Ray Strachey

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Ray Strachey
Ray Strachey restored.jpg
Born4 June 1887
Died16 July 1940
NationalityUnited Kingdom
EducationNewnham College
Parent(s)Mary Berenson Benjamin Conn "Frank" Costelloe

Ray Strachey, born Rachel Pearsall Conn Costelloe (4 June 1887 London – 16 July 1940), was a British feminist politician, artist and writer.[1]

Early life[edit]

Her father was Irish barrister Benjamin "Frank" Conn Costelloe, and her mother was art historian Mary Berenson. She was the elder of the two girls in her family. Her younger sister was Karin Stephen, née Costelloe, who married Adrian Stephen, Virginia Woolf's younger brother, in 1914. Ray was educated at Kensington high school and at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she achieved third class in part one of the mathematical tripos (1908).

Like some other female Mathematics graduates of the time, such as Margaret Dorothea Rowbotham and Margaret Partridge, Strachey developed an interest in engineering. She was discouraged by her mother Mary Berensen[2] but nevertheless she took an electrical engineering class at Oxford University in 1910[3] and planned to study electrical engineering at the Technical College of the City and Guilds of London Institute in October 1910. She wrote to her aunt "I have decided to go to London next winter for my engineering" and that she had been encouraged and helped by Hertha Ayrton[3]. She abandoned her plan due to marriage, but maintained her involvement with the Society of Women Welders which she had helped to found[4].


Ray Costelloe and others on the suffrage caravan tour from Scotland to Oxford in 1908

For most of her life, Strachey worked for women's suffrage organisations, starting when she was studying at Cambridge, when she joined what became known as the Mud March in February 1907 and addressing meetings in summer 1907[2]. She took part in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) Caravan tour in July 1908[5].

Most of Strachey's publications are non-fiction and deal with suffrage issues. She is most often remembered for her book The Cause (1928). Papers of Rachel Pearsall Conn Strachey (also known as Ray Strachey, née Costelloe) (1887–1940) are held at The Women's Library at London Metropolitan University.

Strachey worked closely with Millicent Fawcett, sharing her Liberal feminist values and opposing any attempt to integrate the suffrage movement with the Labour Party. In 1915 she became parliamentary secretary of the NUWSS, serving in this role until 1920.[6]

Strachey took great interest in the employment of women in engineering occupations. In 1919 women found themselves excluded by law from most jobs in the engineering industry under the Restoration of Pre-war Practices Act. Strachey campaigned on behalf of the Society of Women Welders in 1920 for women to remain in the trade[7]. In her book Women's Suffrage and Women's Service[8] she described the setting up by the London Society for Women's Service of a school for Oxy-Acetlyene Welding. In 1937 she wrote about women's employment in professional and trade roles in Careers and Openings for Women[9].

After the Great War when women were granted the vote and permitted to stand for parliament, she stood as an Independent parliamentary candidate at Brentford and Chiswick on the General Elections in 1918, 1922 and 1923, without success. She rejected the attempt by Eleanor Rathbone to establish a broad-based feminist programme in the 1920s. In 1931 she became parliamentary secretary to Britain's first woman MP to take her seat, Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, and in 1935 Stratchey became the head of the Women's Employment Federation. She also made regular radio broadcasts for the BBC.

Brentford & Chiswick within the Middlesex, showing boundaries used from 1918–1923
General Election 1918: Brentford & Chiswick[10] Electorate 26,409
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Coalition Unionist Walter Grant Peterson Morden 9,077
Labour William Haywood 2,620
Independent Rachel Strachey 1,263
Unionist win
General Election 1922: Brentford & Chiswick[10] Electorate 27,960
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Unionist Walter Grant Peterson Morden 10,150
Independent Rachel Strachey 7,804
Unionist hold Swing
General Election 1923: Brentford & Chiswick[10] Electorate 28,245
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Unionist Walter Grant Peterson Morden 9,648
Independent Rachel Strachey 4,828
Labour William Haywood 3,216
Unionist hold Swing


She married at Cambridge on 31 May 1911 the civil servant Oliver Strachey, with whom she had two children, Barbara (born 1912, later a writer) and Christopher (born 1916, later a pioneer computer scientist). Oliver Strachey was the elder brother of the biographer Lytton Strachey of the Bloomsbury group; other siblings in the Strachey family included psychoanalyst James Strachey, novelist Dorothy Bussy, educationist Pernel Strachey. Ray's mother-in-law was Jane Maria Strachey, a well-known author and supporter of women's suffrage who co-led the suffragist Mud March of 1907 in London.


Painting by Ray Stratchey of her sister-in-law Pernel Strachey.

Strachey painted her sister-in-law, Pernel Strachey, around the year 1930. Her painting is in the National Portrait Gallery in London.[11]


She died in the Royal Free Hospital in London in her early fifties of heart failure, following an operation to remove a fibroid tumor.

Posthumous recognition[edit]

Her name and picture (and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in April 2018.[12][13][14]


  • The World at Eighteen
  • Marching On
  • Shaken By The Wind


Non-fiction about women's roles[edit]

  • Women's suffrage and women's service: The history of the London and National Society for Women's Service (1927)
  • The Cause: a Short History of Women's Movement in Great Britain
  • Careers and Openings for Women
  • Our Freedom and Its Results


  1. ^ Brown, Susan (2008). "Ray Strachey entry". Susan Brown, Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy (The Orlando Project). Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  2. ^ a b Holmes, Jennifer, author. A working woman : the remarkable life of Ray Strachey. ISBN 9781789016543. OCLC 1094626302.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Fara, Patricia, auteur. A lab of one's own : science and suffrage in the first World War. ISBN 9780192514165. OCLC 1083355834.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Law, Cheryl (2000). "Demobilisation: 1918-1922". Suffrage and power : the women's movement, 1918-1928. I.B. Tauris. p. 76. ISBN 1860644783. OCLC 845364951.
  5. ^ "The Suffragist Caravanners". The National Motor Museum Trust. 22 May 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
  6. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  7. ^ Thom, Deborah. (2000). "Passengers for the War". Nice girls and rude girls. I.B. Tauris. p. 189. ISBN 1860644775. OCLC 893459019.
  8. ^ Fawcett Society. (1927). Women's Suffrage and Women's Service. The history of the London and National Society for Women's Service. By Ray Strachey. [With plates, including portraits.]. OCLC 562018189.
  9. ^ Strachey, Ray (1937). Careers and openings for women ... Faber and Faber Ltd. OCLC 37909293.
  10. ^ a b c British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949, FWS Craig
  11. ^ "(Joan) Pernel Strachey - National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  12. ^ "Historic statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett unveiled in Parliament Square". Gov.uk. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  13. ^ Topping, Alexandra (24 April 2018). "First statue of a woman in Parliament Square unveiled". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Millicent Fawcett statue unveiling: the women and men whose names will be on the plinth". iNews. Retrieved 25 April 2018.

External links[edit]