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Harriet Shaw Weaver

John Simkin

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Harriet Shaw Weaver, the sixth of eight children of Frederic Poynton Weaver, a doctor, and his wife, Mary Wright, was born in Frodsham, Cheshire, on 1st September 1876. The family was extremely wealthy as her mother having inherited a fortune from her father, made in the cotton industry. Harriet was educated at home by a governess. As Les Garner, the author of A Brave and Beautiful Spirit (1990) has pointed out: "Her early influences came from her liberal governess, Marion Spooner, and her own, often secretive, reading." This included The Subjection of Women, a book written by John Stuart Mill and Helen Taylor. Her parents refused permission for her to go to university but she continued to read left-wing books and she became a socialist and a supporter of women's suffrage.

Weaver joined the Women Social & Political Union (WSPU) but she resigned after the start of the arson campaign. She continued to be interested in the struggle for the vote and in 1912 she began subscribing to The Freewoman. The journal caused a storm when it advocated free love and encouraged women not to get married. The journal also included articles that suggested communal childcare and co-operative housekeeping. Dora Marsden continued publishing the magazine on her own but the original backer withdrew after it was banned by W. H. Smith for immorality.

In 1913, on the death of her father, Weaver inherited the family fortune. She used some of this money to fund her new magazine, The New Freewoman. In the June 1913 edition Dora Marsden wrote: "The New Freewoman is not for the advancement of Women, but for the empowering of individuals - men and women." Weaver's biographer, Rachel Cottam, has argued: "Over the following years she gave regular donations of money, usually anonymously, and became involved in all the details of its organization and finance, finally taking on the role of editor. Though lacking confidence in her own writing, she contributed a number of reviews (signing herself Josephine Wright) and, as editor, wrote the occasional leader article."


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