Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading

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The Most Honourable
The Marchioness of Reading
Chair of the Women's Voluntary Service
Personal details
Born 6 January 1894
Died 22 May 1971
(Aged 77)
Spouse(s) Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading

Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading, Baroness Swanborough, GBE (6 January 1894 - 22 May 1971), née Stella Charnaud, was an English aristocrat and philanthropist. She was the founder and chairman of the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS), now known as Royal Voluntary Service.


Early life[edit]

Stella Charnaud was born on 6 January 1894 in Constantinople, Greece. Her father was a member of the British Foreign Service. She was educated in Europe.


She joined the staff of the Viceregal Lodge in Delhi, India, where she served as secretary to the wife of the new Viceroy, Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading, whom she married after he was widowed.


Back in England, she became increasingly active in voluntary social work and with the Personal Service League, created to serve the needy and unemployed. She became chairman of the League, and then a Magistrate.[citation needed] During this time Lord Reading served as HM Ambassador in Washington, D.C. and was frequently accompanied by his wife on his diplomatic missions. Upon his death in 1935, Lady Reading devoted herself to fostering Anglo-American co-operation.

Before the start of World War II, Home Secretary Samuel Hoare sent for Lady Reading and requested that she establish an organization that would assist the government's wartime efforts. What Lady Reading founded became the Women’s Voluntary Service for Air Raid Precautions Services, later referred to simply as the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS). The WVS organized millions of women, most of them housewives, to provide clothing for soldiers and their families. Lady Reading traveled extensively on behalf of the WVS, encouraging women to contribute their services in a time of need and British citizens to support their efforts.[citation needed] As the war progressed, the WVS, funded by the government and local authorities, trained volunteers to cope with war-time emergencies, and the organization evacuated, fed, clothed and re-housed civilians who suffered from enemy air raids.[citation needed]

She was an early supporter of the University of Sussex and bequeathed her private residence, Swanborough Manor, to be used as the residence of the Vice-Chancellor for fifty years after her death, until 2021.[1] However, due to financial strain, the university sold the manor to a private citizen in 2003.[1]

Public Recognition[edit]

She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1941,[2] and promoted to Dame Grand Cross (GBE) in 1944.[3] On 22 September 1958, she was created a Life Peer in her own right, becoming Baroness Swanborough, of Swanborough, in the County of Sussex,[4] and was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Lords.[1][5][6]

Personal life[edit]

She was married to Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading (1860-1935) from 1930 to his death in 1935.[1] She resided in Swanborough Manor in Iford, East Sussex.[1] She died on 22 May 1971.[1]


Arms of Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading
Argent, a Chevron Vert, between in chief two Bees volant and in base three Slips of Rosemary two in saltire and one in pale leaved and flowered proper.
On either side a member of the Women's Voluntary Service, the dexter in the uniform of an ordinary member, the sinister in the uniform worn by a member of the Welfare Section of the Civil Defence Corps, all proper.