Edith Morley

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Editih J. Morley
Born 1875
United Kingdom
Died 1964
Citizenship United Kingdom
Nationality British
Fields Literature
Institutions University College, Reading
Education Oxford University
Known for Works about Henry Crabb Robinson
Notable awards Order of the British Empire (1950)

Edith Morley (1875-1964) was a British literary scholar who was the main 20th century editor of the works of Henry Crabb Robinson.[1] She was the first woman appointed to a chair at a British university-level institution.[2]


Edith Julia Morley was born in 1875 and later recalled that she had not liked being a girl, being impatient of the restrictions placed on her activities by Victorian notions of decorum.[3] Morley received a good education, starting at a private boarding school for girls. In 1892, she took a course at King’s College Ladies Department, where her abilities were noticed and it was suggested that she transfer to the Oxford Honour School of English and English Literature. Along with the few other women at Oxford University in that period, she was kept rather isolated, with limited access to the university's resources, and was awarded an "equivalent" degree rather than a standard Oxford degree.[3]

The difficulties Morley experienced getting an education helped to shape her political views towards Fabianism and she joined the Fabian Society around 1908 and became a member of the Fabian Executive Committee in 1914. She was also a champion of women's rights, arguing that marriage and motherhood were used to hold women back from professional careers. In her 1914 book Women Workers in Seven Professions, she describes how women academics tend to be found in restricted markets like women's colleges, creating a situation of artificial scarcity under which women are forced to compete against each other (rather than against both men and women) for the few available resources.[4]

In 1908, Morley was appointed Professor of English Language at University College, Reading, thereby becoming the first woman appointed to a chair at an English university-level institution.[2] She held this post until 1940. Her specialty was English literature, and for many years she regularly published a lengthy roundup of recent scholarship in her field under the heading "The Eighteenth Century" in the bibliographical review entitled The Year's Work in English Studies. She is known for her comprehensive 1935 biography of the writer and traveler Henry Crabb Robinson and as the primary 20th century editor of Robinson's writings.[1]

In 1950, she was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), an honor awarded for her work setting up the Reading Refugee Committee and assisting Belgian Jewish refugees in World War II.[5][6] For this work, she was included among the hundred or so women in Sybil Oldfield's book Doers of the Word: A Biographical Dictionary of British Women Humanitarians Active Between 1900–1950.[7][8]

The University of Reading holds a collection of her papers, including correspondence (1914–1939), lecture notebooks (1893–1914), photographs, and an unpublished memoir entitled Looking Before and After. In 2014, the university held her up as a role model during its celebration of International Women's Day.[3] The university's Humanities and Social Sciences Building was renamed the Edith Morley Building in 2017. [9]


Portrait of Henry Crabb Robinson in Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, etc., being selections from the Remains of Henry Crabb Robinson
  • John Cunningham, 1729-1773 (1942)
  • The Life and Times of Henry Crabb Robinson (1935)
  • Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, Etc., Being Selections from the Remains of Henry Crabb Robinson (1922)
  • Women Workers in Seven Professions: A Survey of Their Economic Conditions and Prospects (1914)
  • The Works of Sir Philip Sidney (1901)

Further reading[edit]

  • Ludovic, Margarita. Another Time, Another Place (2012). This memoir includes vignettes of Edith Morley, whom the author met as a young refugee in Great Britain during World War II.


  1. ^ a b Whelan, T. "'I have confessed myself a devil': Crabb Robinson's Confrontation with Robert Hall, 1798-1800." Charles Lamb Bulletin (2003): 2-25.
  2. ^ a b Law, Cheryl (2004). "Morley, Edith Julia (1875–1964)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ a b c Edith Morley Papers, University of Reading Special Collections.
  4. ^ Fitzgerald, Tanya. Outsiders Or Equals?: Women Professors at the University of New Zealand, 1911-1961. Peter Lang, 2009.
  5. ^ Cohen, Susan. "Crossing borders: academic refugee women, education and the British Federation of University Women during the Nazi era." History of education 39.2 (2010): 175-182.
  6. ^ Jones, Helen. "National, Community and Personal Priorities: British women's responses to refugees from the Nazis, from the mid-1930s to early 1940s." Women's History Review 21.1 (2012): 121-151.
  7. ^ Oldfield, Sybil (November–December 2001). "Compiling the first dictionary of british women humanitarians – Why? what? who? how?". Women's Studies International Forum. ScienceDirect. 24 (5): 737–743. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(01)00203-5. 
  8. ^ Oldfield, Sybil. Doers of the Word: A Biographical Dictionary of British Women Humanitarians Active Between 1900–1950. Oldfield, 2006.
  9. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-39234888

External links[edit]