The Charitable Work of Mrs Eleanor Clark of Street: The Olive Leaf Society and ‘Grand Fancy Bazaars’ in the 1850s

Anna Vaughan Kett

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    This paper concerns the charitable work of Mrs Eleanor Clark (1812-1879), the Quaker wife of James, the shoemaking pioneer and founder of Clark’s Shoes in Street, in Somerset. Using archival evidence located in the Library of the Religious Society of Friends in London and the Alfred Gillett Trust in Street, it outlines Clark’s activities in the 1850s within the ‘Street Olive Leaf Society’ a charity fundraising group located in her village. One of a thriving network of 150 all-female groups situated in British towns and villages, Olive Leaf Societies were set up by the charismatic New England activist Elihu Burritt (1810-1879) during the 1850s. These were to provide funds for his ‘League of Brotherhood’, a global peace network, many of whose members were Quakers engaged in commerce and industry. In addition to promoting stronger commercial ties between countries, the League was a campaigner for the anti-slavery movement, its angle being that slavery could be defeated via consumer boycotts of slave-made goods and the availability of ‘free produce’ alternatives. In 1854 Burritt became editor of The Slave: His Wrongs and Their Remedy, Britain’s anti-slavery newspaper and champion of free produce, and here the work of the League was publicised. Importantly, Burritt recognised the crucial role of female supporters, and whilst not permitted full membership of the League or participation in its public activities, through the Olive Leaf Societies women found active and valued roles as both fundraisers and educators. The surviving material culture demonstrates that these were properly constituted groups, with a Secretary in London, rules, membership books and monthly meetings, more so in busy periods such as the run-up to Christmas. The world of Olive Leaf Societies is indeed a fascinating one; an emphatically female and domestic domain, centred on home and home-making, where women gathered to discuss morally concerning issues of the day, in addition to generating goods and collecting articles to put on sale at Burritt’s fairs in London and Manchester, and as reported in The Slave, their items were also sent to anti-slavery fairs in America. In addition, the work of the Society was educational, for under its auspices editions of essays were published, examples of which are found in the Clark family archive. Entitled The Olive Leaf or Peace Magazine for the Young, the attractive, palm-sized, illustrated volumes are filled with instructional writing aimed at family and ‘Sabbath’ readership, for example on cruelty to slaves, peace, charity, kindness to animals, the virtue of plain clothing and Temperance. Burritt was in close contact with Societies, and the flyers he printed provide insights into taste and commerce within philanthropic and Quaker circles at the time. An example from 1853 for an ‘Ocean Penny Postage Bazaar’ demonstrates the rich melange of the useful and decorative goods considered ‘most saleable’; ‘Plain and fancy needlework’, ‘Clothing for the Poor’, dressed dolls, invalid blankets, ‘Relics of Antiquity’, wax flowers, marmalade and ‘articles for the work box, desk and dressing case’. Burritt inspired a loyal, even passionate following among his female workers. Clark’s correspondence with him points to a warm friendship; in 1851 she contributed to a birthday surprise organised by the women of the Societies and Burritt was a frequent visitor to the Clark’s home.
    To conclude, Olive Leaf Societies enabled a substantial cohort of women to participate in charitable work, and this included Mrs Clark. Whilst retaining socially and morally appropriate positions and being under the radar of public scrutiny, the Societies facilitated women’s resourcefulness and industry in fundraising. This large network offered a space through which women could segue between private and public domains, allowing them to weave together what may appear to be conflicting identities; home-maker and domestic woman with tireless campaigner for peace and freedom.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2016
    EventAnnual Conference for Quaker Historians and Archivists - Woodbrooke Centre for Quaker Studies, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
    Duration: 24 Jun 201626 Jun 2016


    ConferenceAnnual Conference for Quaker Historians and Archivists
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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