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COLLECTION Identifier: A/A54

Letters of Stella Benson, 1923-1933


Letters of author and feminist Stella Benson, describing her experiences in Manchuria and Hong Kong in the 1920s and early 1930s.


  • 1923-1933


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the letters created by Stella Benson as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


1 folder

The papers of Stella Benson consist of letters from Benson to her friend, Kathleen Tolman, from Manchuria and Hong Kong depicting the life of the wife of a British official in China. In her letters, Benson describes her travels and impressions of different parts of China; political upheaval, including assassination threats received by her husband over a new tax; and the people she encounters. She reports on the status of various writing projects, observing that several of her California friends were offended by her novel The Poor Man, which was based on her experiences there, and commenting on what she considers the absurdity of Pull Devil, Pull Baker winning an award. She also notes of Tolman's daughter, "I have an idea Deborah may be the first lady president of the United States--she is obviously one of these Strong Men that the Weary World Wants To-Day. The Mussolina of America!" The collection also includes two photographs: one of Benson and the other of Balinese dancers


Author and feminist Stella Benson was born in Easthope, Shropshire, England, in 1892, the daughter of Ralph Beaumont Benson and Caroline Essex Cholmondeley. Her aunt, Mary Cholmondeley, was a novelist. Her parents separated when she was young and subsequently she rarely saw her father. She began keeping a diary when she was ten years old, continuing this practice throughout her life, and also began writing poetry and novels at an early age. She spent the winter of 1913 to 1914 in the West Indies; her first novel, I Pose, published in 1915, was inspired by her experiences there. While living in London during World War I, she became involved in women's suffrage and also worked with the Charity Organisation Society to provide assistance to women living in poverty in London's East End.

In 1918, Benson traveled to the United States, where she stayed for a time with the author Bertha Clark Pope Damon in Berkeley, California, and met art collector Albert K. Bender, artist Anne Bremer, poet Harold Witter Bynner, poet and suffragist Sara Bard Field, author Charles Erskine Scott Wood, and author and social reformer Marie de Laveaga Welch. Other friends and acquaintances included Virginia Woolf and fellow writers Harriet Monroe, Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, and Naomi Mitchison. While in California, she worked as a tutor for the University of California and as a reader for the university press. In 1920, she went to China, where she worked in a mission school and hospital. While in China, she met James "Shaemas" O'Gorman Anderson, an Anglo-Irish officer in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. They married in London in 1921 and had two children, Benedict and Perry. Benson accompanied Anderson on Customs Service postings including Nanning, Pakhoi, and Hong Kong.

In addition to I Pass, Benson's writings include novels: This is the End (1917), Living Alone (1919), The Poor Man (1922), and Goodbye, Stranger (1926) ; poetry Twenty (1918); travel essays: The Little World (1925) and Worlds Within Worlds (1928); and stories: "The Man Who Missed the 'Bus" (1928) and the collections Pipers and a Dancer (1924), Hope Against Hope And Other Stories (1931) and Christmas Formula And Other Stories (1932). She also edited the memoirs of Count Nicolas de Toulouse Lautrec de Savine. The resultant work, Pull Devil, Pull Baker, was named a Book of the Month by the American Literary Guild in 1933. Her most famous novel was published in the United States as The Far-Away Bride in 1930 and as Tobit Transplanted in England in 1931. It won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize in 1932. An unfinished novel, Mundos, and a collection of poetry were published posthumously in 1935 and her collected stories were published in 1936. Benson died of pneumonia in December 1933.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The letters of Stella Benson were given to the Schlesinger Library by Kathleen Drew Tolman.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Cambridge University Library; see Stella Benson: Correspondence and Papers (GBR/0012/MS Add.8367) and Stella Benson: Diaries and Poems (GBR/0012/MS Add.6762-6803).

Processing Information

Processed: January 2022

By: Susan Earle, with the assistance of Erin LaBove

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Sybil Shainwald Fund at the Schlesinger Library, and the Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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