Somerville College

Manuscripts and archives from Somerville College, Oxford.

Somerville was founded in 1879 as a women’s college. As women did not have access to the University’s library facilities until 1920, Somerville built and maintained its own collection and from its earliest days received important additions from supporters. These include the library of John Stuart Mill; the papers of Mary Somerville; the watercolours, books and antiquities collection of Victorian writer and traveller Amelia Edwards; the letters of Vernon Lee; photographs and watercolours of Far Eastern traveller Emily Kemp; photographs and letters of Vera Brittain and papers of her daughter Baroness Williams of Crosby.

One particularly rich collection is the Percy Withers collection which comprises the letters, photographs and visitors books of a country doctor who numbered amongst his friends, Paul Nash, A E Housman, Max Beerbohm, Walter de la Mare, Alice Meynell, Robert Bridges and John Masefield. Withers’ autograph book which he called The Paradise of Dainty Devices contains handwritten poems and sketches from a number of his illustrious friends and will soon be included in the digital collection.

Also digitized is an early graphic novel written by traveller and writer Amelia Edwards. Written by the 16 year old Edwards, it foreshadows her own life. In middle age Edwards also decides to see the world and sets off on an adventure which would change the course of her life and indeed the course of the study of ancient Egypt. On returning from a momentous trip up the Nile, she set up the Egypt Exploration Fund which was instrumental in professionalising and regularising the excavation of Egyptian burial sites in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.