“…without my brain the paper could not have lived and shown the signs of flourishing which it undoubtedly has.”
Suffragist, Egoist, and Philosopher Dora Marsden was born on March 5th, 1882, in the village of Marsden in England. Her father, Fred, was a waste wool dealer, and after his business failed in 1890, he left his wife Hannah and their five children. The family fell into extreme poverty, moving in with their widowed grandmother. Hannah worked as a dressmaker while the older children worked in the textile mill. Dora was still young enough that she had to stay in school, in which she excelled, becoming a teacher by the age of thirteen. In 1900 she received a scholarship to go to Owens College in Manchester.
Marsden was described as ‘childlike’ in stature, and she was reportedly only 4’6″ tall. Her height, or societal status as a woman, didn’t stop her from being a complete badass. Focused on winning women’s political power and freedom, in 1909, she was arrested during a suffragist movement and sentenced to jail. She refused to wear the prison clothes, serving her time in the nude. She was so tiny she wriggled out of the straightjacket she was bound in. After going on a hunger strike, she was released from prison.
She continued to fight with the suffragists’ movement and wanted the Women’s Freedom League to fund a publication. When they declined, she started her own.
The Freewoman was a weekly feminist review published in 1911 and 1912. Marsden and Mary Gawthrope, a fellow feminist, edited the review. The paper dealt with women’s issues such as wages, housework, and marriage, holding a controversial stance on homosexuality and single womanhood. Contributors included H.G. Wells and Rebecca West. Gawthrope resigned from the paper in 1912, and Marsden started The New Freewoman in 1913, focusing more on literary modernism than feminism.
Following the New Freewoman, Marsden founded the periodical The Egoist. Published in London from 1914 to 1919, Ezra Pound transformed it into a literary magazine. The Egoist published important early modernist poetry and fiction, including works by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. Eliot, like Pound, also worked as an editor for the journal.
In the late 1920s, Marsden became reclusive, living with her mother in a cottage and working on her ‘Great Works.’
Her first book, The Definition Of The Godhead, was published in December 1928, financed by Marsden’s fried Harriet Shaw-Weaver. It sold six copies. In 1930 her Mysteries of Christianity was published, a run of only 100 bound copies, which also did not sell.
After her mother’s death in 1935, Marsden had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. She was sent to a hospital, paid for by her friend Harriet Shaw-Weaver, where she stayed until her death from a heart attack on December 13th, 1960.
Her last book, The Philosophy of Time, was published in 1955.
Mostly forgotten by time, in 1990, author Les Garner published a biography on Marsden, A Brave and Beautiful Spirit: Dora Marsden (1882 – 1960).
Here is another great post on Marsden:
Lesson from Marsden
Damn Marsden was a badass. She was arrested for trying to get women the right to vote, and she served her time in jail naked. She was an intellectual, and not swayed at all by society’s expectations. She did what she wanted, worked hard, and fought for her freedom. And doing that, she also fostered the early careers of literary greats.
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