Rescue Work by Women among Women – Mary Hannah Steer



Miss Mary H. Steer

Title: Rescue Work by Women among Women
in Women’s Mission by A. Burdett-Coutts
Author: Miss Mary Hannah Steer
Sampson Low, Marston & Co
Year: 1893

Mary Hannah Steer was born in 1846 at Torpoint, Cornwall. She was the eldest child of five children born to Joseph and Hannah Steer. Her father was a Congregational Minister who had a number of different ministries, including that of the Congregational church in Tottenham.  Mary became a committed Christian at a very young age and helped her father in his church work. She never married and remained a deeply religious woman.

Miss Mary H. Steer  wrote her paper on Rescue Work by Women among Women in a collection edited by Baroness Burdett-Coutts. She was always clear that her work was ‘Christian but undenominational’.

“without this merging of our lives into theirs, and a serious and practical study of the world in which these poor degraded ones live, we shall never make the headway we desire in saving that are called the ‘lapsed classes’ … casual visiting among the poor is so often of such little avail in spite of well-meaning efforts.”

Steer made contact with women through ‘the doubles’ (lodging-houses providing double rooms with no questions asked). She would ask them round for tea, and with a mix of patience, advice and prayer she would gently push forward with her pioneering work. She acquired a house in Prince’s Square that accommodated six women, and in 1884 three houses in Betts Street (Stepney/Wapping) which was a street of the worst possible repute. In 1888 a new refuge and night shelter was opened in Betts Street by Adeline, Marchioness of Tavistock (later the Duchess of Bedford), who was a keen supporter of Steer’s work. The night shelter in Stepney catered for destitute women, and was able to accommodate 18 women. The refuge was very close to the sites of the Jack the Ripper murderers and at that time, panic and hysteria were rife in Stepney. The team also conducted ‘rescue work among fallen women’, and preventive work with girls. They established a mother and baby home (for seven mothers) in Walthamstow  and in due course  five children’s homes, in outer London.

Mary Steer was a friend of Annie McPhearson and Dr Barnardo. Like them she enthusiastically supported and promoted schemes to send destitute and vulnerable children to Canada where, she believed, they would be able to make a better useful Christian life than would be the case if they stayed in England.

This is twinned with Absolute Truths by Feven Em, Sogol Sur, Rosie Rosenberg (pub.2017). Read more about it here.


Landmarks of a Literary Life – Mrs. Newton Crosland

Title: Landmarks of a Literary Life, 1820-1892
Author: Mrs Newton Crosland (Camilla Dufour Toulmin)
Publisher: Sampson Low, Marston & Company Limited
Year: 1893

Camilla Dufour Toulmin (Mrs Newton Crosland)

Landmarks of a Literary Life recorded Mrs Crosland’s meetings with leading figures in the world of art and literature during her long career as a writer. Crosland’s memoir recalls her acquaintance with writers such as the poet Robert Browning, the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and the journalist Douglas Jerrold. She also describes meetings with several artists, including the sculptor Hiram Powers and the French animal painter Rosa Bonheur.

Writing during the midst of oppressive Victorian social codes for women, Camilla Toulmin Crosland challenges the accepted codes of work, marriage, and education for women in her short fiction. Her address is mainly to the middle class on the behalf of the working class, but she specifically appeals to middle-class women, who she thinks have the opportunity and responsibility to better the condition of their sisters.

Camilla Dufour Toulmin (1812-1895), later Mrs Newton Crosland
Camilla Dufour Toulmin was born on 9th June 1812 at Aldermanbury, London. Camilla was the daughter of  William Wilton Toulmin (1767-1820), a London solicitor, and his second wife Sarah Wright (1783-1863). Camilla’s father died when she was eight years of age and although “she evinced exceptional precocity, being able to read at the age of three years”, she received little formal education and was essentially self taught. In her mid-twenties she embarked on a literary career, contributing poems, stories, essays, historical sketches and short biographies to a range of periodicals including ‘The People’s Journal,’ ‘The Illustrated London News’, ‘Ainsworth’s Magazine,’ and ‘Chambers’ Journal’. Many of Miss Toulmin’s early stories were concerned with ” the sufferings of the poor”.

In 1848, Miss Toulmin married an American-born wine merchant named Newton Crosland (1819-1899). Under the name of Mrs Newton Crosland, she published a collection of poems and two novels, ‘Mrs Blake’ (1865) and ‘Hubert Freeth’s Prosperity’ (1873). In her early eighties, towards the end of her life, Mrs Crosland produced her memoir ‘Landmarks of a Literary Life’. Mrs Camilla Crosland died at her home in East Dulwich on 16th February 1895.

This book is twinned with Venus as a Boy by Marcus Wratton and Dimitra Petsa (pub.2017) read more about it here.

The Oubliettes
A poem by Camilla Dufour Crosland based on Victor Hugo, describing an offence against the modesty of a sleeping woman.

If sulphurous light had shone from this vile well
One might have said it was a mouth of hell,
So large the trap that by some sudden blow
A man might backward fall and sink below.
Who looked could see a harrow’s threatening teeth,
But lost in night was everything beneath.
Partitions blood-stained have a reddened smear,
And Terror unrelieved is master here.
One feels the place has secret histories
Replete with dreadful murderous mysteries,
And that this sepulchre, forgot to-day,
Is home of trailing ghosts that grope their way
Along the walls where spectre reptiles crawl.
“Our fathers fashioned for us after all
Some useful things,” said Joss; then Zeno spoke:
“I know what Corbus hides beneath its cloak,
I and the osprey know its ancient walls
And how was justice done within its halls.”
“And are you sure that Mahaud will not wake?”
“Her eyes are closed as now my fist I make;
She is in mystic and unearthly sleep;
The potion still its power o’er her must keep.”
“But she will surely wake at break of day?”
“In darkness.”
“What will all the courtiers say
When in the place of her they find two men?”
“To them we will declare ourselves—and then
They at our feet will fall.”
“Where leads this hole?”
“To where the crow makes feast and torrents roll,
To desolation. Let us end it now.”

These young and handsome men had seemed to grow
Deformed and hideous—so doth foul black heart
Disfigure man, till beauty all depart.
So to the hell within the human face
Transparent is. They nearer move apace;
And Mahaud soundly sleeps as in a bed.
“To work.”
Joss seizes her and holds her head
Supporting her beneath her arms, in his;
And then he dared to plant a monstrous kiss
Upon her rosy lips,—while Zeno bent
Before the massive chair, and with intent
Her robe disordered as he raised her feet;
Her dainty ankles thus their gaze to meet.
And while the mystic sleep was all profound,
The pit gaped wide like grave in burial ground.