Violet Paget’s Cousin:
Alice Abadam, an Active Suffragist
Violet Paget’s cousin, Alice Abadam, was an extremely active worker in the suffragist movement in Britain. The two women were exact contemporaries, both born in 1856. Alice’s father was Edward Abadam, of Middleton Hall, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire. Violet’s mother was Edward’s sister, Matilda. Alice grew up in the family home and maintained close and friendly contact with her extended family until the end of her life whereas Violet, because of her mother’s estrangement from Edward, saw much less of the family.
See Fig. 1
Alice Abadam: the woman behind the suffragist
Alice’s obituary in the Carmarthen Journal describes her as ‘a very interesting, talented and remarkable personality’. She was born in London on 2 January 1856, probably in a town house rented by the family, one of seven children born to Edward and Louisa Abadam. She was the granddaughter of Edward Hamlin Adams. The children were not baptised or registered; Abadam was a passionate anti-cleric and prided himself on being a freethinker; the reason why he used the old Welsh patronym ab to change the family name. The same attitude led to his marriage with Louisa Taylor not taking place until 1841, when their second child, Adah, was on the way.
Abadam was a fluent Italian speaker, a cultured man with a large collection of books in several languages. Middleton Hall, now the site of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, was a Palladian mansion in the forefront of fashion when it was built by its former owner, Sir William Paxton, in 1795. His children’s governesses were required to speak French or German. Alice alluded to her happy childhood in a short article written towards the end of her life but her childhood may well have been marred by her mother’s long illness. Louisa suffered from severe post-natal depression for many years, needing two resident sick nurses for a considerable period.
Louisa’s illness was perhaps the result of giving birth to six children in seven years and was possibly triggered by the birth of Francis, the couple’s second son, in 1846. Nevertheless Edith was born in 1847 and then Alice in 1856.
Louisa outlived her husband by eleven years and seems to have retreated into obscurity. The blanket of silence which surrounded the marriage continued over her married life. They had married by licence at Marlybone parish church (frequently used for clandestine weddings at that time) on 18 November 1841. Her first child had been born in 1840, and the date of the marriage invariably appears in sparse local accounts as 1836, when she would have been only 16.
Edward Abadam died in 1875 but Louisa was living in Brighton by 1861, where the census described her as the head of the family and a landed proprietor’s wife. By 1871 she had returned to Weymouth, Dorset, her birthplace. She described herself as married and a landowner and certainly seems to have been supporting her extended family. In 1861 her sister Ellen Histed, a farmer’s wife, and her little son were staying or living with her and in 1871 her aged mother, unmarried sister and sister Harriet with her husband, a Weymouth seaman, and their three children were all in residence. Louisa and all her extended family were born in Weymouth although her father was described as ‘gentleman’, resident in York, on her marriage certificate. Louisa moved back to Llanarthne, probably after her husband’s death. Whatever the reasons for the estrangement between Edward and Louisa, he made financial provision for her, for she had four servants when she lived at Clearbrook, the dower house, in 1881. She died aged 66 in 1886 and is buried in the family vault in Llanarthne churchyard. In Alice’s account of her memories of Middleton Hall there is no mention of her mother; her father is referred to twice as ‘Mr. Abadam’ but her grandfather and many members of her extended family merit considerable space. Louisa appears to have left when Alice was no more than five or six years old.
Abadam held some unusual views for one of the land-owning class of the time; during the 1835 election campaign he had produced a pamphlet that encouraged tenants to fight for a free vote, pointing out that farms were difficult to let at that time. He continued to believe that the landowners should respect the rights of their tenants. Alice, although very much part of county society, inherited his left wing views as far as women’s rights and social issues were concerned and continued to develop them throughout her long life but in contrast to his fierce anti-clerical views she became a zealous Catholic.
Middleton Hall was a cultured background for the Abadam children. Books were plentiful and there was always music. Alice maintained this interest for most of her life.
The singing and chanting were excellent, reflecting great credit on Miss Alice Abadam of Middleton Hall, for the clever manner in which she conducted the choir and presided at the harmonium. She is, we hear, indefatigable in her exertions in training the parish Church choir.
She took part in concerts arranged by the Gwynnes of Tregib and further afield. At Llansantffraid Court, near Abergavenny, she and Mr. James Morgan of Carmarthen “took the solos in exquisite style” and sang Mozart’s Ave Maria as a duet. A long letter, written in French and dated 1900, from her neighbour at 7 Picton Terrace, Carmarthen, H. C. Tierney, discusses the musical traits of all the Celtic nations. “… I have started to do some research into Welsh music.” He implies that they are both interested in the old music and instruments:
“I well know that it is difficult to find any trace of these methods in popular songs but I flatter myself I can learn … in some hymn tunes which are still commonly used among the Welsh.”
Obviously aware of her knowledge on these matters, he writes: “You are a musician, dear Mademoiselle, I am not.”
Alice converted to Catholicism in 1880. She moved to 26 Picton Terrace in about 1886, when her mother died. In 1888 Fr. Dominic O’Neill, who was considering taking over the Carmarthen Mission, wrote to his Provincial “…and Miss Abadam live(s) in the parish”. As an accomplished musician it was natural that for many years she would be the organist and director of the choir at St. Mary’s church in Union Street. In September 1887 “at the Albert Hall, Swansea, a grand medieval bazaar and fancy fair was got up in aid of a fund for the erection of a new convent.” The stallholders were dressed as historical characters; Miss Abadam and the pupils of St. Winifride’s Convent, Swansea, represented the twelfth century. In 1896 she made a gift of a beautiful and very costly mitre to Dr. Mostyn, the bishop for Wales on his visit to Carmarthen. The following year she was one of the eight lay mourners named as being at the funeral in Dublin of Father Peter Paul Smith, C.P. He had been attached to the missionary staff of the Congregation of the Passion, which had come to Carmarthen in 1889.
Alice was regarded in the parish as “a woman of remarkable intelligence and burning zeal for the conversion of Wales.” She took her faith out into the community; according to her obituary she was “an inspiring visitor to Carmarthen prison”. In her funeral oration Father Ronan praised:
“her zeal was not only parochial, it extended to the whole country. She was very active in tracing and discovering evidences and vestiges of Catholicity throughout the land […] Her main work as a Catholic was to have been instrumental in bringing to Carmarthen and other parts of Wales the Sisters of the Holy Ghost. Knowing the relationship that exists between the two races, Welsh and Breton, she was convinced that their work would find a congenial soil in Wales. That her judgement and vision were right, the work that the Sisters have done and are still doing, affords abundant testimony.”
Helping to establish Les Filles du Saint Esprit, the Daughters of the Holy Spirit or the Sisters of the Holy Ghost, was a notable contribution to the Catholic cause. The White Sisters, as they were popularly known, is a Breton order of nuns, many of whom were displaced during the disturbances of 1902 in Brittany. These resulted from the political struggle between the French state, endeavouring to establish a democratic republic, and the Catholic Church. In 1901 the Law of Associations ordered the closure of all schools staffed by unauthorized religious congregations. The order was met with non-violent opposition or complete indifference in most areas but the military had to be called in to confront armed men and women who resisted efforts to close the 37 schools for girls run by the Sisters.
In 1902 at Concarneau twelve brigades of gendarmerie and three hundred infantrymen were on hand to evict the five nuns from the local school. It is interesting that it was only the schools run by Les Filles that drew resistance. The community had begun in 1706 as a charitable and nursing congregation that gradually established a system of primary schools throughout the Breton peninsula, becoming one of the largest orders in France. It recruited mainly among the daughters of the Breton peasantry so that their fate was of immediate concern. The area was badly served by physicians, so the nuns provided free health care. They had also established a system of nursery schools, particularly in the fishing communities, which were vital to allow mothers to work in this desperately poor area. The government did not provide funds to replace these facilities; it failed to remove them completely, as some continued to teach in their communities.
Alice worked with two other women, Mrs Herbert of Llanover and Dr Alice Johnson, a highly qualified physician and surgeon who was working at the Joint Counties Asylum, in establishing the order in Carmarthen in 1903. Dr Johnson hoped that the sisters would work with the mentally ill. Alice wrote to the superior-general in February 1903 informing her that they could rent a house for five years while Dr Johnson found six pupils for the school by which the Sisters intended to earn their living. Five sisters arrived on 25 March to set up St. Winefride’s Convent; Alice’s urge to set matters in motion quickly being evident here as with the later foundations. By August the visits of the sisters to the workhouse were established but their ability to communicate with the inmates and to teach in the little school was hampered by their inadequate English. There were difficulties as the sisters did not have a teaching qualification and the bishop had forbidden them to take Catholic children attending the local elementary school. An English teacher was appointed but by 1909 there were still only nine pupils. The sisters planned to provide secondary education but few Catholic parents could afford to pay for private education and there were already excellent secondary schools in the town. Alice was active in setting up other foundations. Sister Marie Théodose, who had been sent to Wales to supervise the new convents, wrote to the motherhouse in Brittany: “I am sending Miss Abadam’s letter […] As you’ll see, it is a strong, well-argued case for Aberystwyth. It is difficult to be diplomatic with her, she is so perspicacious, so tenacious.”
In February 1904 Alice let her house and moved to London with Dr. Johnson, who was taking up an appointment there. The two women together bought 97 Central Hill, Upper Norwood. By 1922 they lived at 107 Central Hill. Dr. Johnson’s work necessitated periods away; in the summer of 1922 she was a passenger on the SS China from Yokohama to San Francisco, when her nearest relative/friend was given as Miss Abadam and her address as No.107. In 1926 the two women moved to 28 Hamilton Terrace, St. John’s Wood, where they had separate telephone numbers, no doubt necessary because of the volume of work that both undertook. Alice remained there until 1936 but Dr. Johnson lived in Wimbledon from 1933, ‘by specialist advice for the benefit of the air from the Common’ until her death in 1938. By 1936 Alice had moved to 70 Hamilton Terrace. When war broke out she left for Bryn Myrddin in Abergwili, near Carmarthen, to live with her nephew Ryle Morris and died there on March 31st 1940. Her obituary in the Carmarthen Journal stresses her artistic, musical and literary interests; her true legacy was only hinted at in Herbert Vaughan’s short tribute to her in The Times: “In England Miss Abadam’s name will be chiefly recalled for the prominent part she played in the so-called “Suffragette” campaign.” Obviously unsympathetic to the cause, he fails to make clear that she was never a suffragette in the accepted use of the term.
When Alice’s cousin, Violet Paget, died in 1935 in Florence an appreciation , one of three in The Times, compared the event to the crumbling of the Campanile in Venice. In only one was her birth name mentioned. Her upbringing had been completely different. Matilda Adams, her mother, was the youngest sister of Edward, Alice’s father. Matilda was born in 1815 at 19 Gower Street, London. She was a very strong-minded character in an unconventional family. She is said to have attended a school for young ladies in Bedford Square and appears to have had a ‘season’, despite her father, Edward Hamlin Adams’s, reputed objection. Ten years later, in 1841, she was living at home in Middleton Hall. Her portrait shows her to have been very pretty, long curls framing her face:
“She was a tiny figure, not more than five feet in height; what she lacked in stature being more than made up by the unmistakableness of her presence.”
Copyright Mrs Jacqui Lyne
According to all secondary sources Matilda married a Captain Lee-Hamilton; Violet’s executor, Irene Cooper Willis, calls him “a Mr. Lee-Hamilton”, but gives no further detail, except that she had a son, Eugene, by him. It seems to have been a disastrous marriage for which no date is provided. No record of it has been found but if it occurred it must have taken place between 1841 and 1844. Lee-Hamilton is said to have died in 1852 when their son James Eugene, born in London on the 6th of January 1845, was aged seven. Significantly, when Matilda remarried, she was named on the marriage certificate as “Matilda Adams, daughter of Edward Hamlin Adams and Sophie, his wife, deceased”.
Matilda and Eugene lived in France with her much-loved brother William. The two were very close in age and both were subject to the machinations of their elder brother Edward, who had started a lawsuit against William, claiming that his daughter Pauline was illegitimate . Matilda suffered similar accusations; in a scrapbook into which Edward pasted a variety of newspaper cuttings is an advertisement for a book, Fallacies of the Faculty by ‘Dr. Dickson’. Underneath the cutting Edward wrote “This is the father of Matilda’s son Eugene”. The advert is dated October 1839, but was pasted into the scrapbook in September 1864.
Dr Samuel Dickson, born in Scotland in 1806, held very controversial views on the medicine of the time and was detested by the medical profession. As an army doctor in India during a cholera epidemic he had, in accordance with current practice, bled his patients, most of whom died. By 1836, when his first book was published, he was living in Cheltenham, where his two elder daughters were born. Fallacies followed in 1839, calling for the cessation of bloodletting and full of tirades against the medical profession. He was now living and practising in Hanover Square, where a daughter and a son were born. He died in 1869 and was buried at St. George’s, Hanover Square.
Adah, the second child of Edward and Louisa Abadam and sister of Alice, was the cousin who was closest to Violet, who had been godmother to Adah’s daughter Evodie in 1882. During that visit to the Hughes family she visited Middleton Hall, where Lucy, the eldest daughter, now lived, for Edward had died in 1875. Violet was disappointed in the park but thought the house magnificent. She commented on the pictures, mentioning “a very good one” of her mother Matilda and the miniatures of her grandparents. While she was in England in 1885 Violet wrote to Adah suggesting a visit, who replied that neither would have any pleasure in meeting again because as Vernon Lee she had breached family loyalty when she showed, unconsciously, her own thoughts. Incredibly Violet had named one of her characters Hamlin, making it impossible to miss as the first chapter opened with the words “It was melancholy to admit that Italy also had ceased to interest him, thought Hamlin” . This caused deep offence to the Abadam family. Adah’s brother, the first-born son, was named Edward Hamlin after his grandfather and had died at the age of 22, plunging the family into deep mourning. A room at Middleton Hall became a chapelle ardente, hung with black from floor to ceiling, lit by candles with men watching in turns until the funeral. Violet had the grace to acknowledge the hurt she had caused when she wrote to Matilda: “I am sorry if I hurt Adah’s susceptibilities, and I regret the name of Hamlin, which I had forgotten at that time, was one of her brothers.”
Violet was only ten when Edward died, so it is possible that she had genuinely forgotten; she must have been aware that her grandfather was also named Edward Hamlin and that the whole family revered him. Alice wrote in her account of her life at Middleton Hall of the ceremonies which accompanied her grandfather’s birthday and the Christmas celebrations, when his bust would be surrounded with candles and the children lifted to kiss it. The connections may have been tenuous but Alice is known to have visited William fairly frequently so Matilda and Violet must certainly have been aware of family tradition.
Miss Abadam: the dedicated feminist of independent means
Alice Abadam was very active in the women’s suffrage movement from 1904 onwards. She merits a long entry in Crawford’s work as well as numerous references to her work with the various societies to which she belonged at one time or another. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had been formed in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst. Asquith became Prime Minister in 1908 and his delaying tactics contributed to the WSPU’s policy of direct action and eventually escalating violence. Alice became a member of the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage, which had been founded in 1900, in 1905 and attended a banquet at the Savoy in December to celebrate the release of WSPU prisoners. However dissension within the WSPU reached crisis point in September 1907. The Pankhursts believed that continuing to run the society democratically would be detrimental to the militant operation they desired. At a meeting on the 10th September Mrs Pankhurst announced that in future governing power would be vested in a committee chosen and appointed by her. She also announced that the forthcoming annual conference was to be abandoned, and that there would be no further need for conferences attended by delegates from the provincial branches because they were to become autonomous unions.
As a result the Women’s Freedom League came into being, with the objective of securing “for women the Parliamentary Vote as it is, or may be, granted to men”. Alice Abadam, having left the WSPU, was on its first committee. It was through the League and affiliated societies that she made the greatest impact on the suffrage movement. She was leaving behind the militant wing (the suffragettes) but the League also considered itself to be militant, defining militancy as any protest without violence which involved the risk of imprisonment. It protested in police courts against the trial of women by man-made laws. In 1909 when the WSPU started the hunger strike the WFL undertook “The Great Watch”, a continuous picket of the House of Commons while it was sitting from July to November.
Fig. 4: Miss Abadam: the suffragist
Alice belonged to many other societies, both local and national. The Federated Council of Suffrage Societies was formed in 1912 and by 1916, when she became its chairman, it had 22 affiliated societies. She was president of the Beckenham branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage and later when it became the Norwood and District Women’s Suffrage Society. She was a member of the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, the Women Writers’ Suffrage League and the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society.
The Church League for Women’s Suffrage was formed in 1909 and Alice immediately became one of its speakers. Anglican feminists were struggling to define a place for themselves within a hierarchical church. The society was the largest of the religious leagues with 91 branches and over 500 clergy as members. It never formally condemned suffragette militancy. The Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society was an all-woman society free from the control of the Catholic hierarchy. Founded 1911, it consisted mostly of young, single, well-educated women from the Catholic social and cultural elite; there were no working class members. The Anglican League demanded expanded roles and positions of authority for women while the Catholic society presented women’s suffrage as a matter of “elementary justice” and the “moral principle of true sex equality.”
Traditionally the Catholic Church regarded the “woman’s mission” as being “in the school, in the cottage, in the garret, in the hospital – but mainly at home”. Like many Protestants, they believed that women should not be involved in the “dirt and strife” of politics. Alice believed that charitable work divorced from politics was social ‘tinkering’ and that Catholic women should direct their energies to suffrage work so as to “influence the lives of millions of their unprotected sisters for the good.”
The Society therefore drew a lot of opposition from clerics. A Jesuit priest delivered a series of sermons condemning women’s social and political emancipation as “immoral,” “a blasphemy,” and “anti-racial,” by which he meant that the vote would lead to the decline of the British birth-rate and therefore the weakening of the Anglo-Saxon race. In response to his attacks one CWSS member, Alice Abadam, retaliated with her own series of speeches in which she defended suffrage militancy as “righteous” and berated him as “a politician”.
In Norwich, in August 1912, Alice appealed to the Catholic clergy not to misuse their great influence by promoting “indifference and uninformed opposition” to the suffragist cause. An eloquent platform speaker, she knew better than most the disadvantage the CWSS was at whenever priests spoke ill of the women’s movement. At one time she even argued that women should be allowed into the priesthood. Other CWSS members felt that they should not set the priests against them but rather convince them of the justice of their cause.
Alice founded the Feminist League in 1920. The members-only group had weekly evening meetings, chaired by her, with visiting speakers from organisations such as the Actresses’ Franchise League, the Salvation Army, the Women Engineers Society, the Animal Defence League, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Women’s Election Committee. The League ran a lending library. Her pamphlet “The Feminist Vote, Enfranchised or Emancipated?”, published in 1919, drove home the point that women, as “Constructive Feminists”, should use their vote for women without relying on men’s guidance: “Do you see in its rightful perspective the bad, mad past of dominating men and servile women? […] will you use your vote merely as men have used theirs, […] thereby leaving the world exactly as you find it”?
She was a committee member of the Women Writer’s Suffrage League and acted as a hostess for of one of the tables for a Costume Dinner organized by the League and the Actresses’ Franchise League held at the Hotel Cecil. She willed her carefully organised archive to the League but by the time of her death it had ceased to exist “having died a natural death when she retired from the presidency.”
Alice has been described as
one of the suffragette movement’s most prolific public speakers in early 20th century […] she both reflected upon the culmination of a marathon struggle and euphorically anticipated the dawn of a glowing future. […] She travelled all over the British Isles speaking on women’s suffrage and often addressed two meetings a day. Suffragists’ Campaign Through the North
Suffragists’ Cycle Tour Through the North
She was a great orator and vast audiences, some of 5000, would be charmed and roused by her eloquence. Her words brought laughter and tears, and she had a ready witty tongue for hecklers, and was fearless in defence of the oppressed and in fighting for justice and freedom for women. Suffragists’ Tour Through the North
Votes for Women described her in January 1911 as “that well-known speaker on social subjects”. On that occasion she had been addressing the Actresses’ Franchise League. The next week she was speaking at a meeting of the Women Writer’s Suffrage League. She spoke to the Mansfield NUWSS in April 1909 and again in 1913 – on “How the Vote will affect the White Slave Traffic”. In 1908 she addressed, over the course of a fortnight, a series of women only meetings arranged by the Birmingham Society for Women’s Suffrage on the moral aspects of women’s suffrage and made the closing speech, after Lady Balfour, at a meeting of the NUSS and the Men’s League in Portsmouth. In the spring of 1911:
Shropshire reports two successful meetings in Shrewsbury. On March 7th Miss Abadam addressed a crowded audience of women only, when her eloquent, earnest words made a deep impression, and many of her hearers realized for the first time what was the inner meaning of the Suffrage Movement.
The following month she was supporting the Scottish Federation of the NUWSS. On the 25th of April she spoke at Thurso and on the 27th at Tain, near Inverness, at Wick on the 28th and Dingwall on the 29th. Back in London she spoke at ‘Mrs Bethell’s drawing room meeting’ on May 24. In December she spoke at a dinner at the Hotel Cecil of the Tax Resistance League, which had been formed in 1909 to conduct a campaign of constitutional militancy and organized resistance by women to taxation without representation.
At an important meeting of the Cambridge Woman’s Suffrage Society in May 1909 about 50 leading members of the community appeared on the platform. University men in favour were asked to attend, the Mistresses of Girton and Newnham agreed to be present, the Corn Exchange was booked the previous day to allow it to be suitably decorated. The meeting was planned to take place during the period in which a congress of the International Woman’s Suffrage Alliance was taking place in London, delegates were to be entertained in Cambridge. The meeting was a great success, it was attended by about 2000 people and hundreds had to be turned away. Miss Abadam was one of the speakers.
During her constant travels she spoke on many topics. By 1911 prostitution was one of her main concerns. Some feminists had been campaigning for years on prostitution and the age of consent but it was not until about 1910 that they began to be reported in the suffragette newspapers. Early in 1910 The Vote publicized her speeches on the subject. She argued that one of the main causes of prostitution was the starvation wages which so many women were paid. She related an incident where a manager had justified a reduction in the wages of his women workers with the words “if they complain, simply tell them they can supplement their earnings on the street”. She also claimed that when the House of Lords had debated the Bill to raise the age of consent, one member had warned: “Take care, my Lords, lest in passing this measure you interfere with the advantages of your sons”. She argued that the reason that no government had ever made a real effort to deal with the sexual exploitation and abuse of women was that “they were responsible to a one-sex electorate.” Vaughan’s obituary in the Welshman states that she “frequently lectured on eugenics” but there is no reference to this in any feminist literature. Even in 1916 and 1917, when the militants had ceased their attacks on property, Alice continued to lecture; on “The Evolution of the Women’s Movement” in Knightsbridge and on “The Feminist Outlook” in Caxton Hall.
In November 1911 the Carmarthen branch of the Women’s Suffrage Society was formed. There is no reference in the minutes to Alice having any involvement. Miss Morris of Brynmyrddin, Alice’s niece, was not present at that meeting, although Crawford states that she was one of the founders. At the fourth committee meeting, on December 16th, correspondence from her was read but the contents were not recorded. At the same meeting it was resolved that Alice Abadam be asked to address the next public meeting and to act as President if Lady Hills-Johnes declined. At the next meeting, on 13th January 1912, a letter was read stating her inability to address the meeting and suggesting that the Society should form a Debating Society. The reason for this refusal may well have been an impossibly crowded diary. It is, however, rather strange as she travelled so widely to speak to meetings and had a long-standing connection with Carmarthen. Presumably she was used to addressing meetings of thousands or hundreds of people rather than scores.
Although a successful inaugural meeting was held in late November 1911 when it was reported that the room was crowded long before the appointed hour with large numbers unable to gain admittance, the Society had difficulty in maintaining its early momentum. The approach of the war was one of the reasons why interest fell away. The WSPU campaign continued until July 1914; Mrs Pankhurst ended it immediately in August when war was declared. All imprisoned suffragettes were released and the organisation offered its services to Lloyd George, who badly needed workers to fill the factories he had built to supply the army with munitions. Mrs Pankhurst was far-sighted enough to see that the war could offer women opportunities and Lloyd George was not one to let an advantageous proposal pass by. He offered women work in munitions factories on equal pay, and Mrs Pankhurst put the full weight of the WSPU behind the recruitment campaign. By July 1916 340,844 women were working in national factories.
It is interesting that the society distributed suffrage leaflets in Welsh. How far they were able to reach out is not clear. There were few supporters of the cause and far more letters on disestablishment in the two local papers. One individual wrote very long letters arguing against women moving out of the home as if they did so they would lose the trait of “kindness”. In dealing with education he stated that “the real education of man and woman […] can only to a very limited extent be aided by books”. For this reason he did not want women on committees. A fortnight later he excelled himself by remarking on “the close resemblance of the Suffragette to the cuckoo”. The argument was joined by J. C. Forbes-Robertson, who headed his letter “The fun of physical torture”. Condemning the “filthy practices now going on in our prisons”, he deplored the fact that it was “the source of applause and much merriment of many of the Commons.”
Violet and Alice’s grandmother, Sophia Adams, had died at the Hotel Schneiderff, Florence, on 1 April 1831 and was buried in plot 48 of the Protestant Cemetery, known as the English Cemetery. The alphabetical register, which was compiled in 1877 when the cemetery was closed, lists the burial as
+EMILY SOPHIA (ABADAM) ADAMS/ ENGLAND/ Adams (Abadam)/ Emilia
Sofia/ /Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 1 Aprile/ 1831/ / 47
Edw. Abadam son fils,
Middleton Hall, Llanarthney Camarthenshire, South Wales. 1828-1844:
N° 48 Le trois Avril mil huit trente un,
Adams Emilie Sophie Adams, Anglaise, décédée
à l’hôtel Schneiderff, à Florence, le premier
du même mois, a été ensevelie dans le
Cimetière de l’Eglise évangélique.-
Chs Recordon Pastr
No tombstone survives.
Sophia’s daughter Matilda, Violet’s mother, died in Florence in 1896 and was buried in the Allori cemetery, which was opened when the Swiss-owned English Cemetery was closed. Here also was buried Eugene’s little daughter Margaret Persis in 1904.
Fig. 5: Graves of Matilda Paget and Eugene Lee-Hamilton in the Allori Cemetery, Florence. The tablet in the foreground marks the burial of Violet’s ashes.
Eugene died three years later, in September 1907, and it was in his grave that Violet’s ashes were buried, hopefully with all resentment between them gone. The inscription on the Villa Il Palmerino is her true memorial.
Fig. 6: Memorial to Vernon Lee on her brother’s tomb
Alice died at her beloved nephew Ryle Morris’s home, Bryn Myrddin, Abergwili, on Low Sunday, 31 March 1940. According to the Platea of the Passionist Congregation, she had received the Last Sacrament some days before and “died peacefully […] on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Blessed Lady, to whom she had a great devotion.” Alice probably did not always endear herself to the Catholic hierarchy but in the words of H M Vaughan “ she was buried in the ground given to her by the former rector Father Germaine in recognition of her work for the Roman Catholic Church in Wales and in Carmarthen especially and there she will rest with her friend Dr Alice Johnson.”
The memorial bears no inscription referring to the important work both women did, for the poor, for women and the church.
Fig. 7: Alice Abadam’s grave in St. Mary’s, Carmarthen
Alice Abadam and Violet Paget were in many ways very similar. As with most members of a class with money and leisure both were accomplished amateur painters. A set of competent watercolours of Italian landscapes by Violet can be seen in the winter 2007/08 of The Sibyl. Alice apparently regretted never having trained as an artist and her sketchbooks show her skill. Although her landscapes are not as finished as Violet’s, they contain many excellent architectural studies. She was an excellent musician; Violet’s last work was Music and its Lovers, published three years before her death. Alice might not have boasted the linguistic skills of her cousin, but having had French and German governesses and having visited her brother William’s family in France several times, another cousin thought that her knowledge of French was such that she could be considered to be a native speaker.
Both women were liberal in their politics. Violet used the liberal press to bring her views before the English public. Her attitude towards the suffragette question was one of support for those who were in favour of allowing women the vote, but of reluctance to follow the ¬lead of the militants. “I do not like hooligan suffragettes […] I do like everything for which English Liberalism stands; and I should like to have a vote, or, failing that, to be able to say that I want one.”
Both were confirmed pacifists and watched with dismay the emergence of fascism. Much of Violet’s journalistic activity in the 1930s was concentrated on warning of the activities of the international ring of armament manufacturers and the support for war that was thus engendered and she lost stock in English intellectual circles after her pacifist stance in Satan the Waster. The approach of war in the late 1930s occupied Alice’s attention a great deal.
I see that a Czech Relief Fund is being opened by the News Chronicle, Beauvoir St, EC4 to come to the assistance of those wretched victims by whose misery we are being relieved. I have sent my mite at once for I would not have dared to have benefitted by their misery if I had not tried to help them too – and our benefit will be short lived too for Hitler like the bully he is has been encouraged by Chamberlain’s betrayal of Abyssinia, Spain, China and Czechoslovakia and will soon bully for further concessions.
Her hatred of war is clearly seen in other letters to her nephew Ryle Morris. The Federated Council of Suffrage Societies, of which she was chairman in 1916, did not actively support the war effort.
They were both deeply interested in social matters. Alice had joined the WSPU and signed its joint manifesto with the Independent Labour Party for the 1906 election as an “Independent Socialist” and her interest in politics, education and music was maintained throughout her life. In a letter dated 3 October 1937 to her nephew Ryle Morris she writes “I have just finished Margaret Asquith’s autobiography” and in another she asks him to return two books as “I want to refer to them and also I do good by lending them to rich people who can’t afford to buy them”. On 11 November:
I rarely go to a film or anything of that sort, but the critics are making such a sensation over “Zola” that I think I must go to see it. It’s such a miracle of justice that poor Dreyfus after being condemned to the terrible Devil’s Island should be (by his wife’s appeal to Zola) re-tried and found innocent. It was always obvious that Dreyfus was a victim of political hatred.
She comments frequently on the education of her nephew’s daughter: “I hope she will not be taught to speak any German before she gets on with her French as learning German first destroys all hope of a good French accent.”
Alice was more outgoing, more interested in social life, at least in her younger days; Violet, although part of a wide circle of intellectual acquaintances, seemed to have few close friends. Remarkable for her boldly-expressed views, her distinctively European outlook and her unconventional lifestyle, Violet died convinced that her literary achievements were not fully appreciated, even though she was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters by Durham University in 1924. Regarded as one of the most brilliant and gifted women of her time, she was painfully aware of her isolation and lack of power as a writer. It is well that she could not read her obituary:
If this gifted and learned writer never quite fulfilled her brilliant promise, and if much of her later work is ephemeral and some of it not a little obscure, still the best of her writings should survive among the most interesting of the literature of aesthetic criticism of the last 50 years.
It suited a rising generation of writers to view her as a relic of the literary past; it is only in the last ten years that there has been a resurgence of interest in Vernon Lee. But Alice knew that her work had borne fruit and that millions of women would be grateful to her and her fellow suffragists.
Alice Abadam’s papers were donated in 2006 by Mrs Margaret Vaughan, her great-niece, to The Women’s Library, London Metropolitan University. [Ref 7ALA] As yet they have not been catalogued and are not available for study.
I studied Alice Abadam as part of my MA in Women’s Studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 2003. I included in my dissertation ‘Alice Abadam and inter-war feminism : recovering the history of a forgotten suffragist’ all of the information on Alice’s suffrage activity that you’ve mentioned, and I was very fortunate to have come by the contact details of Alice’s great nieces, Margaret Vaughan and Elaine. I visited both in their respective homes in Porlock and Oxford and they generously gave me access to Alice’s papers. Following the completion of my studies I encouraged Margaret and Elaine to donate Alice Abadam’s papers to the Women’s Library at the London Metropolitan University because I had benefitted so much from having access to their archive of suffrage information, including the newspapers of the times of the suffrage movement.
I found your article fascinating and especially because I’ve gained so learnt so much more about Miss Abadam’s family background, especially Vernon Lee.
Many, many thanks.
thank you very interesting and helpful I am related to caroline adams aunt of alice
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