Catherine Amy Dawson Scott

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Catherine Amy Dawson Scott
Catherine Amy Dawson Scott
Catherine Amy Dawson Scott
Born(1865-08-00)August 1865
Died4 November 1934(1934-11-04) (aged 69)
OccupationWriter, playwright, poet
Literary movementCo-founder of
International PEN
Notable worksThe Haunting

Catherine Amy Dawson Scott (August 1865 – 4 November 1934) was an English writer, playwright and poet. She is best known as a co-founder (in 1921) of International PEN, a worldwide association of writers. In her later years she became a keen spiritualist.[1]

Background and education[edit]

Born to Ebenezer Dawson, a brick manufacturer and his wife Catherine Armstrong. Her sister, Ellen M. Dawson, was born about 1868. Henry Dawson Lowry (Cornwall) was her cousin. Catherine Amy's mother died in January 1877, when the girl was 11 and her younger sister 7. In 1878, their father remarried and by 1881, the girls and their stepmother were living or staying with her widowed mother, Sarah Ancell, in Camberwell,[2] where Catherine A. Dawson graduated from Anglo German College.[3]


At 18, she began working as a secretary, while also writing. Her "Charades For Home Acting" (44 pp.) was published by Woodford Fawcett and Co. in 1888. "Sappho", an epic poem 210 pages long, was published by Kegan Paul, Trench and Co. in 1889, at her own expense. She followed with "Idylls of Womanhood", a collection of poems published by William Heinemann in 1892. She did not marry until she was 33, to a medical doctor Horatio Francis Ninian Scott. They lived in London (Hanover Square), where their first child, Marjorie Catharine Waiora Scott, was born in 1899, then a son, Horatio Christopher L. Scott, in March 1901. Then the family moved to West Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1902, where they lived for the next seven years. Another child, Edward Walter Lucas Scott, nicknamed Toby, was born in June 1904. Mrs. Dawson Scott, freed from daily household duties after the birth of the third child, found country life stifling and missed literary London. She started writing again and in 1906, at 41, published her first novel "The Story of Anna Beames" under a pen name of Mrs. Sappho. Two years later came her second novel, "The Burden", now using the name C.A. Dawson Scott. She produced seven more books in six years until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, including in 1909 "Treasure Trove", "The Agony Column", and in 1910 "Madcap Jane". Then in 1910, the Scott family moved back closer to London and Mrs Dawson Scott could join London's literary circle, now an author with a few publications to her name.[4] A few more came: "Mrs Noakes, An Ordinary Woman" and a guide (with map) called "Nooks And Corners of Cornwall" in 1911. In 1912 Mrs Dawson-Scott met poet Charlotte Mary Mew, who supposedly had read her "Macap Jane".[2] In the summer of 1913, Catherine Dawson-Scott asked Charlotte Mew to her home in Southall to recite a few poems to a small group of acquaintances — but the self-conscious poet only consented a year later, and the reading on 16 March 1914 was a great success, the mystic poet Evelyn Underhill apparently getting journalist and critic Rolfe Scott-James, then the time editor of the highly regarded New Weekly, interested in Mew, as her ‘Fame’ did appear in the magazine in May — only two months after her reading.[5] At that time, Dawson-Scott was also engaged in, or had just finished, editing the poems of her deceased cousin, Henry Dawson Lowry, and writing her own poems. When World War I broke out, her husband was enlisted into the Royal Army Medical Corps[6] and was sent to France[4] while Catherine A., with the support of the British secretary of state for war Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, is credited with the creation of the Women's Defence Relief Corps in late August 1914. The corps was made up of two divisions: civil section, to substitute women for men in factories and other places of employment in order to free those men for military service; and a “semi-military” or “good citizen” section, for active recruitment of women for the armed forces, to be trained in drilling, marching and the use of arms so they could protect themselves and their loved ones on the home front in case of enemy invasion.[7] In effect, in the spring of 1915 members of the Corp started working on the land, and in 1916, 465 women were organized in squads for land work, to be exploited as casual labor.[8] Later, her husband began to suffer from depression and eventually they divorced. Dr Scott reportedly went on to commit suicide.[9]

In the spring of 1917, Dawson Scott started the To-Morrow Club, a predecessor to the later International PEN Club. The name indicated that aim of the club: to draw the writers of “tomorrow”, the “literary youth” and connect them with the established writers for the purpose of exchanging ideas, advice, and comments. Dawson-Scott would sometimes invite the literary agents and editors she knew to attend the Club dinners, while encouraging the young writers to seize the opportunity of meeting them. With World War I coming to an end in 1918, the weekly dinner meeting and lecture became a regular event. At the same time, Dawson-Scott did not stop writing and in the same 1918 she published her novel "Wastralls", with which she resumed putting out one book nearly every year.

What Catherine A. Dawson Scott remains best known for, however, is her founding of the International PEN Club in 1921, a successor to the earlier (1917) To-morrow Club, whose purpose had been to provide a meeting place where aspiring writers might mix with established ones. PEN Club was to offer the same to the professional writers.[9] John Galsworthy was asked to serve as PEN Club's first President and for most of the 1920s Catherine's daughter, Marjorie, served as its secretary,.[4][10] PEN was a shortened acronym for Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists, and though it was intended as apolitical, both its membership and leadership has been leftist-liberal.[11]

In addition to her organizing activities, writing novels and some non-fiction, utilizing some text by Henry Dawson Lowry (her cousin), Scott adapted one of her own novels (the 1921 The Haunting) into the libretto for the opera Gale by Ethel Leginska, which premiered in Chicago at the Civic Opera House, with John Charles Thomas in the lead, on 23 November 1935.[12]

Psychical research[edit]

Scott was engaged in one more area, applying her organizational skill there, as well. As she wrote in her 1926 book From Four Who Are Dead: Messages to C. A. Dawson Scott, with a foreword by May Sinclair and published by Arrowsmith, by her late thirties "certain small, unusual faculties had begun to develop" (ibid., p. 22) in her, e.g. while resting after a meal, she once noticed she could amuse herself by closing her eyes and seeing a dark tunnel which she would then explore. Then, after a woman she had known lost her husband, she believed had psychic powers to communicate with the dead, supporting this notion with the fact that her grandfather's cousin spiritualist Edmund Dawson Rogers, who helped form the British National Association of Spiritualists in 1873 and in 1881 founded the spiritualist journal Light, which he edited from 1894 until his death in 1910. In 1881-1882 he founded the Society for Psychical Research, with Sir William F. Barrett.

Scott founded "The Survival League" in 1929. This spiritualist organization attempted to unite all religions to study psychical research. H. Dennis Bradley was its first chairman.[13] Scott wrote that "Many members of my family had [...] seen phantasms, and auras, had had prophetic dreams and so on." (ibid., p. 22). Her venture into spiritualism resulted, in addition of the aforementioned book describing her four "visions", including that of her dead husband, in her involvement in an organization called the International Institute for Psychical Research formed in 1934 "for the purpose of investigating psychic phenomena on strictly scientific lines" and on whose Executive Committee she served as Organising Secretary.[3] The group met for tea and to hold spiritualist seances and discuss possible methods of investigation, as well as individual cases.[3]


  • Charades for Home Acting. (1888)
  • Sappho. A Poem (1889)
  • Madcap Jane or Youth. T. Nelson & Sons (1890)
  • Idylls of Womanhood. Poems. (1892)
  • The Story of Anna Beames (1907)
  • The Burden. (1908)
  • Nooks & Corners of Cornwall. (1911)
  • Alice Bland, and The Golden Ball. Two one act plays (1912)
  • Tom, Cousin Mary, and Red Riding Hood. Three One Act Plays (1912)
  • Beyond. Poems. (1912)
  • Wastralls. W. Heinemann (1918)
  • The Headland. Heinemann (1920)
  • The Rolling Stone. A.A. Knopf (1920)
  • The Haunting (1921). (New edition: Tabb House (March 1985), ISBN 0-907018-38-6)
  • Bitter Herbs. Poems. A.A. Knopf (1923)
  • The Turn of a Day. H. Holt (1925)
  • The Vampire. A Book of Cornish and Other Stories. R. Holden & Co., Ltd (1925)
  • Blown by the Wind (1926)
  • From Four Who Are Dead: Messages to C. A. Dawson Scott (1926)
  • (as editor with Ernest Rhys): Twenty-Seven Humorous Tales (1926)
  • (with Ernest Rhys): 26 Adventure Stories, Old and New. (1929)
  • (as editor with Ernest Rhys): Mainly Horses. Tales by Various Authors. (1929)
  • The Seal Princess. George Philip & Son Ltd (1930)
  • (as editor): The Guide to Psychic Knowledge (1932)
  • The House In The Hollow Or Tender Love. Benn (1933)


  1. ^ Kemp, Sandra; Mitchell, Charlotte; Trotter, David. (1997). Edwardian Fiction: An Oxford Companion. Oxford University Press. p. 92
  2. ^ a b "Charlotte Mew Chronology with mental, historical and geographical connections linking with her own words, and listing her essays, stories, poems and friends". Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Woodlandway" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 July 2018. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Founding History of PEN International - Independent Chinese PEN Center". Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  5. ^ "Julia Copus essay: 'A Self Among the Crowd'". Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  6. ^ "0780 SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 26 August 1914" (PDF). Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Women join British war effort - Aug 29, 1914". Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  8. ^ "badge, civilian, British, Women's Defence Relief Corps". Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Founder Of The Pen - from the Tablet Archive". Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  10. ^ "Slideshow: Memories of a Wartime Childhood. By Marjorie Ann Watts - Camden Review". Archived from the original on 17 September 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  11. ^ Birkett, Jennifer (15 October 2006). "Margaret Storm Jameson and the London PEN Centre: Mobilising Commitment". E-rea (4.2). doi:10.4000/erea.256. Retrieved 27 October 2016 – via
  12. ^ Margaret Ross Griffel (21 December 2012). Operas in English: A Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-8108-8325-3.
  13. ^ Nelson, G. K. (2013 edition). Spiritualism and Society (Routledge Revivals). Routledge. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-415-71462-4

External links[edit]

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
International President of PEN International
Succeeded by
John Galsworthy