120 years! ~ The Society of Women Writers and Journalists
Female writers have no problems these days in seeing their work published in books, newspapers and magazines. This was definitely not so at the end of the 19th century. Women who, like today, have an urge to express themselves on the page, were shunned by Fleet Street, and were often forced to use a male synonym in order to be published – and, more importantly, paid!
Things changed in the 1890s when the Society of Women Journalists hit Fleet Street. But it took a man, Mr Joseph Snell Wood, a wealthy, clever director of the successful Gentlewoman Magazine to invest in this radical organisation. Advertised in The Times of 1 May 1894, almost overnight, 200 women writers flocked to pay their one guinea to become members and Mr Wood set about finding premises where the ladies could meet. Their first president was Mrs Pearl Craigie (1867-1906) writing as John Oliver Hobbes), an Anglo-American playwright and the Society flourished with some of the world’s most revered novelists, journalists, dramatists, poets and women of literature seeing their work published – at long last – under their own name.
In the archives, we find luminaries such as Marie Stopes, Radclyffe Hall, Rebecca West, Vera Brittain (and later her daughter Shirley Williams), Joyce Grenfell, Lady Elizabeth Longford, Nina Bawden and latterly Jacqueline Wilson, Martina Cole, Lady Sandra Howard and the wonderful Victoria Wood among hundreds of notable women who have made such a difference to journalism and literature over the 120 years’ existence of the Society.
We published a regular newsletter and magazine to which the cream of the world’s literati contributed. Such names as Daphne du Maurier, Rumer Godden, Sir Compton Mackenzie, Spike Milligan and so many more.
We have come a long way from those heady days of the naughty nineties. Our members have reported from the South African Boer War (Lady Sarah Wilson); the Great War; Suffrage debacles; many of our members were first on the scene when the BBC began broadcasting in 1922; our journalists reported during the Depression years of the ‘30s and of course, many served during World War II. With bombs falling, our council continued to meet in Stationers’ Hall in the City, just as we do these days, in our office just off the Minories.
In 1951 we changed our name to The Society of Women Writers and Journalists and in 2004, some men joined us as Male Associates. We now have a dozen excellent male writers.
This year we are celebrating our 120th year. We intend marking the occasion on Tuesday, 14 October. At 11.30am we will meet at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, for a special service. This will be followed by our birthday lunch at the ancient Stationers’ Hall at 1.30pm. Our distinguished President, Shirley Williams (Baroness Williams of Crosby) will be present, alongside Libby Purves, Simon Brett and our speaker, Ann Widdecombe and many of our patrons, vice-presidents and, of course, our members who will help us enjoy this special time in history.
For more details and application form to attend the day: www.swwj.co.uk