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Thursday 4 February 2010

The Woman Writer

I have recently been in contact with Sylvia Kent, a brilliant and enthusiastic journalist who sometimes writes on the Rosaire circus family, hence our connection. However, I was recently fascinated to read about her new book "The Woman Writer: The History of the Society Women Writers and Journalists". At the risk of sounding patronizing, I find the history of women's writing an interesting and inspirational focus of study. I was drawn to the life and works of Mary Wollstonecraft through her daughter, Mary Shelley, and honoured her in my 2009 anniversaries article. Wollstonecraft is often considered to be the prototypical feminist, although I think she was far more than that. She was a philosopher, writer and intellectual working in a field that was more than dominated by males, it was a domain made virtually impossible for women to access in Wollstonecraft's time and for almost a century after her death. We tend to forget that her daughter, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter and so on were the exceptions to the rule of their time. They came from more or less privileged backgrounds and had to have exceptional talent and driving force, not to mention useful contacts, to get their heads above the parapet and their work out there. Widespread literacy is a relatively new thing anyway and it was even rarer with women up until the 20th century. Women authors in the 19th century nearly always adopted male pseudonyms. Whenever I bemoan how hard it is to get a work published or, harder still, to get paid, I am often reminded that my sex has had it relatively easy when it comes to selling the craft!

The Woman Writer
The History of The Society of Women
Writers & Journalists
Author Sylvia Kent
Published 1 December 2009 at £12.99, paperback original ISBN-10 9780752451596
An account of Britain’s oldest writing society dedicated to women’s writing through its 116-year existence
· The first in-depth history of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists.
· Published to commemorate the centenary in 2010 of former president Joyce Grenfell’s birth.
· Sylvia Kent explores the lives of some of the Society’s most famous members. Illustrated with over 100 photographs.
Over a century old and still thriving. The Society of Women Writers & Journalists has just published its history which reads like a “Who’s Who” of notable women from the twentieth Century. Although the SWWJ was created for women, the concept was the brainchild of a man – a clever, enterprising newspaperman – Mr Joseph Snell Wood. Given the small number of women in journalism at the time, almost every practising woman journalist must have applied for membership.
Since its creation on 1 May 1894, the Society has attracted the company of many of the world’s most famous women writers, journalists, poets, playwrights and associated creative people involved in the wider world of literature, film, music, theatre and entertainment. Author, Sylvia Kent, delved deeply into the Society’s archives and has produced fascinating cameos of its famous members: great names of Victorian media and later are included, such as Lady Sarah Wilson who reported from Mafeking on the Boer War, Alice Meynell, who almost became the first female Poet Laureate; American playwright, Pearl Craigie our first president; Agnes Elsie Thorpe, big game hunter; Marie Stopes who campaigned for birth control; Radclyffe Hall whose book on lesbianism was banned in the UK in the 1920s though it was exceedingly popular in the USA; Constance Smedley, founder of International Lyceum Clubs, Clemence Dane actor and playwright. Latterly, the Society welcomed Elizabeth Longford, well known biographer; Nina Bawden, famous for “Carrie’s War”; Jacqueline Wilson recent Children’s Laureate, and our current Life President, Baroness Williams of Crosby.
Information on the early days of many magazines and societies makes fascinating reading. Included are: The Gentlewoman, The Lady, The Stage, Good Housekeeping amongst the periodicals and the BBC, International Lyceum Clubs, the London Press Club, the New Cavendish Club, PEN, the RNA, the Society of Authors, Swanwick Summer School, the Women’s Press Club and the Stationers’ Livery Company all had connections.
Sylvia Kent is a columnist working for Newsquest and a freelance writer. She is Archivist/Press Officer for the SWWJ, vice-president of Brentwood Writers’ Circle and a Patron of the Essex Book Festival 2009/10. This is Sylvia’s seventh book, published whilst supporting other writers, particularly in the field of local history. She is a Trustee at the Cater Museum, Billericay.
Available from all good bookshops, Amazon and The History Press.
Direct sales – telephone 01235 465577 or
For information about talks or interviews, please contact
Kerry Green at The History Press on 01453 732 512 or via

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