Strachey, Pippa and Ray Strachey

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Strachey, Pippa and Ray Strachey

British suffragists.

Strachey, Pippa (1872–1968). Name variations: Philippa Strachey. Born Philippa Strachey in 1872; died in 1968; fifth child and third daughter of Sir Richard Strachey (1817–1908) and Lady Jane Maria (Grant) Strachey (1840–1928); sister of Elinor Strachey (1860–1944), Dorothy Strachey (1865–1960, a writer who married Simon Bussy), Oliver Strachey (1874–1960), Marjorie Strachey (1882–1964), Joan Pernel Strachey (1876–1951), and Lytton Strachey (1880–1932); aunt of Julia Strachey (1901–1978, a writer, daughter of Oliver Strachey and Ruby Meyer Strachey); sister-in-law of Ray Strachey; never married.

Strachey, Ray (1887–1940). Name variations: Rachel Mary Costelloe; Rachel Strachey. Born Rachel Mary Costelloe on June 4, 1887; died following an operation in July 1940; daughter of Frank Costelloe and Mary Pearsall (Smith) Costelloe, also known as Mary Berenson (1864–1944); sister of Karin Costelloe Stephen (1889–1953, one of the first British psychoanalysts, who married Adrien Stephen, brother of Virginia Woolf); niece of Alys Russell (1866–1951); sister-in-law of Pippa Strachey; educated at a convent school, Lambeth boarding school, Kensington High School, Newnham College, and Bryn Mawr College; became second wife of Oliver Strachey (1874–1960), on May 31, 1911; children: Barbara Strachey (b. 1912); Christopher Strachey (1916–1975); stepchildren: Julia Strachey (1901–1978, a writer).

Though 15 years apart in age, sisters-in-law Pippa and Ray Strachey formed a common bond in the pursuit of opportunities for British women during the early part of the 20th century. Their efforts within two of the major organizations for the advancement of women—the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and the Women's Service Bureau (later the London Society for Women's Service)—contributed to the winning of the right to vote for British women over the age of 30, in addition to labor gains. While Pippa worked largely behind the scenes in the suffrage movement, Ray played a more prominent role while chronicling the movement in her writings.

Pippa was born in 1872, the daughter of Sir Richard Strachey and Lady Jane Strachey (a disciple of John Stuart Mill). The large, wealthy English family also included her older sisters Elinor Strachey and Dorothy Strachey , who wrote Olivia, younger sisters Marjorie Strachey and Joan Pernel Strachey , an educator who became principal of Newnham College, and their famous brother Lytton Strachey, a member of the cultured Bloomsbury group of writers and artists in which Virginia Woolf was prominent. Pippa's mother was a passionate feminist who influenced her young daughter to join her in the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Pippa's contribution to the union as secretary was pivotal but low-key as she worked mainly in the background to organize demonstrations.

Like Pippa, Ray Strachey also credited a female family member with her early development as an activist for women's rights. Born Rachel Mary Costelloe in 1887, Ray was raised mostly by her maternal grandmother Hannah Whitall Smith , after her mother Mary Pearsall Smith Costelloe abandoned the family and her father Frank Costelloe died in 1899. (Ray's mother married Bernard Berenson in 1900 and would be more commonly known as Mary Berenson .) A Philadelphian Quaker, Hannah Smith had been a temperance worker and suffragist in the United States prior to moving to London.

Ray met the Stracheys in 1909 while still in school, and her friendship with Pippa and Lady Jane Strachey fueled her own activism. Ray's attachment to the Strachey family was permanently fixed with her marriage to Pippa's brother Oliver in 1911. (Oliver previously had been married to Ruby Meyer Strachey and had a daughter Julia Strachey .) Although the marriage disintegrated over the years due to differences in temperament, the couple stayed together. The relationship between Ray and Pippa was more successful, despite the disparity in their backgrounds and demeanor. They enjoyed each other's company and shared an indifference to personal dress or comfort, writes Brian Harrison—Pippa would allow her stockings to fall in rolls around her ankles while the casually dressed Ray once went out to dinner wearing her dress inside out and backwards. Possessing an unerring political sense, Pippa could perceive the endless repercussions of an action. "Pippa therefore became the long-term strategist behind the scenes while Ray's vigorous, extrovert personality made her the executive arm," Harrison continues. "Whereas Ray was quick, positive, and rather impersonal, Pippa's decisions were wary and often painfully slow."

Pippa and Ray spent much time together and collaborated on feminist causes, particularly

as they related to labor issues. Through the Women's Service Bureau, the pair worked for the interests of working women by pressing for the inclusion of women in job fields which previously were the exclusive domain of men. Pippa acted as secretary to the Women's Service Bureau when it became the London Society for Women's Service following the end of World War I, and devoted the rest of her life to the organization. Under her direction, the Women's Service Library came into being as a repository for documents on the women's suffrage movement. She also saw the founding of a club for the society, the Women's Service House, which was later renamed the Fawcett Society in honor of suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett . Pippa's service merited her the honor of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1951. She did not retire from her post until she was into her 90s.

Ray took a more high-profile position both in the NUWSS and the Women's Service Bureau. She demanded that the War Office grant women war workers equal pay and suitable working conditions. Along with Pippa and Fawcett, Ray negotiated for the passage of the 1918 suffrage bill that granted the vote to women over 30. She also stood unsuccessfully for a seat in Parliament that same year, and again in 1922 and 1923, at which time she ended her hopes of becoming a politician. However, Ray brought her political influence to bear as the parliamentary secretary for Nancy Astor , who had recently won election, by preparing briefs for Astor throughout her career.

In 1935, Ray assumed control of the Women's Employment Federation, a natural progression from her early days with the Women's Service Bureau. Ever the advocate for working women, she drew attention to the limitations imposed by society on women who were unfairly burdened with family concerns, and in 1937 published Career Openings for Women. Two years later, she worked to eradicate unemployment among professional women. Her vital work was cut short by her death in 1940, following surgery for a fibroid tumor. Her legacy, however, continued through her writings, which included biographies of American feminist and temperance worker Frances Willard (1912), her grandmother (1914), and Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1931). In addition to editing the suffrage paper The Common Cause (later renamed the Women's Leader), Ray wrote her most famous work, The Cause. Published in 1928, it was a germinal work on the history of the British women's movement, and served as the only source of information on it until the 1970s. Pippa continued working on behalf of women for nearly 30 more years, dying at age 96 in 1968.


Banks, Olive. The Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists, Vol. 1. NY: New York University Press, 1985.

Harrison, Brian. Prudent Revolutionaries: Portraits of British Feminists between the Wars. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

suggested reading:

Strachey, Barbara. Remarkable Relations: The Story of the Pearsall Smith Women. NY: Universe, 1982.

Barbara Koch , freelance writer, Farmington Hills, Michigan