Dora Winifred Russell Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

Maiden name: Dora Black; born in Thornton Heath, Surrey, England 1894, died in Porthcurno, Cornwall 1986; writer, socialist, feminist; second wife of Bertrand Russell; research fellow at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1915, after obtaining a degree in French and German; travelled to Russia in 1920, became deeply impressed by the Communist regime; accompanied Russell to Japan and China in 1920-1921; contributed to Bertrand Russell's books `The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism' 1920 and `The Problem of China' 1923; together they wrote `The Prospects of Industrial Civilization' 1923; Labour candidate in the general election of 1924; cofounder of the Workers' Birth Control Group; organized the London congress of the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR) in 1929; with Russell she opened their progressive school at Beacon Hill in Sussex in 1927, where their two children John (1921) and Kate (1923) were educated; Dora had two more children Harriet (1930) and Roddy (1932) by the American journalist Griffin Barry; her open marriage with Russell ran into trouble and after their separation in 1932 she ran the school on her own until 1943; stayed with the Independent Labour Party (ILP) after its secession from the Labour Party in 1932; founding member of the Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals (FPSI) in 1932, of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) in 1934, and of the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) in 1936; worked for the Ministry of Information 1943-1950, mainly as science editor of Britanskij Sojuznik; active in many women's organizations, she led the Women's Caravan of Peace across Europe to Moscow and back in 1958; her publications include her autobiography `The Tamarisk Tree' 1975, 1980, 1985, in three volumes.

Dora Winifred Russell-Black was born on 3 April 1894 in Thornton Heath, Surrey, Great Britain. In 1912 she won a scholarship for Girton College, Cambridge, obtaining an honours degree in modern languages in 1915. She studied French and German language and literature and later became a research fellow of Girton College, where she did about five years academic research on eighteenth century French thought, specializing on the influence of science on social and political and philosophical ideas. Originally she wanted to become an actress, but she gradually turned towards politics instead. She became a humanist and a feminist, joining the freethinking Heretics Society and supporting the Suffragette Movement. She also became interested in socialism and pacifism. During the First World War she joined her father, a civil servant, as personal assistant on the official British War Mission to the United States in 1917. Back in 1918 she returned to Cambridge, where she continued her research, also becoming secretary of the Heretics and contributor to the Cambridge Magazine in 1918. In 1916 she met the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell for the first time and after they met again in 1919 they became companions. When Bertrand Russell went with a Labour delegation to Russia in 1920, he refused to take her with him. However she went there on her own, spending several weeks in Moscow and Leningrad, where she became deeply impressed by the Communist regime, although she never became a Marxist. Subsequently she accompanied Bertrand Russell when he travelled to China and Japan as a visiting lecturer. Together they spent a year teaching at the Peking National University. They married in 1921 after returning from China and had two children, John (1921) and Kate (1923), while Dora eventually had two other children by the American journalist Griffin Barry , Harriet (1930) and Roddy (1932). The last child proved to be too much of a strain on their open marriage and led to their divorce in 1935. In the early 1920s Dora Russell worked for some time in the Women's sections of the Labour Party and in 1924 she was nominated as a Labour parliamentary candidate. She lobbied the first labour government to support the official provision of birth control information at health clinics and was cofounder of the Workers' Birth Control Group . At the same time she began writing her own books. Earlier she had contributed to several books of Bertrand Russell and together they wrote 'The Prospects of Industrial Civilization' in 1923. In 1925 her book "Hypatia: or Women and Knowledge" was published, followed by 'The Right to be Happy' two years later. In addition she wrote articles on literary, social, political and feminist topics for El Sol in Madrid, Spain, during 1926-1930. Together they had founded Beacon Hill School in 1927 and after Bertrand Russell had left the school in 1932, Dora Russell managed it by herself until 1943 when she was forced to close it down. Dora Russell did a three months lecture tour of the United States in 1928, revisited the Soviet Union in 1929 and then helped to organize the London congress of the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR) . She wrote 'In Defence of Children' (1932) and did a lot of freelance journalism. She also continued her political activities. When the leftwing Independent Labour Party (ILP) withdrew from the Labour Party in 1932 she stayed with the Independent Labour Party . She was a founding member of the Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals (FPSI) in 1932, of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) in 1934, and of the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) in 1936. The Progressive League later held meetings at her school. When the school closed she obtained a post at the Ministry of Information, working there for almost seven years as editor of their publications in Russia. She was editor of the British Chronicle, a paper for specialists dealing with the arts and sciences, published by the British Government in Moscow, as well as science editor of the British Ally from 1944 to 1950, a British government Russian-language weekly paper which was widely circulated in the Soviet Union, until it was closed due to the 'Cold War'. After 1950 she turned to feminist and pacifist activities. She was active in many women's organizations, including the Six Point Group, the Married Women's Association (MWA) , the National Committee of International Women's Day, the National Assembly of Women (NAW) , the Permanent International Committee of Mothers (PICM) and the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF) . In 1958 she led the Women's Caravan of Peace across Europe to Moscow and back, visiting fourteen European countries, including Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and the USSR. It was mainly supported by the Permanent International Committee of Mothers (PICM) of which Dora Russell was the Chairman, although the Women's Caravan of Peace constisted of women from various peace groups. In the 1970s she resumed some of her earlier activities. She returned to the freethought movement, becoming an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association, speaking at meetings, and contributing to the New Humanist and The Freethinker. She was deeply respected in the revived women's liberation movement, being frequently interviewed by the media. She wrote more books, including a three-volume autobiography 'The Tamarisk Tree' and 'The Religion of the Machine Age', on which she had started many years earlier in the light of her visits to the United States and the Soviet Union, and in which she expressed her lifelong opposition to the mechanistic view of the world and of humanity, anticipating many of the ideas of the ecology movement, in which she was active for the Conservation Society , co-founded by her in 1966. During the 1980s she became active in the revived nuclear disarmament movement, being a strong supporter of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camps, and she took part in peace demonstrations until her death at the end of May 1986 at her home in Porthcurno, Cornwall.

Beacon Hill School: Having children of their own and being dissatisfied with the existing educational methods Dora and Bertrand Russell became increasingly interested in the problems of the education of children. They became convinced that a fundamentally new approach to education, especially primary education was required. With this in view they founded in 1927 Beacon Hill School at Telegraph House, Harting, Petersfield, Sussex, where they educated on progressive principles a small group of young children together with their own children. They hoped their school would lay the foundation for modern education by combining all that was best in available academic knowledge ( 75). Religious education was excluded and science, history and politics were all treated on progressive lines. In addition to classes there were many activities, such as arts and crafts, plays and puppet shows and the care of the children's personal gardens and pets. Discipline was minimal and free expression was encouraged. There was self-government by a council of adults and children, in which everyone had one vote. The children were divided into three groups, called: 'bigs', 'middles' and 'smalls'. Special attention was given to teaching methods, psychological theory and practice, nutrition and health. After Bertrand Russell left the school in 1932, Dora Russell ran the school by herself. In 1934 Bertrand Russell wanted the school to vacate Telegraph House, which belonged to him after the death of his brother. The school was then moved to Boyles Court, South Weald, near Brentwood, Essex, and later in 1937 to Kingwell Hall, near Bath, Somerset, since the outbreak of war was thought likely. In 1940, when invasion threatened, the War Office requisitioned Kingwell Hall. No compensation was forthcoming and the school faced ruin. Dora Russell managed to carry on with a small group at her private home in Porthcurno, Cornwall, near Land's End until 1943, when she was forced to close down. While Bertrand Russell was connected with the school he wrote popular books to keep the school going. After he had left, the school had recurring financial difficulties. Her closest colleague in the later years of the school was Gordon (Pat) Grace , whom she married in 1940. He died in 1949. Along with A.S. Neill 'Summerhill' Beacon Hill School was the best known model reform school before the Second World War.


The papers were purchased by the IISH from Katherine Tait-Russell in 1987; with accruals from Terry Philpot (1992) and Harriet Ward-Barry (2001 and 2008).


The papers of Dora Russell , packed in some sixty boxes, were acquired in 1988. They contained the archives of the Beacon Hill School as well as the Dora Russell papers, with the exception of the letters received from Bertrand Russell .
These were sold by the family to McMasters University, Ontario, Canada, where the archive of Bertrand Russell remains. The papers almost cover Dora Russell's whole life. Only of the Beacon Hill School rather little correspondence remained from the period 1927 until 1932, which also seems to be the case in the Bertrand Russell archive, according to Dora Russell's correspondence with the McMasters University in Ontario ( 68).
In arranging the papers the existing order has been maintained as far as possible, although inconsistencies have been corrected. When using the resulting list the user must be aware of some peculiarities. They concern in particular the series of correspondence, which do not exclude each other completely.
To find all letters by a correspondent the alphabetical and chronological correspondence should be checked and if a correspondent was also involved in the Beacon Hill School or organizations Dora Russell took part in, letters may be found in these files as well.
Books and periodicals have been transferred to the library, photographs, films and one audiotape to the audiovisual department of the Institute.


Personal papers: correspondence 1906, 1920-1986, with Fenner Brockway 1968-1986, Doris Lessing 1976-1986, Sinclair Lewis n.d, Ottoline Morrell 1934, A. Sutherland Neill 1932-1944, George Bernard Shaw 1923-1950, G.P. Wells 1930-1935, H.G. Wells 1924-1936 and others; correspondence with family members, including Bertrand Russell 1928-1929, 1932-1967, John C. Russell 1933-1962, 1976-1977, Katharine Tait-Russell 1932-1970, Roderick Barry 1944-1983 and several others; diary 1912-1913; notebooks on journeys 1920-1921, 1978-1980; appointment diaries 1922-1986; membership cards 1922-1986; other personal papers 1909-1915, 1925-1986; manuscripts of books 1925-1986, including `The Religion of the Machine Age', `The Right to be Happy', `In Defense of Children', `We called on Europe: The Story of the Women's Caravan of Peace' and `The Tamarisk Tree'; manuscripts of articles and poems 1915-1986, including articles for El Sol 1926-1930; correspondence with publishers and some editors 1923-1986; prints and reprints of articles and reviews 1918-1985; press clippings of reviews of Russell's books 1925-1933, 1983-1986; some typescripts by others 1926, 1933, 1953; files relating to her employment at the Ministry of Information 1944-1950; files relating to the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) 1936-1981, the Britain-China Friendship Association (BCFA), from 1965 the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 1950-1978, the Conservation Society 1966-1986, the FPSI, from 1940 the Progressive League 1935-1948, 1952, the National Assembly of Women (NAW) 1952-1978, the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) 1935-1975, 1983-1984, the Permanent International Committee of Mothers (PICM) 1955-1961, the Women's Caravan of Peace 1957-1961, 1980-1986, the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF) 1951-1962, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) 1956-1985, the Workers' Birth Control Group 1923-1928, the World League for Sexual Reform (WLSR) 1928-1936 and other organizations; documents relating to her involvement in local politics, in public debate and to political issues 1920-1986; files on lecturing, participation in conferences, interviews (1920-) 1949-1963, 1970-1986; documentation 1924-1986. Beacon Hill School: minutes of council meetings 1937-1940; general correspondence 1926, 1928-1943; documents relating to premises, finances, legal advice and staff 1928-1943; documents relating to pupils' activities 1932-1943; diaries of psychological observation 1927-1932, daily record books 1928-1930, intelligence tests 1929-1930, medical reports 1928-1939, term reports 1929-1939 and correspondence with parents 1931-1943; schoolbooks and other instruction material 1915-1939; some other documents including prospectuses and articles about the school. Papers of relatives: some correspondence, including letters received from Dora Russell, and other documents 1920-1987, of Harriet R. Barry (born 1930), Roderick Barry (1932-1983), E. M. (Bindy) Black, Sara I. Black-Davisson (1869-1956), Gordon (Pat) Grace (1910-1949), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), John C. Russell (1921-1987), Katharine Tait-Russell (born 1923) and Fisher Unwin.

Schoolmagazine 1940 (added to 603) and texts of plays 1938 (added to inv. no. 645).

Processing Information

Inventory made by Tiny de Boer in 1993, updated by Wim Leendertse in 2008

Related Material

See also the Dora Winifred Russell Photo Collection at the IISH

Letters by Bertrand Russell to Dora Russell at the McMasters University, Ontario, Canada