Born February 1887, Battle Creek, Michigan; died 16 January 1966, Birmingham, England
Wrote under: Lella Secor Florence, Lella Faye Secor
Daughter of William and Loretta Sowle Secor; married Philip S. Florence, 1917; children: two sons
The youngest of seven children of her mother's two marriages, Lella Secor grew up in a fatherless household. The family was poor. As a child, Secor helped in her mother's boarding house, and after high school, she found work at the Battle Creek Journal.
About 1910, Secor followed her brother to Coulee, Washington, homesteading a claim next to his. She later ceded her claim to him when she resumed her newspaper work. In 1915, Secor represented the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Henry Ford's "Peace Ship" to Europe and returned to New York a committed pacifist.
Secor was cofounder of two organizations devoted to keeping the U.S. out of World War I—the American Neutral Conference Committee and the Emergency Peace Federation—for which she wrote impassioned advertisements, articles, and tracts. She describes this period in "The Ford Peace Ship and After," in Julian Bell's We Did Not Fight: 1914-18 Experiences of War Resisters (1935), a collection of articles by outstanding British pacificists such as Bertrand Russell, David Garnett, and Roger Angell. Secor's article is also printed in The History of the Woman's Peace Party, edited by Marie Louise Degan (1939).
In Lella Secor: A Diary in Letters, 1915-1922 (1978), edited by her daughter-in-law, Secor's letters to her mother and sisters show a woman indomitable in her quest for independence. Telling of her attempts to enlist all America's antiwar resources under one aegis, Secor's letters blaze with zeal. In 1917 Secor married British economist Philip Sargant Florence; two sons were born. The later letters describe her new life as wife and mother. Resolutely cheerful in tone, they nevertheless reveal weariness and discouragement at her loss of personal freedom.
In 1921 Secor's husband secured a lectureship at Cambridge University, and the family moved to England, where the ready availability of servants freed Secor to take up an activist role. Birth Control on Trial (1930) discusses Secor's work at the Cambridge Clinic, of which she was a founder. In 1929 her husband accepted a chair in economics at Birmingham University; there Secor worked to promote world disarmament, Labour politics, women's rights, slum clearance, and family planning.
In 1949, on a trip to Egypt, Secor and her husband were cut off by the outbreak of World War II; they escaped to America, and spent a year in Washington, D.C., before returning to England. Secor describes their adventures in My Goodness! My Passport! (1942). Back in England, Secor worked at the American embassy, promoting greater understanding of America by the British. During this period, she also gave radio talks on the BBC and wrote articles for British periodicals and two books. Only an Ocean Between (1943) and Our Private Lives (1944) are designed for mass consumption, and it is easy to see why Secor's chatty style helped make them popular in England during the war.
After the war, Secor channeled her energies into the Birmingham Family Planning Association, serving for 10 years as its chairperson. Progress Report on Birth Control (1956) is based on research into the case histories of the clinic's patients.
Secor's chapter on the Peace Ship in We Did Not Fight is perhaps her most outstanding piece of writing, evoking as it does a stirring and little known episode in American history. The account in My Goodness! My Passport! of her flight from Egypt, while exceptionally wide-eyed, is still an exciting yarn by a woman possessed of both curiosity and nerve. In contrast to her subjective writing, Secor's two volumes on birth control show considerable restraint. Undertaken in a spirit of scientific inquiry, they nevertheless attest, in the vivid prose of their case histories, to Secor's own belief in the necessity of family planning.
Although Secor was to spend more than half her life in England, she remained a particularly American writer. Her straightforward prose and gift for affecting anecdote reveal her origins as an American journalist and propagandist.
Booklist (15 Sept. 1978). CSM (Sept. 1978). New Directions for Women (Autumn 1978). SR (22 July 1978). LAT (17 Oct. 1978).
—BARBARA MOENCH FLORENCE