Miss Anabel Douglas


Miss Anabel Douglas, 70, (1863-1946), the daughter of an upstate New York farmer of Scottish parentage, graduate of Newnham College, Cambridge, was the second Principal of Queen’s Gate School (for girls) in Kensington, active in women’s affairs and keen on good articulation, founding a Debating Society at the school. In 1906 she co-signed (with many others) a petition protesting against the action of publishers selling UK books at half-price outside the UK.[1] A highly respected teacher, who virtually rebuilt the school when the previous Head moved out of town to Ascot with most of the pupils. She ceased being Principal in 1918. At the time of the dinner Anabel, or Annie, hosted a salon of “brilliant conversation” in “The White House”, her residence in fashionable Tite Street, Chelsea – “first and foremost a pioneer of Anglo-American friendship”.


There is only one satisfactory seating arrangement for this table: Anabel seated between the smooth (my adjective) journalist James Drawbell (Scottish born, like Anabel’s grandparents) and the young wife of the lawyer Claud Mullins, who in turn is between Drawbell and his own wife Gwen. The conversation would be about people, the arts, and the serious issues of the day. A salon for four.


Even though Anabel had spent her career educating young ladies who may have traditionally been looking for a good marriage rather than a career, she was very keen for women to develop careers and exploit their talents. She may well have had a long conversation with Gwen, Mrs Mullins, about how the young lady was going to develop her own interests, even though at the time Gwen was looking forward to having her third child and some time away from developing her own artistic career that would see her rewarded with an OBE. I wonder if the American farmer’s daughter noticed the complete absence of anyone at dinner from the rural economy? (The only other profession noticeably absent was the military).


Anabel Douglas, possibly born Anna Belle Douglass, known as Annie later in life, was born in York, a small town in Livingston County, in the Northwest of New York State, USA on Friday 30th January 1863 to Christie Ann Douglas née McNab (2.5.1818 – 12.12.1884), born in Livingston Co., NY and John Alexander Douglas, (2.2.1814 – 14.11.1880) a farmer, born in Madison Co. NY. Annie’s grandparents were all born in Scotland.

Annie would have been part of the early intake of Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1885 when she was already 22. She seems to have been the youngest of seven children. Two sisters, Isabella (1850-51) and Elizabeth (1854-58), had died very young before she was born. Her eldest brother Watson, died at 31, in 1875, the second eldest brother William A. Douglass became a lawyer in Buffalo, Erie, NY, a third brother John F. Douglass may have moved away (no information available). Her father died in 1880, her mother in 1884. Thus she would have gone to Bryn Mawr after her parents’ death. There must have been a reasonable income to enable her to move to Cambridge and study, albeit in her late 20s.

In 1890 Annie began the History Tripos at Newnham, Cambridge, gaining a Class 2 in 1893 at the age of 30. She became Senior Mistress at Queen’s Gate School, Kensington, largely a girls’ school though it was founded originally to educate girls and boys from the lower/lower middle classes. Annie became Head when the founder and Head, Miss Eleanor Beatrice Wyatt, moved out of town in May 1899 to establish Heathfield School in Ascot, taking most of the 60 pupils with her.[2]

Rebuilding school numbers became a key challenge: at the beginning there were no girls living in and the 1901 census shows only six pupils at the school, with six teachers, though perhaps this was a holiday period when not all pupils were in residence? Those listed were born in Brighton, Clapham, Newcastle, Hungary, Sweden and Ireland. The teaching staff listed included an English woman from Buenos Aires, a French woman from France, a German woman from Germany in addition to an English woman born in Russia. Annie increased the number of day pupils as well as using her overseas links to bring total number of students up 100 by 1908, with many from the US, including her niece, as well as Canada, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Japan.[3]

Under Annie’s leadership public examinations were taken for the first time and the first Queen’s Gate student attended university in 1903, going up to her Cambridge alma mater, Newnham.

She clearly inspired her pupils as an entry in the School magazine testified in 1941:

“Her History lessons were indeed an inspiring experience lit up by her brilliant personality. She galvanised us into activity mental and physical, and, after stirring talks impressing on us that we must learn to think, have gumption, learn to be good citizens weak spines were strengthened, slouching figures became upright, and irresolute features showed new promptitude and decision”. Vera Stewart, The Log 1941

The magazine itself under her guidance became a larger publication, with current and historical information.

On 13th May 1904 (and if we are allowed a detour for the moment from Annie herself, but it is of interest) she lent a room at the school for the Annual Meeting of the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women.[4] The Chairman’s speech referred to the “great increase of intellectual or semi-intellectual women workers” and “the many occupations in which a woman might engage without losing her station”. The London Daily News of the 14th May reported:

Women’s Work


By permission of Miss Douglas a meeting was held yesterday afternoon at 133, Queen’s Gate, W., promoted by the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women, whose offices are at 8, Southampton-street, W.C.. Mrs. James Bryce, who presided, outlined the work of the bureau for the employment of women. Mr. James Bryce, M.P., followed, and emphasised the changes that have taken place in women’s work of late years. Mrs. F. A. Steel spoke on the lack of specific intention in educated women’s work, and deplored the tendency to drift away from the domestic ideal”.[5]

On the 19th May Mrs Steel’s views were commented upon in a longer column on Women’s Work

“There has been “a voice crying in the wilderness,” and this the person of that gifted writer, Mrs. Flora Annie Steel, who spoke the other day at the annual meeting of that most useful agency, the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women, on present-day extravagance in dress. The appeal she made for a simpler ideal of dress and for a return to those neglected domesticities which are, after all, a woman’s time-honoured employment, was irresistible in its directness and force”.[6]

In 1910 the Bureau became the National Advisory Centre on Careers for Women – its publication ran until 1974 and School was a member until the Centre closed in 1983. The School held an Annual Bazaar in aid of the Bureau for many years.[7]

The school of course had moved far from being a school for the lower classes. The Nottingham Evening Post, running an article by her on the importance of books, wrote “Miss Douglas is an American, whose school in Queen’s Gate recruits from Mayfair and Belgravia and many leading lights of today’s social world have received their education in her hands” [8]

In 1914 leading women doctors were invited for an event to raise funds for the London (Royal Free Hospital) School for Medicine for Women. By 1916 Annie signed the lease of the premises of 133 Queen’s Gate over to two members of her staff and she stepped down in 1918 at the age of 55, one hundred and one years ago from today.[9]

Annie became a naturalised British citizen in 1914 and in 1919 referred to her nationality as Scotch in US immigration papers. In the year after leaving Queen’s Gate she took a trip to the US to visit her brother William Alexander Douglas, the Buffalo lawyer, sailing first class on the White Star line Baltic, departing Liverpool on June 26th 1919 and returning in October.

The White House, Tite Street, Chelsea[10]

At this time she lived at The White House, No 35 Tite Street, Chelsea, in the heart of the Arts community and one of the most fashionable residential streets in London at the time – she appears there in the electoral roll for 1915, 1921, 1928 and 1929. The house had been designed by E.W. Godwin in 1877-78 for, appropriately, the American artist, James Whistler. Here Annie held her salon: in her Times obituary of Annie, Kitty Bruce née Maugham (“the favourite niece of Somerset Maugham”) wrote: “she led the brilliant conversation in a salon consisting of poets, painters, writers and musicians from all over the world. She was first and foremost a pioneer of Anglo-American friendship”.[11] [12] Perhaps she was amused that her brother William lived in “The White Building” in Buffalo.

An article in The Illustrated London News paints this glossy picture:

The Illustrated London News 26th September 1925

NEAR the foot of Tite Street, but a few steps from Cheyne Walk, stands one of the most charming houses in London. It is the famous White House, built by Godwin for Whistler, though for financial reasons, regrettably, the latter’s occupancy of it was of short duration. I can imagine no more delightful habitat for an artist, with its two large studios, its quaint and cosy irregularities disposing its ample space in a manner eminently adapted to comfort, and its charming walled garden, with a fountain in its centre, surrounded by a sheltered colonnade and servants’ quarters quaint as the dairy at Versailles. The present fortunate occupant is possessed of a charm that would dictate just such a setting. She is Miss Anabelle Douglas, an American long resident in England; and before her drawing-room fire and at her table one is sure to meet people as interesting as London has to offer. On one of the many occasions when I have enjoyed the hospitality of this delightful menage the two people at luncheon besides our hostess and myself were a well known novelist and Lady Margaret Sackville.[13]

It could almost have been penned by James Drawbell.

A year earlier a wedding reception for a “Northumberland bride” was hosted in her house, where the bridal train was carried by one Wazir Mohamed, who with Delia Mohamed was on the electoral register at No. 35 too in 1929.[14] The wedding ceremony had been at St George’s Hanover Square and a list of titled guests attended. But perhaps that was nothing to do with Annie but just the other’s sharing the house (in many years there were others sharing 35 Tite Street). The house was demolished in 1968.[15]

On 10th January 1933 Annie attended one of the first society weddings of the year, at St Peter’s Eaton Square, the wedding of Miss Alvilde Bridges and the Hon. Anthony Chaplin, later the 3rd Viscount Chaplin.[16] [17] Regarded as one of the most attractive girls amongst her contemporaries (on the good authority of the Tatler) she was the only daughter of the Governor of South Australia and great-niece of the poet Robert Bridges. Born in 1909 she would have been too young to have been taught by Anabel, but perhaps attended the school?


In December 1933 Annie attended the Memorial Service of Sir Robert Welsford, a former President of the Law Society,[18] and in 1940 the wedding at St Faith’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, of Miss Diana Linda Ryle, daughter of Edward Hewish Ryle and of Mrs Alexis ffrench, a friend of Annie to whom she later left much of her estate in 1946.[19] She filled The White House with a great “collection of priceless pictures, furniture and other works of art… all chosen to illustrate the Italian Renaissance, the period which had been her principal interest since her student days at Newnham College”.[20] They were all lost to bombing in the War for which she agreed compensation of £3,200 “under the War Damage Act in respect of personal chattels being damaged by enemy action”, with the house being worth £6,400. She left London for Bath in 1939 when the war started – which given the loss of all her art collection sounds like a good move in terms of staying alive – and stayed there until her death in 1946.

Annie, Anabel, Anne Bella, died of pneumonia in Bath, 26th January 1946, living at the Royal York House Hotel, four days short of her 93rd birthday. The funeral was private.[21] [22] In her will were mentioned her friend Mrs Alexis ffrench of Mortham Tower, Barnard Castle and a number of Mrs ffrench’s family including Anabel’s goddaughter, one other beneficiary, and Eric Alexander Douglas, a nephew, I believe living in Pasadena then, the son of her brother William Alexander Douglas, the lawyer (1859 – 1921), and to Foster Douglas, Janet Douglas and Jean Gould, nephew and nieces.


[1] The Times, 27.12.1906, p11

[2] Heathfield School website, accessed 24.1.2019

[3] I am indebted to the present School archivist Cristina Podavitte for much of this information

[4] Advertised as the Annual Meeting in The Globe, 12.5.1904

[5] London Daily News 14.5.1904

[6] London Daily News 19.5.1904, p5

[7] Women’s Employment Publishing Company archives accessed 24.1.2019

[8] The Nottingham Evening Post, 12th December 1908

[9] Elizabeth de Leeuw, former School Archivist, ‘Queen’s Gate, An Unschooly School, 1891-2006’, page 19 and page 29. With many thanks to the current School archivist Cristina Podavitte

[10] Kitty Bruce née Maugham, Obituary of Annie, The Times 6th May 1946 [check the reference as not found in The Times] Cited in Elizabeth de Leeuw, former School Archivist, ‘Queen’s Gate, An Unschooly School, 1891-2006’, page 20. With many thanks to the current School archivist Cristina Podavitte

[11] https://picryl.com/media/white-house-tite-street-chelsea-built-for-james-m-whistler-by-ew-godwin-whistler

[12] Kitty Bruce née Maugham, Obituary of Annie, The Times 6.5.1946 Cited in Elizabeth de Leeuw, former School Archivist, ‘Queen’s Gate, An Unschooly School, 1891-2006’, page 20. With many thanks to the current School archivist Cristina Podavitte

[13] Samuel J. Rogal, A William Somerset Maugham Encyclopaedia, Greenwood Press, Westport Conn. And London, 1997 p13

[13] Walter Tittle on Lady Margaret Sackville, The Illustrated London News 26.9.1925 p8

[14] Northumberland Bride, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 31.5.1924

[15] The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Chelsea Walk – Tite Street

[16] The Times, 10.1.1933

[17] Alvilde “Viscountess Chaplin” Bridges Lee-Milne

[18] The Times 14.12.1933

[19]The Times, 5.2.1940

[20] Elizabeth de Leeuw, former School Archivist, ‘Queen’s Gate, An Unschooly School, 1891-2006’, page 20. With many thanks to the current School archivist Cristina Podavitte

[21] The Times, 29.1.1946 p1

[22] Queen’s Gate School website

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