Today is the 158th birthday of Charlotte Francis Shaw; suffragist, nationalist, translator, friend and supporter of some of the most famous people of the twentieth century and incidentally, wife of George Bernard Shaw.
Charlotte was born in Ireland in 1857, the daughter of a very wealthy Protestant landowner. She used her wealth to travel widely, crossing Europe and visiting India and Egypt – where she had dinner with General Kitchener. During her travels she was always deeply aware of the inequalities of the world, especially for women, and as she reached her late 30s she decided to do something about it. She started attending the London School of Medicine for Women with a view to endowing a scholarship and then in early 1896 she joined the fledgling Fabian Society where she would meet the controversial playwright George Bernard Shaw, whom she would marry two years later. Charlotte was hugely influential in the foundation of the London School of Economics: in 1896, she took a house in Adelphi Terrace, just off the strand in London, and allowed the school to use the bottom floors while she lived above. Over the next fifty years she repeatedly gave money to ensure its success and in the early 1940s donated money to found a library, now known as the Shaw Library. In 1911 she established one of the first studentships for women’s history and through the students she selected was key in the development of women’s studies.
Throughout her long life (she died in 1943 at the age of 86) Charlotte would support and encourage writers, artists and adventurers, including T E Lawrence, Sean O’Casey and Apsley Cherry-Garrard. She was described as Shaw’s ‘stage manager behind the scenes’ and the central role that she played in his life cannot be under-estimated. An incredible and inspirational woman who deserves to be remembered in her own right! Happy birthday Charlotte!
Charlotte features heavily in Shaw’s photography collection and here are a few of our favourites: