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Issue 19 . Summer 2006

Bags of Bona Books . Why, it's Rank Sodomy! . Like Dawn in Paradise . Tales from the Archive

Like Dawn in Paradise

These words of Kipling echoed in the mind of American academic, Virginia Gildersleeve as she walked the South Downs near Alciston in the hot summers between the two World Wars.

Virginia and Lilian with one of many guestsShe and her "intimate friend", Professor Caroline Spurgeon, bought a cottage in Alciston in 1925 and every year spent the summer months there and the autumn months in New York, where Virginia was Dean of Barnard College for women, part of Columbia University. Caroline was a highly respected scholar who published many books and papers about Chaucer and Shakespeare. She taught at Bedford College for Women, part of the University of London.

The pair had met just after the First World War ended and together founded the International Federation of University Women (still going strong today) as a contribution to the peace effort – they believed that the women of the world could make change by talking to and learning from each other. Their visitors book at the cottage shows a number of IFUW women coming to stay and savour the peace and tranquillity of the Sussex countryside among them Meta Tuke, Principal of Bedford College and another "intimate friend" of Carolines.

Virginia and Caroline and Jock

Caroline and Virginia (and Jock)

Also living at the cottage was high-ranking civil servant Lilian Clapham, who was awarded the MBE for her services to the Ministry of Labour, mainly promoting job opportunities for women and girls. She and Caroline had met in the late 1900s, when they were both about twentysix and Lilian was captain of the England hockey team. They stayed together all their lives. When Lilian died in 1935 Caroline erected a gravestone (pictured) with a very bold and unequivocal message to the world. Caroline died seven years later, in America, in the middle of World War Two – her dying wish was for her ashes to be buried alongside Lilian's in Alciston churchyard and this Virginia did when the war was over.

Lilian's gravestone in Alciston

Our grateful thanks go to Jean for spotting Lilian's gravestone and sending us a photograph of it, to staff at Hove Library, to East Sussex Records Office for scans of the old photos reproduced here (Ref AMS/6516/7) and to the present owners of the cottage – it is out of respect for their privacy that the name of the cottage has been omitted from this article.


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