The “small work” of compassion: philanthropic sources in the Special Collections

Next Wednesday (20 April) we’re hosting the next in our series of “Explore the Collections” afternoons: a display of philanthropic sources followed by a talk by Professor David Brown.

Educational Home for Young Ladies, Harrage Hall

Educational Home for Young Ladies, Harrage Hall

As one of Professor Brown’s specialisms is the history of social reform and philanthropy in nineteenth century Britain, he’s the perfect person to talk in more depth about these matters. Professor Brown is currently working on a project to publish the diaries of the great Victorian social reformer and philanthropist, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury which are held in the University’s archives.

Shaftesbury made the following diary entry on 7 April:

Engaged more than ever: small works compared with the political and financial movements of the day – a lodging house, a ragged school, a Vagrant Bill, a thieves refuge! No wonder that people think me as small as my work; and yet I would not change it. [SHA/PD]

Charitable giving runs as a thread through many of our collections. In fact, the University itself owes its very existence to a bequest of money in a will made over 150 years ago. The Hartley Institution, founded in 1862, is the legacy of Henry Robinson Hartley, the son of a Southampton wine merchant. Several of the major printed collections housed in the Hartley Library – the Cope Collection and Perkins Agricultural Library, for example – are thanks to philanthropic bequests by the collectors.

Known internationally for our Jewish collections, these records provide a particularly rich resource for the study of compassion and benevolence. In Judaism tzedakah – the Hebrew word for acts of charity: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes – has a special significance. Derived from a root word meaning righteousness, justice or fairness, tzedakah is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is the performance of a duty, an act of justice and righteousness. We hold papers or organisations such as Jewish Care (an amalgamation of the Jewish Board of Guardians, Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children and the Jewish Blind Society) and Norwood (formerly the Jews’ Hospital and Jews’ Orphan Asylum) as well as individuals including Gladys Montague, Baroness Swaythling and Mrs George Joseph.


Letter books of the Jewish Board of Guardians, now part of the Jewish Care collection [MS 173]

A look at philanthropic collections can shine a light on the underrepresented role of women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two particular individuals spring to mind: Mary Mee (d. 1805), second wife of the second Viscount Palmerston who lived at Broadlands House. She did much to help the poor of Romsey including setting up soup kitchen and a school of industry.  The archives holds records of the school plus Mary’s charity account books.

Around one hundred years later, Mary’s great-great-great-granddaughter also gave much of her life to public service and the common good. While perhaps more famous as a socialite and for her scandalous love life, Louis Mountbatten’s wife Edwina, Lady Mountbatten actually devoted much of her time, energy and intelligence to the service of others. During the Second World War Joint War she proved a brilliant administrator for the Red Cross and the Order of St John. In the later 1940s she worked for the United Council of Relief and Welfare, co-ordinating all the major voluntary organisations, who struggled to help the peoples of the Indian subcontinent who suffered indescribably following the partition of India and Pakistan.  There are many files in the Archives which document Edwina’s service including an extensive photographic collection.

Edwina Mountbatten in Singapore

Edwina Mountbatten in Singapore [MB3/89]

Why not take a look at our Facebook page where each week we’re posting images from our philanthropic collections.  This is just a taster of the many fascinating manuscripts and rare books we’ll have out on display in our Reading Room so if you’ve not already done so please book your place for what promises to be a really enjoyable and interesting event.


One response to “The “small work” of compassion: philanthropic sources in the Special Collections

  1. Pingback: 2016: Year in review | University of Southampton Special Collections

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