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Mirabile Dictu: The Bryn Mawr College Library Newsletter

Fall 2009 Issue 13

The Beatrice Danford Diaries, 1885-1933
Sarah Sheplock ’10

Over the last several years the library has been acquiring both manuscript and printed diaries of British and American women in order to provide original sources for students working in women’s history. This summer we acquired an especially interesting set of diaries kept by Beatrice Danford, a well-to-do British woman who spent time in Cairo and Khartoum right after the turn of the century, lived in northern France near the front lines during World War I, and had a minor literary career as a translator of a novel from Hungarian, a language she learned as the daughter of a British diplomat.

Danford was born in 1873, and for her twelfth birthday, she received a diary. She filled it with daily commentary on the activities of her family, teachers, and neighbors. She also included sketches, wrote stories, and made notes on studying Hungarian. The next diaries we hold cover the period 1902 through 1906, when Danford was nearing thirty years old. She lived with her parents at Reighton Hall in England, where her main activities were gardening and bicycling. In 1902 she traveled to Egypt and Sudan with a family friend. In her diary she gives an account of the upper-class British military life there. She gardened, went sight-seeing, and visited with friends, including having tea with a young Winston Churchill (“of course he is a young man who thinks he knows all there is to be known & a little more”) .

The next set of diaries covers 1914 through 1918, the years of World War I. Danford offers a first-hand account of the war from Condette, France, where her family lived at the time. Despite being so near the war zone that she could hear the guns and watch bomb raids light up the night sky, she and her father were determined to stay in France and returned to England only for brief periods. Throughout the war, Danford worked in various ways to support the war effort, including teaching French to British troops, helping Belgian refugees, and cooking for the officers. After 1918 there is another gap in the diaries until 1928 when she wrote very sparingly of the “great change” in her life, caused by the death of her father. She was in a state of personal upheaval, and traveled back to Egypt to live for a time. In 1930 she returned to Europe and settled in a house with her brother in St. Boswells, Scotland. The last diary was written in 1933 and describes being settled down in her Scottish life and spending her time gardening, calling on friends, and riding her old bicycle.


Friends of the Library Undergraduate Intern Sarah Sheplock ’10 working at the book scanner in Special Collections.

Friends of the Library Graduate Intern Jamie Richardson and Graduate Assistant Angelique Wille, students in the History of Art, examine The Temple of Flora, one of the books in the “Darwin’s Ancestors” exhibition.