Hamilton, Cicely (1872–1952)

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Hamilton, Cicely (1872–1952)

English author, playwright, actress, and suffragist. Name variations: Cicely Hammill. Born on June 15, 1872, in Kensington, London, England; died on December 5, 1952, in London, England; daughter of Captain Denzil Hammill and Maude Piers Hammill (Irish); educated at private schools in England and Germany; never married.

Cicely Hammill, who was born in Kensington, London, in 1872, to Maude Piers Hammill and Captain Denzil Hammill, a commander of a Highland regiment, turned to writing and acting to help support the family when their finances declined. She worked for a short time as a teacher in the Midlands but soon took to writing and acting, assuming Hamilton as a stage name.

Hamilton began her writing career with novels and detective mysteries but found her calling when she produced three one-act plays for an all-women performing company, the Pioneer Players. Developing feminist themes, she wrote Just to Get Married and The Cutting of the Knot (later published as the novel A Matter of Money) in 1906. She experienced her first major success with the production of Diana of Dobson's (1908), a comedy with a more serious underlying theme about the inequities of wealth and the exploitation of working women. In 1908, her interest in feminism blossomed when she co-founded, with Bessie Hatton , the Women Writers' Suffrage League, an arm of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. She produced two plays in quick succession, How the Vote was Won (1909) and The Pageant of Great Women (1909). Both plays dealt with the achievements of women. That same year, she produced Marriage as a Trade where she argued that women do not marry so much by choice as by economic requirement. The Child in Flanders (1917), a modern nativity play, and The Old Adam (1925), about the spirit of men in war, both played to critical acclaim.

Throughout World War I, Hamilton lived in France, working as a military hospital administrator and helping to arrange for entertainment for the patients. During this time, her pacifist views took hold. She wrote Senlis (1917), the story of the destruction of a French village and its population by the German army. She followed this with William: An Englishman (1919), an anti-war novel that won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize in 1919. After the war, she continued to promote pacifism, writing Theodore Savage (1922), a story of a society destroyed by scientific warfare.

In the 1920s, Hamilton returned to her feminist views as a journalist and commentator. She also began to expand on her topics, writing a history of the Old Vic in 1926 and writing a series of travel books, beginning with Germany in 1931 and continuing with many European countries throughout the 1930s. Although she continued to write plays and novels, she turned to politics in the 1930s and 1940s, writing her treatise Lament for Democracy in 1940. In 1935, she published her autobiography Life Errant.

Early in life, Hamilton's talents traveled beyond writing to acting. Her best-known performances were in George Bernard Shaw's Fanny's First Play (1911) and J.M. Barrie's The Twelve-Pound Look (1913). She was awarded a civil-list pension in 1938, and died in London on December 5, 1952.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Hamilton, Cicely (1872–1952)

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Hamilton, Cicely (1872–1952)