The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 25th


Today’s birthday girl is Olive Schreiner, 24th March 1855 – 1920

South African author and prolific letter writer. Olive was a feminist, socialist, pacifist, vegetarian, rational dress advocate, anti-vivisectionist would-be doctor and thinker, you name it she had a position on it. She corresponded with everyone, from Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis to Emily Hobhouse and her best friend Elizabeth (Betty) Molteno and her partner Alice Greene.

All Betty has been to me I can’t tell you. Her beautiful wonderful individuality is such a joy to me. It seems almost all that is keeping up my faith in Humanity now. What a wonderful soul it is.

It is so beautiful that I am able to love you both so that my love for one never seems interrupted by my love for the other, and I know you both love me.

I have a fondness for Olive – I’ve read two of her novels, The Story of an African Farm, and From Man to Man and enjoyed them.

If you want to know more you can do no better than to read her books and play in the shallows of the online archive of her letters, where without much effort I found this:
Olive Schreiner to Isaline Philpot, 17 March 1889, NLSA Cape Town, Special Collections, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription

I wish I was large and strong and could put my arms round all the tired lonely women in the world and help them. The work of my life is to try and teach women to love one another. If we would leave off quarrelling with men and just love and hold each other’s hands an would come right. Oh, I love the two women in my book so I am getting to love women more and more. I love men too, so very much only they don’t need me.

Olive Schreiner to Margaret (Maggie) Harkness, January 1891, National Archives Depot, Pretoria, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription (this is part of a long letter politely telling Maggie to leave her alone, but I enjoy her picture of a true friend – I’m guessing she means Betty)

The woman I love best in the world, & who I think loves me better than anyone else has written to me ten times or more on political & social questions since I came out here: I have written her two post cards. yet if tomorrow I wrote “I need you” she would leave her husband & home & come to me, & if she simply hinted that she needed me, I should be in England in three weeks. I know that my name is so sacred to her that she never dis-cusses me with anyone, & I never mention her & it would be over my body that anyone should touch her; but I don’t feel I want to write to her, it is she who must give me food for thought in her large interesting life in the centre of political & social thought & action, & I would much rather she was doing her great work in England than hanging round in Africa where she could not be of so much use.

All quotes from letters © Olive Schreiner Letters Project.

So while I don’t think Olive was exactly one of us, she was certainly a fellow traveller, and she gets an invitation to the party, no question.

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Author: Cherry Potts

Cherry Potts is a published fiction writer, publisher, event organiser, photographer, cardmaker, NLP master practitioner, life coach and trainer. She is an enthusiastic singer. Through Arachne Press she publishes fiction and non fiction and runs spoken word events and cross-arts workshops for writers at interesting venues. Always interested in new opportunites to perform, write or explore writing.

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