Hope Emily Allen

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Hope Emily Allen (1883–1960),[1] an independent medieval scholar, is best known for her research on the 14th-century English mystic Richard Rolle and for her discovery of the Book of Margery Kempe.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Hope Emily Allen was born in Kenwood, Oneida County, New York, on November 12, 1883.[3] Allen's parents, Henry Grosvenor Allen and Portia Underhill had previously lived for a time in the Oneida Community, an experimental group based on socialist principles, which broke up in 1880.[4] Allen spent much of her life living on property which was originally part of the community.[2] She also lived in Niagara Falls, Canada,[5] attending Niagara Falls (Ontario) Collegiate.[6]

Allen undertook her undergraduate studies at Bryn Mawr College with special interests in the study of Middle English literary texts, taught by medievalist Carleton Brown.[7] She graduated in 1905 as one of "The Ten" top scholars.[7] The next year she completed graduate work, also at Bryn Mawr, in English literature and Greek, earning a master's degree. After Bryn Mawr, she went to Radcliffe to begin studying for her Ph.D, during which time she enrolled at Cambridge University in 1910 to study English literature at Newnham College for a semester. That semester eventually became a period of three years.[5]

After a period of illness, Allen returned to Oneida to recover. In September 1913, her mother died, and Allen assumed care of her father.[7] During World War I, she remained in the United States, working on Rolle, frequently writing to her friends in England, and sending them care packages.[2] On July 7, 1920 her father died. By 1921, Allen had returned to London, lodging at 116 Cheyne Row with a Cambridge friend, scientist-artist Marietta Pallis.[7]

Scholarly career and feminism[edit]

Allen's time in Britain allowed her to make a great number of personal and academic associations, as well as experience European culture. She was closely connected with a group of other women scholars on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, including Joan Wake and Dorothy Ellis.[4] During her time in England, she pursued her two lifelong goals: medieval scholarship and feminism. Allen had great concern for women's values and identity and continued to fight for these issues throughout her life.[8][7]

Allen described herself as an "independent scholar," and she never accepted an academic teaching appointment. This independence allowed her to research more freely, so that she could closely examine texts that had not received recognition before. It may also have worked against her, in lack of accordance of public credit for her work, and in her omission from later cultural and historical studies.[8][2]

Her writing falls into three overlapping groups: her early work on the Ancrene Riwle, her insight into the study of Richard Rolle, and her research on the cultural background of The Book of Margery Kempe. Themes in her work include the spirituality of women in the late Middle Ages (Ancrene Riwle) and contradictions and impossibilities in the work of Richard Rolle. In work on both the Ancrene Riwle and Margery Kempe, she identified a need for a "history of culture", extending both the range of material to be considered, and the kinds of questions to be asked.[2]

In 1910 she presented evidence that Rolle was not the author of The Prick of Conscience, in the Radcliffe Monographs. In 1927 she published Writings Ascribed to Richard Rolle, Hermit of Hampole, and Materials for His Biography in the third volume of the Monograph Series of the Modern Language Association of America. In 1931, she published English Writings of Richard Rolle, Hermit of Hampole.[6]

In 1934, Allen identified the one surviving manuscript of the Book of Margery Kempe, an autobiographical account of a Norfolk mystic and pilgrim, mentioned, with a few pages of extracts, by Wynkyn de Worde about 1501.[9] It was found in a cupboard at Southgate House, Chesterfield, the home of Lt.-Col. William Erdeswick Ignatius Butler-Bowden. Albert Van de Put of the Victoria and Albert Museum borrowed it, and showed it to Hope Emily Allen, who was visiting England at the time.[10]

Allen returned to the United States in the 1930s, living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she continued to pursue her research and writing and to carry on an active correspondence with friends and scholars such as Joan Wake.[2][4] Allen was the assistant editor of the Early Modern English Dictionary at the University of Michigan from 1933 to 1938.[6]

Allen asked Sanford Brown Meech, a colleague at Michigan, to collaborate with her in editing The Book of Margery Kempe.[11]:8–9 'However, Meech began mistreating Allen, and attempted to take over the edition' and 'eventually, the work was issued in two volumes, as the collaborators could not agree' on account of Meech's misogynistic attitude to Allen.[11]:9 Volume I of The Book of Margery Kempe, with notes by Hope Emily Allen, was published by the Early English Text Society (EETS) in 1940.[7] Sadly, although Allen planned and worked extensively on a second volume of her "magnus opus", it was never completed. Nonetheless, Allen promoted a secular, feminist criticism of the Book of Margery Kempe, raising issues of the materiality of the text and its cultural production in addition to its inherent content. Her work significantly prefigures current scholarship on the text.[2]

Later life[edit]

Allen apparently suffered from severe osteoarthritis in later life, which made it difficult for her to travel and work.[12] It was a painful comparison to her earlier active life, of which she had written, "when libraries were closed I walked all day in Lynn, poking into all the corners both of streets and churches. I am a great believer in the living picture as a stimulus to study."[2]

She eventually returned to her hometown of Oneida, New York, and spent the last years of her life at the Mansion House in Kenwood, dying on July 1, 1960.[6][5]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1929 Allen was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize of the British Academy for her work on Richard Rolle.[6] In 1946 Allen was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Smith College. In 1948, she was inducted into the Medieval Academy of America. In 1960 she was "designated one of the seventy-six most distinguished graduates of Bryn Mawr College".[8]

A significant collection of materials relating to Hope Emily Allen's life can be found at the Bryn Mawr College Library. The papers consist primarily of research notes by Allen, photostats and typescripts of manuscripts, and professional correspondence. Topics include the Book of Margery Kempe, the Ancrene Riwle, and Richard Rolle.[5]


  1. ^ "Finding Aid to the Letters of Hope Emily Allen". Bodleian Library at Oxford University. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Mitchell, Marea (2001). ""The Ever-Growing Army of Serious Girl Students": The Legacy of Hope Emily Allen". Medieval Feminist Forum 13 (1): 17–20. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Allen, George P. (1899). A history and genealogical record of the Alling-Allens of New Haven, Conn., the descendants of Roger Alling, first, and John Alling, sen., from 1639 to the present time. New Haven, Conn.: The Price, Lee & Adkins co. p. 278. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Mitchell, Marea (2005). The book of Margery Kempe : scholarship, community, and criticism. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0820474519. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Finding Aid for Hope Emily Allen Papers, used with permission of the Special Collections department.". Bryn Mawr College Library. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Allen, Hope Emily (1883–1960) - Medieval History". JRank Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Hirsh, John C. (2005). "Hope Emily Allen (1883–1960) An Independent Scholar". In Chance, Jane. Women medievalists and the academy. Madison, Wis.: Univ. of Wisconsin Press. p. 227. ISBN 9780299207502. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c Hirsh, John C. (1988). Hope Emily Allen : medieval scholarship and feminism. Norman, Okla.: Pilgrim Books. ISBN 9780937664803. 
  9. ^ "Margery Kempe, the first English autobiographer, goes online". The Guardian. 20 March 2014. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Kelliher, Hilton (1997). "The rediscovery of Margery Kempe: a footnote". British Library Journal. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Maude, Kathryn (22 April 2014). "Citation and marginalisation: the ethics of feminism in Medieval Studies". Journal of Gender Studies 23 (3): 247–261. doi:10.1080/09589236.2014.909719. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Hirsh, John C. (2001). "Hope Emily Allen, the Second Volume of the Book of Margery Kempe, and an Adversary". Medieval Feminist Forum 13 (1): 11–17. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 

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