites to be open to advocating birth control. While the Workers' Birth Control Group has received considerable attention from historians, the centrality of Dora's role has never been recognized. (40) Russell's official position in the WBCG was that of Honorary Secretary. In practice, up until 1926, she wrote most of the group's public statements and organized mailings, sent from her address. She generated ideas. For example, along with Labour MP Dorothy Jewson, she was responsible for developing a telling comparison between miners and mothers that the Workers' Birth Control Group frequently used:
The bearing of children is at one and the same time the most dangerous trade there is, and the worst paid and the least protected. Every year out of every thousand women actually in childbirth four die; out of every thousand miners actually engaged in mining 1.1 die from fatal accidents. Yet mining is reckoned our most dangerous trade. (41)
The women of the Workers' Birth Control Group presented themselves as "young married women," and their demands were limited. They did not publicly advocate the dissemination of birth control information to unmarried women, although many of them, including Dora, supported it privately. They believed that they had to be cautious because birth control was an inflammatory topic during these years. To anti-feminists, and to those who defined themselves as defenders of the family, birth control seemed dangerous, and there was opposition from within the labour movement itself, largely from Roman Catholics, but from others as well.
Dora Russell spoke at one meeting where a young woman challenged her about the WBCG's cautious approach. Dora wrote to Bertrand describing the incident: "The girl ... attacked me for making our birth control campaign so respectable. Said we should have had unmarried women..." (42) As this open and chatty letter indicates, Bertrand appears to have supported Dora's public work in the 1920s. The letter also reflects Dora's comfort with her position as a "young married woman" who was the wife of an older, famous man.
In 1926, Dora Russell's public activities began to shift from the Workers' Birth Control Group to the World League for Sexual Reform on a Scientific Basis. The League, which flourished in the 1920s, but was crushed by the Nazis in the 1930s and has largely been forgotten today, owed its existence to the courageous German physician and activist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-193 5), whose life and work represent an extraordinary amalgam of a detached early twentieth-century scientist, and courageous political advocate. (43)
In Britain many birth controllers supported sexual reform. However, while most of its participants and supporters were on the left in politics, the League, in sharp contrast to the Labourite Workers' Birth Control Group, was openly avant-garde and comfortable with its position on the margins. While some recent feminist historians and historians of Lesbian and Gay experience have interpreted early twentieth-century sexology as deeply flawed--they see it as male-dominated, physician-dominated and hierarchical--in its own time the League carried with it an insouciance and a sense of gaiety that appealed to radical British sensibilities, and to Dora in particular. In 1929, when Dora was soliciting support for the League's upcoming London congress, her old friend Vera Maynall wrote that she an her husband were delighted to support the "Very Sexual Congress" and sent along "2 guineas, with our blessing." This comment captures the sense of playful transgression that was associated with the WLSR. (44)
Norman Haire, an Australian gynaecologist and birth controller who had emigrated to England, drew Dora Russell into work for sexual reform. (45) Dora's most important contribution to the League was as Haire's partner in the organization of the Third Congress of the World League for Sexual Reform, which was held in London in September1929. The Congress was the most successful by far of the five WLSR international meetings held between 1921 and 1932. Its success should unquestionably be attributed to Dora Russell's extensive efforts in recruiting speakers, in organizing the event, and in publicizing it.
There were over 350 participants to the Congress, and a full program. (46) The speakers ranged from birth control advocate Marie Stopes to proto-fascist George Pitt-Rivers. Stella Browne spoke eloquently in favour of a woman's right to choose abortion. Eugenicists spoke and so did those opposed to the "sterilization of the unfit." One of the most publicized events was the showing of a Soviet film about the success of legal abortion there. It was Dora Russell who brought this film to the Congress. She had seen it in the summer of 1929, when she visited the Soviet Union. Some feminist scholars have given Dora Russell short shrift as a radical sexual reformer. Sheila Jeffreys contends that Dora Russell's feminism was, like her socialism, "dubious." She faults Russell herself and abortion law reformer Stella Browne for their involvement with the male sexologists of the WLSR. Russell and Browne, she asserts, "did not challenge the sexual status quo, in which women were expected to be dependent on men and to do sexual intercourse whether they liked it or not." (47)
Recently, historian Lesley Hall has questioned these assertions. Reformers like Browne and Russell were not "the passive dupes of male sexologists," Hall argues:
it is an immense condescension by present-day feminists to assume that those of the past were blank wax imprinted with the ideas of male sexologists, rather than independent women who felt that sexology might have tools to offer to women struggling with patriarchal attitudes. (48)
Hall is certainly correct about Dora Russell's own perceptions of her work for sexual reform. She did see this public advocacy as radical, and as directly connected with her wish to make her own life an example of the possibilities for women as liberated wives, mothers, and sexual partners.
Jeffreys and Hall might well have focussed less on the question of feminism, and more on the complex questions concerning left-wing politics and social class. Dora Russell campaigned for her husband Bertrand when he ran as a Labour candidate for Chelsea in 1922 and became from then on a Labour supporter. She was perceived in her own time as a "Labour woman," and has been perceived a "Labour woman" since. (49) But in fact, this designation is questionable. Women like Dora Russell and her fellow birth controllers--Frieda Laski, for example--were for the most part middle or upper middle class women. They were not "Labour women" in the way Ellen Wilkinson was, or, still more, in the way the women of the Women's Cooperative Guild were. As the writer Virginia Woolf commented, musing about the difference between working-class women and middle and upperclass ladies after seeing and hearing Guild women speak: "They want baths and money ... We have baths and we have money. Therefore, however much we had sympathised our sympathy was largely fictitious." "The barrier is impassable." (50) The gulf between Labour and Socialist activists who were middle or upper class and those who were working class was an important feature of Labour politics during the interwar decades. It was certainly not confined to radical women, nor can educated, well-to-do women like Dora Russell be held responsible for it. After all, it was Labour Party organizers themselves who asked Bertrand to stand as a Labour candidate in 1922, and it was again Labour Party organizers who accepted Dora as a candidate in his place when Bertrand declined to run for a third time. The political scientist and Labour Party intellectual Harold Laski--Frieda Laski's husband--wrote trenchantly about the dominance of the small minority of middle and upper class educated people within the Labour Party, and about the paradoxes that dominance suggested. (51) The old aristocracy still ruled, said Laski, even with the Labour Party in power.
Dora Black Russell's identity as a "Labour" woman is just one part of the complexity of her situation with regard to class and status. First, ironically, it was her marriage to Bertrand that made her into an active Labourite while at the same time, as I have suggested, the marriage raised her social status. Her beloved father Sir Fredrick Black was a life-long Liberal. During her marriage to Bertrand, Dora became upper class rather than upper middle class. The Russells had servants as a matter of course (so did the Blacks) and they associated easily with people at the pinnacle of the social pyramid as well as with the foremost intellectuals of the period.
Bertrand, indeed, possessed many of the attributes appropriate for an upperclass gentleman. Dora Russell recounts a telling anecdote, which captures the ambivalences attached to Bertrand's status:
One of the servants took the opportunity of John's birth [in 1921] to steal some articles, which included Bertie's top hat. Bertie chuckled and said that he could not, as a socialist, possibly prosecute for the theft of a top hat. So far as I know, he never acquired another. (52)
Like other educated radicals, Dora Russell wrestled with the dilemmas of class in the interwar decades and moreover she did work, on occasion, with men and women of working-class origin even in the 1920s and early 1930s. For example, at least one of the teachers hired to work at Beacon Hill School in the early days was from a working-class family. When some acquaintances of suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst visited the school in July 193 I, the husband was offended by the "Billingsgate accent" of this teacher. He wrote a "man to man" letter to "Earl Russell" in which he commented unfavourably on the school, and especially on the accent and demeanour of this particular young woman. Bertrand gave the letter to Dora to answer, and she sent an exasperated reply: "I had had an impression that you believed, like Miss Pankhurst & ourselves in a social revolution. How then can a Cockney accent necessarily imply bad character? & will everyone talk perfect Balliol after the revolution?" (53) While Russell was a "working woman" and a lifelong Socialist she was never a working-class woman, and most of the people she knew and worked with in the 1920s and early 1930s did "talk perfect Balliol."
When Dora Russell began her public activities her personal life was fulfilling and seemed to be stable. Her initial ambivalence about her marriage to Russell gave way in the face of the happiness it brought her. She had--she thought--Bertrand's commitment to a feminist version of marriage and to feminist parenthood. Through her own energies and through Bertrand's connections, she found useful and fulfilling public work.
But the stable period of this marriage was brief. Both Bertrand and Dora were overconfident about their capacities to sustain a non-traditional relationship. Their most foolish decision from the perspective of the marriage was to launch Beacon Hill School. While the school would become Dora Russell's most significant and solid public achievement, and Bertrand's interest in Beacon Hill during its early years was genuine, Beacon Hill was hard on the marriage. First of all, it was simply too much work. Secondly, it separated the couple physically, because both Bertrand and Dora made trips to America to raise money for the school and to garner publicity for it. These separations led to resentments and contributed to estrangement between them. In addition, it does appear that Russell could not contain or control his urge to make sexual overtures to any woman around, and the school provided him with too many opportunities.
Bertrand Russell, of course, did Publicly express support for sexual freedom for partners within a marriage, most notably in Marriage and Morals, so it could be said that he was merely acting on his beliefs. But the version of companionate marriage that Russell argues for in Marriage and Morals involves balance and restraint. Couples in a marriage may seek outside partners, according to Russell. Legal marriage, he argues, should exist only for the sake of children, and when passionate love between the partners wanes, it may be sought elsewhere. Russell in fact suggests that this is inevitable. However, he argues against casual sex: "When people no longer feel any moral barrier against sexual intercourse on every occasion when even a trivial impulse inclines to it, they get into the habit of dissociating sex from serious emotion and from feelings of affection...." (54) In fact, Russell was anything but careful and he acted on many trivial impulses. It appears that this brilliant man, for all his deep belief in rationality and ethical conduct, could not control his unwise and hurtful behaviour. Dora, on the other hand, did possess considerable self-control. But she was publicly and privately committed to a radical view of marriage, and it was necessary to her self-perception that her equality with Russell appear real. If he had extramarital affairs, she would too.
Things began to go badly wrong in the summer of 1927,just before the school opened. Russell initiated a relationship with Alice, the children's French teacher, and Hannah the cook, outraged, quit. But then, partly because she was hurt about Alice, Dora Russell began an affair with journalist Roy Randall.
In the autumn of 1927, Beacon Hill School opened with Dora in charge while Bertrand embarked on a lecture tour in America. Once there, he gave some thought to the effect of their sexual entanglements: "I wish we had never landed ourselves with lovers, but now we have obligations to them and can't end things suddenly. I love you above everything in the world--but the present state of affairs prevents me from being happy, and I feel you despise me ..." (55)
Russell, however, did not give up what can best be called philandering, rather than any principled adventure in "free love." (56) Dora Russell, in turn, visited North America in the winter of 1928 when she met Griffin Barry, the American journalist who would become the father of her two younger children, Harriet, born in 1930, and Roderick, born in 1932.
Dora Russell's life during 1928 and 1929 was complicated. Most of the time she was at Beacon Hill School, but she made frequent trips to London for meetings about the upcoming World League for Sexual Reform Congress. She may still have been having an ongoing relationship with Roy Randall, and then of course there was Griffin Barry, with whom she travelled during the summer of 1929 to the Soviet Union. Russell knew all about this, and suffered jealousy, but he wasn't "supposed" to, so he repressed it. In October 1929, with Russell again in America, and with Dora making frequent visits to London and having sex with Griffin, she became pregnant. The pregnancy turned out to be too much for Bertrand to tolerate, and of course he had the power in the relationship. Dora was blind enough and foolhardy enough not to realize this.
There are several accounts of the collapse of the Russell marriage. (57) Dora Russell's daughters have both written about it, as have Russell's biographers, and Dora and Bertrand each gave their own accounts in their respective autobiographies. Dora commented that" many of the difficulties that later arose between Bertie and myself were the common fate of all thinking men and women in that period of women's emancipation ... the solution ... is still sought ..." (58) Bertrand says he was "blinded by theory." (59)
And then there is the correspondence between the Russells, which reveals a disquieting level of self-deception on both sides. In 1929 their marriage was clearly falling apart yet each tries to minimize to the other any attachment to anyone else, and for the most part, both repress any anger, perhaps because they both wanted* to believe that in a relationship between two intellectuals, anger and jealousy could have no place. After all, each had stated that this was the case.
Then came Dora's pregnancy. Dora's initial response was to let Bertrand know that although she wanted another child (and wished it could be his child) she would have an abortion, if that were his wish. He tells her she should have the child, and he will assume responsibility for it as its legal father. (60) But for the first time, the wounds begin to show. In the middle of a sleepless night, Bertrand composed this letter:
My Darling: I have begun to know what I feel about your being pregnant .... I do not feel the slightest anger.... At the same time it increases the feeling that you do not belong to me; I feel aloof, though friendly. It causes a diminution of love...." (61)
Dora was deeply upset when she received this, and she shot off an answer, which contains this telling statement: "Do you grudge me everything? Am I no more than your chattel?" (62)
In spite of the clear danger signals that Bertrand was about to revert to type and abandon her along with her unconventional convictions, Dora put doubts aside and acted as if the arrangement in which Bertrand assumed the legal responsibility of fatherhood would work out. As her daughter Harriet--who was, of course, the baby in question--comments: "With Bertie's agreement to accept her baby into the family, Dora thought her marriage was safe and her pregnancy could go ahead without worry. In their circle such arrangements were not unheard of--secure marriages which accommodated outside affairs, even including children...." (63) In deed, Dora felt confident enough to invite Peter (Patricia) Spence, who would become Bertrand Russell's third wife, to visit for a fortnight at Christmas in 1930 "to help with John and Kate and a few others that remain...." (64) At about the same time, in correspondence with her old Cambridge friend Maria Winska, she writes with no further explanation that "my husband and family are well." Was she clinging to the facade of a happy and successful marriage even with this old friend who was herself living a frankly raffish, bohemian life in Mexico? Or perhaps she did indeed believe that her unorthodox arrangement with Bertrand and with Griffin Barry was in fact a success. (65)
Later she would remember things differently, stating that she knew her marriage was over just after Harriet's birth, in July 1930, when she arrived at Telegraph House (the Russell home, as well as the home of Beacon Hill School) with the new baby and its father: "I had not been in the house more than a few hours before Bertie administered the shock of telling me that he had now transferred his affections to Peter Spence...." (66)
She may have been wrong about the timing. However there is no question that the marriage was over when Roderick was born in 1932. What ensued was an unusually bitter divorce which left Dora bereft and with a strong and specifically feminist sense of having been cheated. As she wrote bitterly to Griffin Barry: "... Bertie and you ... cheated me & then turned me over to the mercy of your patriarchal instincts & the patriarchal law ... to have the gentlemanly Bertie, protected by his title & money & the law & separation deed, nobly let his erring wife divorce him...." (67)
Writing to her friend and comrade, the psychoanalyst Jack Flugel, in July 1935, she says: "My Decree was absolute this morning. But like all feminine victories under the Patriarchy ... [it was]a hollow one.... "Angrily, she explains that the court denied her "continuous care of my two elder children." (68)
There are many unanswered questions about the last years of the Russell marriage. First, there are the pregnancies. As her daughter Harriet says, referring to the conception and birth of her brother Roderick: "Two Looks Like Carelessness." (69) Though we cannot know for sure, it seems this ardent advocate of contraception did not use it herself very often. Certainly she never used it with Bertrand, and it does not appear that she used it with Griffin Barry either. (70) Why not? I would suggest that she avoided contraception because of her passionate support for what she defined as free, feminist motherhood. She wanted four children, and had said so publicly in 1926: "[M]y personal decision is for four children, of whom I already have two and hope I may have the others." (71) It was her advocacy of the mother's primary rights in relationship to her children that made it so difficult for her when she was denied full custody of John and Kate.
After her divorce, Dora's life changed radically. Many years later she would say: "... I was no longer the wife of a distinguished aristocrat, secure, active in social and political life. I might be still ahead of my time but I was not on top of the world." (72) For the rest of her life, she would refer to the breakdown of her first marriage as a "tragedy" and it is clear that she believed--correctly--that Russell had abandoned and betrayed her and the values she had assumed they both espoused. In addition to her experience of emotional abandonment, she was also much poorer. While she did have some money from Russell and she also had some Black family money, she was a woman on her own, faced with the challenges of constructing a new personal, professional, and material life for herself.
Dora Russell did have other relationships with men. Most notably, there was Griffin Barry, the American journalist who was the father of Harriet and Roderick. In her book A Man of Small Importance: My Father Griffin Barry, Harriet Ward provides a wry, perceptive portrait of Barry. Griffin Barry was feckless, impulsive, and irresponsible, it appears, and he drank too much, but he had plenty of charm and plenty of talent. Why did Dora never marry him, nor even take him seriously as a possible partner or even as a father to Harriet and Roderick? Why did she treat him casually and sometimes cruelly? Griffin himself realized that in part he was the victim of a reversal of roles. Russell treated Dora casually because he had the power to do so. Dora treated Griffin in a similar fashion because in their relationship she had the power.
My relation to you, alas, is at present not unlike yours to [Russell] in some ways. He must be polite to you, lower caste, for the children you have given him; you must be polite to me, still lower caste, for the children I've been a father to. That's the English caste view; not confined to the island, but nowhere so unconscious and powerful.... (73)
Then there is the curious story of Paul Gillard, whose role in Dora's life cannot be ignored because of the prominent place she gives it. Gillard was a young man from Plymouth whom she did know briefly, but who died suddenly in 1933 at the age of twenty-nine from what was probably an accidental fall in which he sustained a fatal blow to the head. There was an inquest. Dora believed his fight-wing political enemies had murdered him. Writing her autobiography in the 1970s, some forty years after these events had transpired, Dora creates Gillard as a forgotten genius and as the lost love of her life.
I am recording what I know, not only for the great love I had for him, but also because the unsolved enigma of his death should not be forgotten, nor the remarkable being that he was ... To this day I remain angry and amazed that no one had perceived the promise of his personality ... However he died, he was the victim of those many and varied brutal forces of repression, to challenge which was then the central purpose of both our lives. (74)
Russell family members and Russell scholars alike have been dismissive of Dora's claims about this love affair, and also dismissive of Gillard himself. Harriet Ward says,
I have never been able to believe in Dora's fantasy figure, Paul Gillard, the man she always claimed was the true love of her life. Only Dora's romantic nature and her habit of self-delusion can explain her girlish notion that this unlikely suitor, had he lived, could have brought her lifelong happiness. (75)
Harriet Ward believes this infatuation arose as a result of her mother's anger and confusion over her divorce from Russell and her disappointment with Barry. She speculates that her mother sustained the fantasy over many years "as a lifelong excuse for her failure to find a worthy replacement for Bertie." (76)
Ray Monk, in his account, claims that Gillard was a homosexual who was more attracted to the bisexual Griffin Barry than he ever was to Dora. Griffin Barry and Dora Russell met Gillard together, when they were in London awaiting the birth of Harriet. They found the waiting "tedious," Monk says disdainfully, and could not resist going out to "a pub in Bloomsbury fashionable among the Bohemian and left-wing elite." (77) There they met Gillard.
Russell scholar Nicholas Griffin's assessment is similar. Griffin, who says that Bertrand Russell thought Gillard was "sinister and repulsive," maintains that Gillard "was addicted to fantasizing that his life was more distinguished and exciting than it was." (78)
This negative assessment of Dora's claims about the romance and about Paul Gillard himself may be correct: he remains a shadowy figure. But it is the case that the judgement of Dora's family and friends concerning Gillard, and of the scholars that followed, bespeaks the influence of prejudice based on class and status. Dora's next and final heterosexual relationship was with Pat Grace, who became her second husband. Dora met Pat in 1934, after a meeting in Conway Hall, where she had been speaking for the Rationalist Press Association. He approached her, saying that he had been a friend of Paul Gillard. Pat, Dora says, "was a man of middling height, very shabbily dressed, with dirty plimsolls on his feet. His face was very pale, almost yellow ... I saw at a glance that this was someone in trouble." (79) Pat came to live with Dora at Beacon Hill School, where he worked as her secretary but also soon became her lover. No one connected to Dora had a good thing to say about him. Dora's brother Fred, for example, undertook an investigation of Pat in Plymouth and wrote her a starchy, old-fashioned letter warning her against him: "Gordon Grace, known to you as Pat ... I will be perfectly frank--he is known to have lived with a prostitute and "lived on her earnings;" "... he is an "unfit companion for children." Fred warns Dora that if Bertie were to find out about him, he could keep her from seeing John and Kate. (80)
Harriet Ward depicts Pat's "true nature" as that of a "boozy Irishman most at home in the pub ... a born spiv ... a millstone round her neck" (81) But Harriet frankly admits that she disliked Pat because Dora had chosen him over her father. When she inadvertently came upon their marriage certificate, Harriet was outraged: "To make that man her husband!--a favour never granted to my father...." (82)
Dora did not agree. She writes of "the ardent spirit of this new comrade-at-arms" and was dazed and devastated when he died in 1949. They had, by then, been married and living in London for several years. (83)
Pat Grace was decades younger than Dora. He was passionate about politics, and very far to the left and, moreover, he was not a working-class man who had pursued higher education and crossed class boundaries. He would not have made it to sociologist Willard Waller's A list and he certainly did not "speak perfect Balliol."
My guess is that this was a relationship that functioned well for Dora. The two of them sustained it, after all, for some fifteen years, and it ended only with Pat's death. Moreover it was not a long-distance relationship. Pat was present(all too present according to some) at Beacon Hill School. After the school closed in 1943 the couple moved to London where Dora had a civil service job. Again, as was the case with Gillard, the hostility to Pat displayed by Dora's family and friends may have been based at least in part on Pat's perceived "low" origins and demeanour.
This relationship with Pat Grace is the most significant example of a more general shift in the way in which Dora Russell conducted her personal and social life after her divorce. Poorer by far than she had been as Bertrand Russell's wife, she did not struggle to keep up "appearances" and maintain class boundaries, as so many people in her situation did. (George Orwell's family provides a good counter-example). Instead, to some considerable extent she crossed these boundaries.
By family of origin Dora was upper middle class, as I have already noted, and with her marriage to Bertrand she became upper class. Like virtually everyone at this social level, the Russells employed domestic servants, as did the Blacks. But by the late 1930s, Dora's few servants were her companions. Lilian and Walter Howell were first hired as domestic help at Beacon Hill School. By the mid 1930s, Lil had become school Matron. To Dora's extended family, she was "Our Lil," and to Dora herself, she was a friend. After the school closed, when Dora and Pat and the younger children moved to London, the Howells and Dora and Pat formed a foursome. Perhaps her down-to-earth relationship with Pat was a relief after the difficulties of dealing with the powerful and arrogant Bertrand.
What about friendships with other women, a feature in the lives of feminist women that would become central during the "second wave" of feminism in the 1970s and 1980s? When she was a student at Cambridge Dora did make close friendships with other young women, most notably with Dorothy Wrinch and Maria Winska. But after her marriage to Russell, and even after her divorce, she does not appear to have had any intimate women friends. Nor did she write at any length about the value of such friendships. Although friendships between women did not assume the importance they were to have for later feminists, interwar feminists did on occasion recognize and celebrate women's friendships, as for example Vera Brittain did in Testament of Friendship. (84) But Dora Black Russell did not think about friendships with other women as central to her feminism. A comment she made in a letter to, Frieda Laski, a comrade in the fight for birth control, suggests instead that she believed friendship to be an inconsequential diversion: "I have always deeply appreciated your friendship, though we are both too busy on 'Good Works' ever to have much leisure for companionship." (85)
When she was old, however, she enjoyed a new kind of connection with younger women. Born in 1894, she was old enough to have been a suffragist before the Representation of the People Act of 1918, and she was still politically active when the "second wave" began. Indeed Dora Russell's old age was in many ways a triumph. Her first volume of autobiography, The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love (1975) struck a chord with several influential British women's liberationists who read it, and Dora came to know and be admired by some notable members of this new generation who were thrilled by her life story and recognized that this interwar activist had foreseen many of their own concerns. (86)
She had, for example, an extended correspondence with author and editor Dale Spender, who in one of her many letters to Dora wrote: "I feel you have made a real difference in my life ... I have never thanked you properly for being you and existing as a model in many ways for me." (87)
Although she was a "model" to Spender and others because of her own achievements, Dora knew that she would be remembered first and foremost as Bertrand Russell's second wife. But as she angrily pointed out to Carmen Callil of the feminist Virago Press, when they were about to publish a paperback version of The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love, too much was made of her relationship with Russell, and not enough of her own achievements. Most of the reviews of the first edition, she says, "breathed male chauvinism in every line; were obsessed with Russell ... ignored almost totally the politics [in the book]... and most of all, did not notice the challenge to the patriarchal system." (88)
The publicity that Virago prepared for their new edition attempted to rectify the distortions, but even Virago could not refrain from highlighting her marriage to Bertrand:
This impassioned autobiography constitutes a fascinating view of a courageous and original woman and of the dramatic events through which she lived. Second wife to Bertrand Russell, mother of two of his children, and one of the first women to stand for Parliament, Dora Russell worked with such notable figures as Wells, Shaw, Strachey, Marie Stopes, the Laskis, for some of the great causes of our century--progressive education, women's rights, sexual reform, birth control, Pacifism. (89)
In terms of years, her involvement with Bertrand Russell was in fact a small part of her long life. Yet being Russell's second wife engulfed her, not only during the marriage, but also after it ended and, indeed, since her death. For all of her achievements as educator, sex reformer, and peace activist, she is best known because of this marriage. Moreover not only did the marriage end in divorce, it was largely a failure as a modernist experiment, and on the most personal and intimate level the break up and the aftermath of the marriage brought painful chaos to the children, the most vulnerable people involved. That, rather than her divorce from Russell, is the real tragedy of her life.
Dora Russell makes a brief appearance in Warren Beatty's film Reds (1981) where she is one of Beatty's unidentified "witnesses." She's there with her contemporary Rebecca West, who has no compunction about upstaging her. The two old women reminisce about the Left in their impeccably cultured voices. Russell appears on screen alone for a brief moment, singing the Internationale, slightly out of tune, but with great gusto. (90) This, I suggest, is a good way to remember her. As she wrote to a young Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp activist, in 1983: "My love to you for all your efforts, we can only keep on trying." (91) That is what she did, valiantly.
(1) I am grateful to Dorothy O. Helly and Toby Gelfand for their careful reading of drafts of this paper. I also thank June Purvis and Stephen Brooke for their help and encouragement. My grateful thanks to archivists Mieke IJzermans and others at the International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, and Dr. Carl Spadoni, Sheila Turcon and others at the Bertrand Russell Archive at McMaster University. I thank the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. A Research Grant from the SSRCC helped to fund research for this paper.
(2) Dora Russell, The Tamarisk Tree: My Quest for Liberty and Love (New York, 1975), p. 149. [Hereinafter cited as Tamarisk], I. Battersea is now part of the London Borough of Wandsworth. In 1921 the Registry Office was in Battersea Town Hall, in Lavender Hill, an impressive Victorian building which is now a theatre: Information provided by email, March 2009, to the author by Felix Lancashire, Heritage Assistant, Wandsworth Heritage Service, firstname.lastname@example.org.
(3) Tamarisk, I, p. 149.
(4) Jessie Bernard, The Future of Marriage (New Haven, 1982), p. 130. First published in 1972.
(5) Lesley Hall has published extensively in the area of sex, sex reform and medical history in the early twentieth century. Particularly pertinent to the subject of my paper is her "Feminist Reconfigurations of Heterosexuality in the 1920's," in Lucy Bland and Laura Doan (eds.), Sexology in Culture: Labelling Bodies and Desires (Chicago, 1998), pp. 134-49. See Marcus Collins, Modern Love." Personal Relationships in Twentieth-Century Britain (Newark, New Jersey, 2003). See Kate Fisher, Birth Control, Sex and Marriage in Britain 1918-1960 (Oxford, 2006). One source all these historians use is Mass Observation, a self-consciously modernist project dating from the 1930s. Paradoxically, Fisher, for example, finds confirmation of the continuation of traditional patterns of male dominance and female passivity in her Mass Observation sources. For Mass Observation see for example, http://www.massobs.org.uk/.
(6) Katie Roiphe, Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 (New York, 2007), p. 7.
(7) Roiphe, p. 5.
(8) Brittain quoted in Deborah Gorham, Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life (Oxford, 1996), p. 197.
(9) John R. Gillis, For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (New York and Oxford, 1985), p. 299: "'you were generally having a baby if you went to the Register Office.'" He quotes a source who says: "'[The Bride] wasn't supposed to wear white.[a pregnant bride, that is] No, no one would ever--wear white in their right mind if they were going to have a child.'"
(10) Ellen Wilkinson, Clash (London, 1989), p. 95. Clash was first published in 1929.
(11) On Jennie Lee, see Lee herself, for example, Jennie Lee, My Life With Nye (London, 1980). See also Patricia Hollis, Jennie Lee: A Life (Oxford: OUP, 1997): Jennie's mother ran the house. And there were servants. "Ma cared for Jennie, but she cooked for Nye" says Hollis, p. 203. "Jennie's suppression of her own career was the more remarkable precisely because as a woman in politics she had always laid claim to a 'male' life...it was a feminism of a sort...but unlike other women MPs she was never a sister, never identified with women's issues, for they were irrelevant to her battle with capitalism." Hollis, p. viii.
(12) Collins, p. 37. Collins suggests at various points that the Russell marriage, at least in theory, fits this pattern: they supported co-education, p. 44; trial marriage, p. 45, and "comradeship" in marriage, p. 45.
(13) On Sutton High School see Stephanie Spencer, "Advice and Ambition in a Girls'Public Day School: the case of Sutton High School, 1884-1924," Women "s History Review, 9 (2000), pp. 75-94.
(14) Diary in Dora Russell Archive, International Institute for Social "History, Amsterdam, here inafter cited as DRA. Box 1. "Feliciter, Fortiter, Fideliter" (Happily, Bravely, and Faithfully) is still Sutton High School's motto.
(15) For a discussion of the influence of Ann Veronica on "bohemians" see Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 (New York, 2002), pp. 35-36.
(16) Tamarisk I, p. 44.
(17) On the Apostles see for example W.C. Lubenow, The Cambridge Apostles 1820-1914: Liberalism, Imagination, and Friendship in British Intellectual and Professional Life (Cambridge, 1998).
(18) Tamarisk I, p. 42.
(19) Tamarisk, I, p. 47.
(20) Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (Toronto, 1989).
(21) Eksteins, p. xiv.
(22) On women and the British Museum Reading Room see Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight (Chicago, 1992), p. 69 and passim. Lady Readers date from the early 1880s.
(23) Tamarisk, I, p. 62.
(24) On aesthetics and the avant-garde, see for example, Judith Collins, The Omega Workshops (Chicago, 1984) and Frances Spalding, Vanessa Bell (London, 1983).
(25) Tamarisk, I, pp. 62-63.
(26) For Dora Russell's account see Tamarisk, I, pp. 52-53. For Russell's account: Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Volume II, 1914-1944 (Toronto, 1968), p. 96.
(27) Dora Black to Bertrand Russell, 28 July 1919 in the Bertrand Russell Archives, McMaster University, [hereinafter cited as BRA. 710.103765.]
(28) Tamarisk, I, p. 148. Rachel Brooks, an American woman Dora knew from China, wrote to her on February 28, 1922 to congratulate her on John's birth and to offer qualified congratulations on her marriage: "... There are two girls here in Nanking who are so disappointed in you for doing it. For myself, I do not know ... but I think it is the hardest path that the world offers not to, and I admired you very much. Also you helped me to see how wonderful a thing freedom is." DRA, 29.
(29) His daughter Katharine has written: "He was a true hero in his public life..." Katharine Tait, My Father Bertrand Russell (New York, 1975), p. 48. And see Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921-1970 (New York, 2000).
(30) Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography Vol II, pp. 96 and 150.
(31) Tamarisk, 1, p. 104.
(32) Claire Langhamer, "Love and Courtship in Mid-Twentieth-Century England," The Historical Journal 50,1(2007), pp. 173-196, p.174.
(33) Willard Waller, "The Rating and Dating Complex, American Sociological Review, 2, 5 (Oct., 1937), pp. 727-734. See pp. 727 and 730.
(34) Harriet Ward, A Man of Small Importance: My Father Griffin Barry (Debenham, Suffolk, 2003), p. 109.
(35) Dora Russell, Hypatia, or Woman and Knowledge (New York 1925), p. 16.
(36) Hypatia, p. 25.
(37) Ibid., p. 41.
(38) The El Sol articles are available in the original English in DRA 195. This one is headed "Masculine and Feminine."
(39) See Deborah Gorham, "Dora and Bertrand Russell and Beacon Hill School," Russell." the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies, n.s. 25 (summer 2005): pp. 39-76.
(40) There is extensive material on the WBCG in DRA. Secondary sources, some of which mention Dora Russell, include Stephen Brooke, "The Body and Socialism: Dora Russell in the 1920s," Past and Present, no. 189 (Nov 2005), pp147-77; Jean Gaffin, "Women and Cooperation," in Lucy Middleton, (ed.), Women in the Labour Movement (London, 1977). See also Jane Lewis, The Politics of Motherhood (London, 1980); June Hannam and Karen Hunt, Socialist Women: Britain, 1880's to 1920s. (London, 2002); Pamela M. Graves, Labour Women: Women in British Working-Class Polities 19181939 (Cambridge, 1994); Helmut Gruber & Pamela Graves (eds.), Women and Socialism: Socialism and Women: Europe Between the Two Worm Wars (Providence, Rhode Island, 1998); Harold Smith "Sex vs. Class: British Feminists and the Labour Movement, 1919-1929," Historian, 47 (1984) pp. 1937, provides an excellent summary and analysis specifically focussing on birth control.
(41) Dora Russell, "The Need for Birth Control," The Socialist Review, September 1924, p. 57.
(42) This letter, which is in BRA, 28 April 1924, is cited by Stephen Brooke, "The Body...," p. 160.
(43) On Hirschfeld in English (most Hirschfeld scholarship is in German) see Charlotte Wolff, Magnus Hirschfeld: a portrait of a pioneer in sexology (London, 1986).
(44) See Vera Maynall to Dora Russell, June 29th, , DRA, 412, K-Z." For a related interpretation see Ivan Crozier, "'All the World's a Stage': Dora Russell, Norman Haire and the 1929 London World League for Sexual Reform Congress, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 12 (January 2003), pp. 16-37.
(45) Tamarisk, I, p. 210. For DR and the WLSR, I have used the extensive records in DRA.
(46) For the congress see: Norman Haire, ed., Sexual Reform Congress, London 8.--14: IX." 192 WL.S.R.: World League for Sexual Reform, Proceedings of the Third Congress (London, 1930), On the number see "The Long Campaign" in The Dora Russell Reader, with foreword by Dale Spender (London, 1983), p. 187.
(47) Sheila Jeffreys, The Spinster and her Enemies (London, 1985), p. 159.
(48) Lesley A. Hall, "Feminist Reconfigurations of Heterosexuality in the 1920s," in Lucy Bland and Laura Doan, (eds.), Sexology in Culture, p. 136.
(49) See for example, June Hannam and Karen Hunt; Pamela M. Graves; Harold Smith.
(50) Woolf from her Introductory Letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies, (ed.), Life as we have Known It, By Cooperative Working Women (New York, 1975, first published in 1931), pp. xxv-xxvi. Quotations, p. xxv-xxvi and p. xxviii.
(51) "Aristocracy still Ruling in England", Current History, July 1930, cited by Michael Newman, Harold Laski: A Political Biography (London, 1993), pp. 134-35.
(52) Tamarisk I, p. 152.
(53) For this correspondence with John L. Hodgson see DRA 418, 1921-1931.
(54) Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals (New York, 1963, first published in 1929), p. 86.
(55) Bertrand Russell to Dora Russell, 20 October 1927, from New York. In Nicholas Griffin, The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970 (London, 2001), p. 268.
(56) For example, there is his flirtation with Barry Fox (Stephens), an American woman who would send her child to Beacon Hill. See BRA RA3 439. BX Rec.0052723-25.
(57) See for example, Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness 1921-1970 (New York: The Free Press, 2000), pp. 135-164; Katharine Tait, My Father Bertrand Russell (New York. 1975), pp. 100 and following.; Ward, A Man ... especially Chapters 6 and 7.
(58) Tamarisk I, p. 222.
(59) Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography Vol II, pp. 192-93.
(60) See Griffin, pp. 287-91.
(61) Bertrand Russell to Dora Russell. In Griffin, pp. 289-90.
(62) Dora Russell to Bertrand Russell, December 4, 1929, BRA.
(63) Ward, A Man, p. 71.
(64) Dora Russell to Peter Spence, 25 November 1930, DRA, 16.
(65) Dora Russell to Maria Winska, 13 November 1930, DRA, 16.
(66) Tamarisk, I, p. 226.
(67) Quoted in Ward, A Man, p. 156. Because Dora took the part of the "innocent" party, suing Russell for divorce, she had to be very careful to lead an "irreproachable" life.
(68) Dora Russell to Jack Flugel, July 1, 1935, DRA, 410.
(69) Ward's title for Chapter 6 of A Man.
(70) See Ward, A Man, chapters 5 and 6. And Tamarisk I, p. 78.
(71) Dora Russell in G.K.'s Weekly, 27 February 1926, Durrant's clipping, DRA, 432.
(72) Dora Russell to Carmen Callil of Virago Press: April 25, 1978, DRA, 217.
(73) Griffin Barry to Dora Russell, quoted in Ward, A Man, p 109.
(74) Tamarisk, I, p. 281
(75) Ward, A Man, p. 142.
(76) Ibid., p. 144.
(77) Monk, p. 117.
(78) Griffin, pp. 295-96.
(79) Tamarisk, I, p. 286
(80) DRA file 25, Fred Black to Dora Russell: 15/5/36. Ray Monk claims that John Russell quite liked him, but offers no evidence. Monk, p.175.
(81) Ward, A Man, p. 216.
(83) Dora Russell, The Tamarisk Tree, Vol.3 Challenge to the Cold War (London, 1985), pp. 85-86.
(84) Brittain wrote Testament of Friendship as a tribute to Winifred Holtby. See my Vera Brittain, A Feminist Life and also my article, "'The friendships of women': Friendship, feminism and achievement in Vera Brittain's life and work in the interwar decades" Journal of Women's History, 3 (Winter, 1992), pp 44-69.
(85) Dora Russell to Frieda Laski, 10 September 1930[?] DRA, Box 15.
(86) These include Dale Spender, Sheila Rowbotham, Carmen Callil and other editors at the feminist publishing house Virago. See correspondence and other files in DRA.
(87) Spender to Russell, 5 November 1982, 213, DRA. Spender now maintains a website: http://dalespender.com.au/
(88) Dora Russell to Carmen Callil, 21 October 1976. DRA, 217, 1976-1978.
(89) Carmen Callil to Dora Russell, November 10, 1976, DRA 217.
(90) See DRA 491.
(91) Correspondence between Sarah Meyer (to Dora, 26 April 1983) and Dora Russell (to Sarah Mayer, 26 April 1983), in DRA 365.
Deborah Gorham is a Distinguished Research Professor at Carleton University. She the author of Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life (1996), and numerous other publications in British and Canadian women's and gender history.