Mrs Mary Augusta Ward’s novel “The History Of David Grieve”, published in 1892, was written during her stay at Upper House in the late 1880s. Set in the mid 19th century, it charts the lives of Hayfield farming families and their Christian values, a theme prominent in Mrs Ward’s works. It succeeded her bestselling book “Robert Elsmere” and established her as the bestselling author in both Britain and the US at the turn of the century.
Mary Ward (1851-1920) was born in Tasmania into a highly connected family of Victorian intellectuals, poets and philosophers that included Matthew and Thomas Arnold, Aldous, Thomas and Julian Huxley. Her social circle reads like a literary and political Who’s Who. She used her husband’s name, Humphrey Ward, to write, but was a highly successful and hugely intellectually active person with her own distinguished literary, journalistic, educationalist, fundraising, theological and philanthropical career. She founded two education centres for women that are still operating; the first of the two Oxford colleges for women, Somerville Hall, and The Mary Ward Centre in Tavistock Place, London.
At these colleges she instigated the first play centres for children and from this she championed the first childcare in Britain. She also undertook the first childcare for handicapped children in the UK, who until then were largely left neglected at home in working families. She directly influenced a clause in the 1902 Education Bill appertaining to childcare provision within Local Authorities, added a clause for physically handicapped children in the Education Act of 1917 and in 1919 urged that German children be included into the work of the Save The Children’s Fund.
Ironically, to the modern mind, she was also one of the first founders of The Anti Suffrage League and opposed womens’ participation in national politics, saying that war and economy were mens problems that should be left to men. However she agreed with voting at a local level and became one of the first seven English women magistrates. After her direct experience in the Great War, as the first female journalist to visit the trenches, she perhaps altered her stance, but this was probably too late to win her popularity with other literary figures in the 20th Century and her considerable fame and success were quickly forgotten.
She espoused a unique spirituality which went against the mores of the day, and was greatly influenced by philosopher Thomas Hill Green (1836-1882). She believed that Jesus was a prophet but not in the literal interpretation of miracles, she stood apart from both the supernatural and science and had faith in a universal Divine consciousness. She used many of her 30 novels to express her beliefs and ideas in an indirect way, and indirect feminine influence was a theme she often referred to. Her memoirs recall that places she visited, such as Upper House, set the stage for the influential people of late Victorian Britain to really exchange ideas, and ultimately influence each other.