Places: Resident in Sandgate in the early 1870s. Visit to Ramsgate in 1894. Lived in Tunbridge Wells 1898-1920
Sarah Grand (Frances Elizabeth Bellenden Clarke), feminist campaigner and proponent of sex education for girls, lived in Tunbridge Wells from 1898-1920. Here she became President of the local branches of the National Council of Women and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and was involved with the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Force during WW1.
Sarah Grand (Frances Clarke) was born in County Down, Ireland in 1854. Like other intelligent women of her generation, she was denied an education comparable to her brothers’, a theme that influences her depiction of variously ignorant and self-taught female characters in her major fiction. She made a disastrous early marriage in 1871 to a much older man, surgeon David Chambers McFall. Somewhat fatefully, their first home was in Sandgate: there was a lock hospital in nearby Shorncliffe, where the Contagious Diseases Act had come into force in 1868.
By 1888 the marriage had broken down, the catalyst for Grand’s move to London and the beginning of her literary career. McFall’s presence pervades the 1890s trilogy Ideala (1888), The Heavenly Twins (1893) and The Beth Book (1897). A vocal opponent of the Contagious Diseases Acts, Grand transparently draws on her husband’s work at the notorious lock hospitals as well as his support of vivisection, in her portrayal of Dan McClure, the man Beth is coerced into marrying as a young woman. As Beth Sutton-Ramspeck bluntly puts it, ‘her novels portray some of the most unpleasant households in literary history’.1 One of the most controversial novels of its time, The Heavenly Twins was published in 1893 by William Heinemann after being turned down by Chapman and Hall’s reader George Meredith; it includes an emotive treatment of syphilitic death, attributed to the prevalent belief that young women should remain ‘innocent’ of sexual issues before marriage. Grand is also widely credited with coining the term ‘the New Woman’ in 1894. During this year she was suffering from nervous exhaustion and recuperated in Ramsgate on the orders of her doctor.1
But like Beth McClure, Sarah Grand later transferred her energies from writing to campaigning – her Boots ‘Books I Would Like to Read’ list includes precisely three entries. In 1898 she moved to Tunbridge Wells, (historically one of the more successful spa towns before it was displaced by the rise of the seaside resorts) where she became President of the local branches of the National Council of Women and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
Like Gertrude Warden (another author with Kent connections), she was also a member of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. As a speaker, Grand was certainly in demand, although it is hard to know what to make of the Ramsgate Congregational Institute’s invitation to deliver a lecture on ‘Mere Man’ in 1903. The schedule for the previous few months includes all manner of entertainments, from Alfred Capper’s thought reading to a lantern lecture and costume recitals.
Grand was on visiting terms with Siegfried Sassoon and his mother, and in 1915 she also appears in connection with a proposed Women’s Volunteer Reserve Movement. Seconding a vote of thanks, Grand confessed that she had come to the meeting with a ‘neutral’ mind, but having heard the arguments – including the benefits of healthy exercise and the fear that without an organised body, over enthusiastic women ‘should be going about ready to shoot at any moment’ – she thought the movement ‘admirable’.
Grand moved to Bath in 1920, serving as Lady Mayoress from 1922 to 1929. She died in Wiltshire in 1943.
Hill, Berkeley. ‘Statistical Results of the Contagious Diseases Act.’ Journal of the Statistical Society of London. 33:4. December f1870. 463-485.
Kersley, Gillian. Darling Madame : Sarah Grand and Devoted Friend. London: Virago, 1983.
‘Low-Heeled Shoes And No Cosmetics’. [Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, 13 March 1915]. Press Cuttings: Women’s Volunteer Reserve. Supplementary Material. SUPP. 38/22. Microfilm Reel #95. Imperial War Museum . Gale Document NumberGALE|SC5108181054.
Mangum, Teresa. Married, Middlebrow and Militant: Sarah Grand and the New Woman Novel. Michigan: University of Michigan, 1998.
Orlando. ‘Sarah Grand’. https://orlando.cambridge.org/index.php/people/98e3f429-aaa4-4010-b51b-e390bab56a09.
‘Ramsgate Congregational Institute, Broad Street. Session 1902-03.’ Thanet Advertiser. 18 October 1902. 4.
Sutton-Ramspeck, Beth. Raising the Dust: The Literary Housekeeping of Mary Ward, Sarah Grand, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2004.
Sarah Grand Archive. International Centre for Victorian Women Writers, Canterbury Christ Church University.