Friday 22 July 2016

5. Mrs. Fagan's Politics

[This post by Martin Smith]

We start this fifth episode of the life and chess of Louisa Matilda Fagan by going back to May 1913 (and episode 3 once again) and that Hastings Congress dinner. The Mayor of Hastings rose to reply to a toast to his good self and was moved to observe, with mock irony, that:
"[he] had an idea that Mrs Fagan had strong opinions....the proceedings of some ladies were causing anxiety and if Mrs Fagan could use any influence he would feel greatly indebted to her. The worst of the ladies was - it was not confined to chess players - one never knew what their next move was going to be." (Hastings and St. Leonard's Observer 17 May).
Laughter ensued, said the report.
Had strong opinions.
Louisa Matilda Fagan published in 1898; 

but perhaps taken earlier? 
So just what were the "strong opinions", and so contrary, too, that were provoking such disquiet? What would the ladies play next? The British Chess Magazine of October 1897 may help us on the way to some answers...

...because it gave a thumbnail biographical sketch of each of the contestants in the International Ladies Tournament, based - I would say - on information sourced from the subjects themselves, each providing an invaluable insight, here and there decorated by purple passages of the BCM's own confection.

This is what it had to say about Mrs Fagan:      
"Mrs Fagan is well known outside chess circles, for she is an active worker in the cause of women's emancipation, and is a prominent worker of the Women's Emancipation Union. She is a woman of broad sympathies and profound convictions, and every movement for the best progress of the race meets with support at her hands. She is hon. lecture secretary of the Somerville Club, and is a member of the Fabian Society."
As we begin to place these "broad sympathies and profound convictions" within the trajectory of her life, and the progressive movements of the time, we must be careful. From 1887 there was another Mrs Fagan on the block. I'm not suggesting that Joseph George Fagan was ever a bigamist. Well, not quite. He was close, as we shall see next episode. No; it was that his brother, Louis Alexander Fagan (we showed his portrait last time) had married that year, and his wife was publicly, and rather unhelpfully, referred to as Mrs Louis Fagan: just an 'a' short of our subject, and close enough to give your blogger a headache or two, and one case of mistaken identity (and I hope only one). This other Mrs Fagan also had "profound convictions", and a judicial one as a consequence. When this Mrs Louis Fagan was active a few years later than her near namesake, she, too, also enjoyed an eventful political life; perhaps even more so; and we'll come back to Mrs Louis, too, in the next episode.

As suggested last time: it is clear that Louisa and Joseph George went their separate ways after the death of their second daughter in 1883. By this time she had lived through, endured even, 10 or so years as the wife of a Bombay Lancer out there in India, perhaps without the company of "Dottie" (before she died) who may have been sent back to England for her education. Exactly when the marriage fell apart is not precisely clear - or why. Maybe, for Louisa, the further prospect of army life after the death of their daughter had something to do with it; maybe for Joseph it was the further need to father children - but the break-up is likely to have been in the following years up to 1887, say. By the 1891 census Louisa was living in a Ladies Residential Club at 30, Upper Montague Street, Marylebone. 

The Fabian Society was founded in 1884, and Louisa had been a member since 1890. She was emerging from her life with Joseph just as the Fabians were taking their place on the political stage. Here she is, bottom right in the Fabian's membership list in 1890, using her father's address in Manchester Square.    

With thanks to the Fabian Society
The Society had - and still has - socialist objectives, and the Fabian Tract was its weapon of choice in a strategy of tortoise-like gradualism (the thick-skinned slowcoach was their logo). George Bernard Shaw was (and remains) one of its more familiar tractarians (along with other first generation Fabians such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb). However, in spite of gestures towards equality for women - for instance in an 1882 "Manifesto""The sexes should henceforth enjoy equal political rights" - the Fabians "had what might reasonably be called a lukewarm attitude to the Woman's Question", wrote Margaret Cole in The Story of Fabianism (1961 - p167).

The Fabians discussed notions of wider female emancipation and new forms of "womanhood" - most notably in Shaw's "world-famous" (Cole, op cit  p35) essay on the Danish radical dramatist Hendrik Ibsen, published by the Society in 1891. The "New Woman" was a much-debated phenomenon. But other organisations were more energetic in advocating and demanding change. One such was the Women's Emancipation Union, for which Louisa Fagan was, at the time of the BCM article in 1897, a "prominent worker" (i.e an activist, not a paid employee). 

The WEU was formally inaugurated in 1892 (it was to fold in 1899), its programme having been drafted the previous year by its leading light Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy. "Equality in marriage and equality of parental rights" was one of its four "claims for women". Its priorities for parliamentary action were uncompromising:

From a retrospective Elmy/WEU document of 1899
Perhaps it was simply that "amendment of the Law of Divorce" that attracted Louisa to the WEU cause - to which she had "rendered active service" from the outset, as this report, given in 1892, acknowledges: Mrs Fagan appears at the bottom of the clipping:   

From a report given to the WEU inauguration meeting
Birmingham 24 October 1892
Note that near the beginning of the alphabetic list of supporters appears chesser Mr L. Atherley-Jones. M.P., "a small man with reddish hair" (American Chess Magazine v1., 1897-8), and a radical Liberal supportive of working class causes. (In case you were wondering: the WEU admitted men.) He played (and won) in a cable match between the House of Commons and the House of Representatives in 1897 (match drawn 2.5 each) and provides the pretext for this post to include a competitive, if flawed, game: it "abounded in sins of omission and commission" (BCM July 1897). The notes, with a little editing, are essentially those in The Westminster Budget 11 June 1897 p26 (reproduced in Chess History). It is best viewed via Google Chrome.

What might have been especially galling for the House of Representatives is that according to the BCM"at 8.15pm it was announced that Mr Atherley-Jones had inadvertantly exceeded his time allowance. The Americans, however, like true sportsmen refused to take advantage of the lapsus, and allowed ten minutes grace to Mr Jones, who had, however, a lost game; that is on the merits of the position." Jones then swindled a win as shown above, and so the match was drawn...  

Llewellyn Atherley-Jones - who had the temerity to bid for the leadership of the WEU in 1894, and "was firmly rebuffed by...Wolstenholme needed 'no master' " (Wright (2010) p396) - was to take on the ladies at the Ladies Chess Club fifth birthday celebration on January 15th 1900 (score + 8 =1 -1). Mrs Fagan and Dr. and Mrs Ballard were there, too; as would have been Mrs Atherley-Jones, who had presided at the LCC AGM earlier that month (Morning Post 4 Jan 1900) . 

Now that this narrative has, willy-nilly, found itself back at the Ladies Chess Club, in which Louisa Fagan was such a prominent member, it is the moment to delve into the burgeoning world of Victorian women's clubs, of which the LCC was just one - if perhaps a special case. Their "rapid rise" was, according to a piece in the Hull Daily Mail (27 Sep 1892) "one of the most characteristic signs of the times."  Newspaper columnists - gossip and otherwise - found good sport poking fun and sniping at this new manifestation of female self-help and independence.

As the BCM noted in 1897, Louisa Fagan was a member, and officer, of the Somerville Club, which was established in 1878 and "particularly aimed at working middle-class women" (quoting Elizabeth Crawford's blog) - much the same as the Women's Writer's Club sponsored by an early president of Brixton Chess Club. The Somerville was "almost exclusively devoted to discussions and lectures and similar manifestations of 'self-culture' " (Doughan (2006)), and was installed in Oxford Street in 1890; it was adjudged to be: 
"... admirable alike in accommodation, situation, entertainment, and subscription. There are two large sitting rooms, both prettily and artistically furnished. In one of these the members may talk, in the other they may not; and it is a curious fact that...the latter has rarely an occupant...An occasional man is admitted when accompanied by a lady, and those thus privileged have, as a rule, a singularly abashed and subdued look." (The London Correspondent of The Evening Telegraph 10 Oct 1890) 
More helpfully The London Correspondent noted that the club had 700 members, and that on the Committee were Mrs Fenwick Miller (a feminist who controversially insisted on retaining her maiden name after marriage), Miss Adeline Sergeant (a novelist and Fabian), Miss C.A.Foley M.A., (possibly this lady) and - even more helpfully - Mrs Fagan. 

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 16 April 1891 reported that Mrs Fagan was the "Chairman" of an assembly of: 
"a number of ladies belonging to the Somerville Club and several gentlemen at the Dorothy Restaurant to discuss the Jackson Case, the decision in which is still a subject of debate in legal and non-legal circles...Mrs. Fagan was empowered to sign a petition in favour of Dr.Hunter's Bill by which one would be able to obtain divorce on the same grounds as men, while four years' desertion on the part of a husband or wife should constitute sufficient ground for divorce."  
The Jackson Case of 1891 notoriously concerned the assertion of the husband's "conjugal rights" over his spouse, whether this meant enforcing co-habitation or something more intrusive. Again we might speculate about the particular resonance the issue had for Louisa Fagan...and on which side of another "squabble" she would have been. It was reported by The Manchester Courier of 11 June 1892, recycling verbatim some tittle-tattle from the Daily Graphic (7th June "A Peep into a Ladies Club"). The story talked-up a difference of views: on the one hand there was an "extremely strong-minded section...endeavouring to extend the aegis of the club to Hyde Park render it the patron of all 'advanced' feminine cranks' - on the other, "moderation."       

As the BCM of 1897 reported, Mrs Fagan was organiser of the Somerville's lecture programme, and this was the fare in 1895: 
"... an exceptionally interesting lecture list...Mr Richard le Gallienne...on the 'Revolt of the Daughters'...and among the lecturers to follow are Mrs William Archer [?], Dr Richard Garnett, Mr Francis Gribble. [author] etc.,...Mr Osman Edwards will lecture on Bjørnsen and Mrs Theodore Wright will give readings from his plays."  (St. James's Gazette 6 March 1895).  
Thus, a little Googling reveals a strong left-leaning/liberal literary and theatrical strain to the programme, and would suggest that Mrs Fagan was acquainted with such circles via the Somerville - ditto via the Pioneer Club, of which she was also member: she had used its address when writing to the BCM in 1905.

In 1892 and "scarcely two months old" the Pioneer had but a hundred members (Hull Daily Mail  27 Sept 1892), "three hundred in three years", including Eleanor Marx (Zhang (2013)), and six hundred by 1899. It appealed to the same demographic as the Somerville, and "instantly honed its reputation as one of the most radically progressive clubs in England...It was the most politically London's female club scene." (Zhang, op cit).

The Era of 21 October 1893 offered to the"uninitiated" (as the writer put it) this peevish description of the Pioneer:
"[It] is a ladies' club, with avowed object of furthering every movement intended for the advancement and enlightenment of women. The advancement includes, we believe, the possession of votes - political votes - the privilege of sitting in Parliament, and the establishment of a perfect equality with man - proud man - who is to be deprived of his 'little brief authority.' Each 'pioneer' has a number given at the time of her joining, and when in the club is generally called by that number. This is done on the principle of general equality...Each pioneer is provided with a badge, taking the form of an axe. This it may be supposed is used for cutting down man's authority...."
The front cover of Shafts: A Paper for Women and The Working Classes and a supporter of the Pioneer Club, shows the deployment of another weapon against such masculine crabbiness:


Shafts had a regular column on the Pioneer Club, often alongside vigorous pieces by Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy about the campaigns of the WEU. The May 1893 issue advertised the programme of debates and discussions in the Club's summer season. Mrs Fagan features in June:

"Will Socialism benefit women?". Alhough Shaft doesn't give a report of the evening, there can be little doubt about Mrs Fagan's answer.

Men were permitted to attend these debates as guests (but not at "Why should women marry?" on June 22nd): you can see one just visible at the end of the first row in the photo below, and another over on the right four rows back. One may speculate whether, by chance, that is Louisa Fagan 4th along in the front row (see Appendix).
From Elizabeth's Crawford's excellent Blog, with thanks. 
So, to sum up: we have found Louisa immersed in radical currents; and we have come across some highly suggestive indications as to her views on the specific issues of the day: socialism, and the reform of the divorce laws in particular. There is no doubt as to where she placed her sympathies - although unfortunately I have not been able to document her own words concretely in print. Perhaps, though, we can see why the Mayor of Hastings had good reason to acknowledge that she had "strong opinions".

This post started with the  BCM's commentary of August 1897 when it generously applauded Mrs Fagan's commitment to the cause (while delicately stepping around her feminism and socialism), and it's a nice note on which to finish this episode: "She is a woman of broad sympathies and profound convictions, and every movement for the best progress of the race meets with support at her hands."

After this extended exploration of the life of Louisa Fagan, the next, and final, episode of this series will discuss the other Mrs Fagan, that's Mrs Louis Fagan, and the separate life of Joseph George Fagan.

Margaret Cole, (1961) The Story of Fabianism. Heineman, London.
David Doughan and Peter Gordon (2006), Women, Clubs and Associations in Britain. Routledge, London.
Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy/WEU (1899) The Women's Emancipation Union, 1891-99: an epitome of eight year's effort for justice for women  (sourced from LSE Library).
WEU (1894) Report of the WEU presented at Birmingham 24th October 1892  (sourced from LSE Library).
Maureen Wright (2010) The Women's Emancipation Union and Radical-Feminist Politics in Britain, 1891-99 in Gender and History v22 No2, August 2010 pp 382-406.  
Qichen Zhang (2013) The Class Problem in Clubland: A Social History of the Pioneer Club, 1892-1900. From Oxford University.

See also
Elizabeth Crawford (1999) The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928. UCL Press, UK

Earlier Episodes

For all chess history posts in a previous incarnation go to the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog History Index 

Yes, perhaps it is a bit fanciful - but might that be Mrs Fagan inadvertantly snapped at the Pioneer?
Left: Louisa Fagan at the Women's International Tournament in 1897.
Right: a debate at the Pioneer Club. (Undated). 

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