Miss Isitt

2127 Wire Room Source The Guardian (3).jpgKate Evelyn Isitt, 56, (1876-1948), known as Kate or “Miss E”, or Miss Evelyn Isitt was a New Zealand born journalist and writer. She travelled to the UK in 1910 and worked for The Manchester Guardian until 1944, being described as “well connected and holding an influential position in a male dominated world” – as the group photograph suggests! “Her tall, stately figure, the directness of her ways of getting information, her warm sympathies with all who she thought were not getting a fair deal, her independence of character and impetuous generosity made her a remembered personality in Fleet Street.”[1] She held a regular salon for expatriates in Piccadilly.

SEATED BESIDE

Herself and the rest of the press invitees. We have no clues as to other names given the coverage we have to hand, but perhaps she was joined at least by someone from The Times and from the Berry brothers’ Western Mail. However it is possible that the latter report was written by my grandfather Rev. J.T. Rhys on Table 20, as he did write columns for the Welsh press. He will undoubtedly have known of Kate’s non-conformist father and uncle, given their temperance advocacy, even though JTR was more of Kate’s generation. Perhaps the Express sent someone having given good coverage that day of Alice Burton (and her dog Jane) putting finishing touches to the painting.

WHAT’S ON HER MIND?

Writing a good story and a chance to network amongst the guests. “Her” Manchester Guardian piece reported on some of the speeches (Norman Angell, Rebecca West, Lord Camrose and St. John Ervine) and gave a short description of the portrait itself: “which shows Lady Rhondda in a setting and style unfamiliar to those who have only met her in London and on formal occasions. She is portrayed in her country garden, in country clothes, her position relaxed, her expression thoughtful and rather dreamy”.[2]

KATE’S STORY SO FAR

Kate Evelyn Isitt was born in New Zealand on 20th July 1876, the daughter of Mary Campbell Purdie, New Zealand born, of Scottish parentage, 1851- 1939, and the Rev. Francis Whitmore Isitt, 1846 – 1919, born in Bedford, UK, a Methodist Minister who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1870 and married Mary in 1872. His fellow Wesleyan brother Leonard, followed him in 1875.

Kate’s family moved around New Zealand and she completed her secondary studies at Nelson College for Girls, Nelson, in 1891. She worked as the private secretary for her uncle Leonard, then an MP in New Zealand and the leader of the prohibition movement in New Zealand. His younger son Willard Whitmore Isitt, a cousin of Kate, died in Flanders in October 1916.

Whilst in New Zealand Kate also wrote a novel Patmos, based on the development of the prohibition movement, published in the UK in 1905 under the pseudonym of Kathleen Ingelwood. “On the whole it is a brightly-written book, which keeps the interest of the reader alive, and is a decided addition to the “human documents” of colonial literature”.[3] Also reviewed as “A South Island novel about “the fight against The Trade” is Kathleen Inglewood’s Patmos, 1905, a startling story of wicked brewers and godly abstainers”.[4]

From 1907 to 1910 Kate was a reporter for the Wellington newspaper The Dominion and its first women’s page editor. Under the name “Dominica” she wrote a regular feature titled “Women’s World – Matters of Interest from Far and Near“. She also founded the Wellington Pioneer Club for women.

2127 Wire Room Source The Guardian.jpg
Kate Isitt and The Manchester Guardian’s London Editorial, Financial and Wire Room Staff

puzzle-piece2-50If Kate is the only woman on the staff, who is the woman in the centre?

In 1910 Kate travelled to the UK, joined the Manchester Guardian and worked there till 1944, part of the paper’s “London Editorial, Financial and Wire Room”. She lectured to the University of London’s journalism course on “The Work of a Woman General Reporter” and came into contact with other expatriate writers such as Dora Wilcox and Edith Searle Grossmann, reportedly holding a regular salon for expatriates at the Lyceum Club, Piccadilly.[5]

During the first war she was remembered for two major campaigns:

“She made it her business to get people to realise the valour of the London shopmen, collecting and reporting the records of the deeds and military honours on the shop assistant, shopwalkers and small shopkeepers, who in the past had had derisive treatment in our fiction and music-halls”.

And…..

“…..another fine effort of hers was to report and denounce (“Shoddy for Heroes” was one headline) the sort of clothes and misfits that were served out to our discharged soldiers after that war. It was largely due to her persistence in the matter that the public and authorities became aware of the scandal, and the system was improved”.[6]

Screenshot (1962)

As often her writings were not under her byline but in the London Correspondence column of the Manchester Guardian, it is hard to track much of her work, but the following from the column reporting on the 1919 July Peace Day parade in London may well have been her work:

Manchester Guardian 7.7.1919

Our London Correspondence By Private Wire, London Sunday Night

Shopmen and clerks of London

It was difficult to realise that these young shopmen, clerks and porters came back in the glory of having done what those panoplied crusaders riding back discouraged had failed to do. They had rescued the Holy Land.

These men of the London Scottish had been first in the line of battle. Some of these men, now so sure of themselves, had been the raw lads who had made a forced march into their first taste of fighting at Neuve Chapelle. As the Queen’s Westminsters and Kensingtons passed with their richly laurelled colours one remembered the letters cherished by the drapery firms in Oxford Street, Kensington, and Knightsbridge, from which so many of them went – letters with grisly tales of midnight ventures, hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches, billets bombarded, rivers crossed under fire, and honours won. Some of these men had returned from the Garden of Eden, Temptation Corner, and Bagdad, some from German prisons. They passed onto the Hill through streets which reminded them of anxieties which had affected them more nearly than most of the British regiments – the knowledge that while they were in peril abroad their womenfolk and children were in peril at home.

Not all of them had returned as they had gone. Among the uniforms were men in hospital blue, one of them still holding out stiffly on an iron support his arm amputated below the elbow. There were exhausted faces and dragging steps among the demobilised and discharged men. They had been eager to join the procession, but such long marches are beyond the strength the war had left them. One man who talked cheerfully as he walked had a mutilated face, and another, led by two companions, turned his sightless eyes gropingly to the Tower, which they told him was on his left. He had seen nothing of the festival colour of the streets, but for lies he had heard a murmur of London’s pity and the cheers of London’s thanks.[7]

Evelyn Isitt was a staunch supporter of the suffrage movement:

“Her tall, gaunt figure was always to be seen at suffrage meetings in the old days and a Feminist once said to her “I don’t know why we bother to bring out our bulletins when you report us so well”.[8]

The writer may have been recollecting a long column written under the byline of Evelyn Isitt in 1913 entitled Women Writers in Opposition, Mrs Humphrey Ward meets Mrs Steel on a debate at the Criterion Restaurant hosted by the Women Writers’ Suffrage League arguing for and against suffrage.[9]

On 7th August 1914, merely ten days after war had started she wrote another long piece for Votes for Women entitled War and the Woman Worker: High Prices and the Loss of Employment.[10] At that time it was not a story about women going to work but women losing existing employment as the economy slowed, as factories were shut and as incomes fell as their menfolk went to war. She closes her piece with vigour

“Already one sees that woman’s work for women must begin at once, the heart-breaking work of relieving the agony into which the diplomacy of men, trained for generations in the boasted art of government has plunged the womanhood and the childhood of the civilisations. And the women are making plans to organise relief”.

However Evelyn didn’t impress the “Men and Matters” columnist in The Globe in 1918

Boche Chivalry. There are still women in England so, apparently, incapable of learning anything appreciating the value of evidence, as to talk about “our German friends.” As a contribution to the controversy on the now notorious letter of congratulation from the German suffragists recently read at the Lyceum Club, Miss Evelyn Isitt, a member that institution, writes to the Daily News that

“The letter was of the greatest interest, a landmark the international suffrage movement. I am not the only member of the Lyceum Club who appreciated the chivalry which prompted Frau Stritt to write it.”

Miss Isitt would appear to differ from the Bourbons in that she learns nothing and forgets everything.[11]

In 1924 she took part with one Mary Stewart in a radio afternoon debate on the theme of “The Advantages of Education are grossly overrated”. It is not clear which side she took, though if we assume the custom was for the order of speakers to be in the “for” and “against” sequence she would have been arguing against the motion, which would most likely be her own view.[12]

And Kate was not someone who would follow the paper’s own line: Lady Rhondda’s biographer, Angela V. John, points out that in December 1925, when the Manchester Guardian was championing the cause of Violet Blanche Douglas-Pennant after her dismissal from her post as the head of the WRAF, taking a position (explicitly or implicitly critical of Lady Rhondda), the paper’s own Kate (or Evelyn) Isitt came out “violently” in favour of Lady Rhondda.[13]

WHAT KATY DID NEXT (can’t resist that one)

Kate Evelyn Isitt worked for the Manchester Guardian for another 11 years until May 1944… “after 27 years’ service as general reporter and special writer on women’s affairs”.[14] She died aged 87 at 6 Vicarage Gate, in Kensington, London W8, on 24th January 1948, her will being proved by Miss Maud Winifred Isitt, her younger sister, years her junior, a masseuse (Ray Therapist) who shared the house with her and who herself died on 24th March 1954 at 70.[15] Kate and Maud also had an elder brother Charles Whitmore Isitt who died in New Zealand on 22nd September 1945 at the age of 70.

We leave you with images of two of the ships on which she sailed.

The Goentoer, Rotterdam Lloyd Line, 23th September 1913 to Gibraltar;

Goentoer.png

and the TSS Moeraki, from Wellington NZ to Sydney on 28th April 1911 where there is picture of it sailing below the unfinished Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1929

Manuka-Moeraki-SYD-1929.jpg

BACK TO TABLE 8


[1] Manchester Guardian 28.1.1948 p4, Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd.

[2] From our London Staff. Lady Rhondda. Portrait Presented at a Dinner, The Manchester Guardian, 24.3.1933

[3] A review of Patmos

[4] The New Zealand Novel, Temperance, University of Wellington accessed 30th January 2019

[5] Donald Phillipps, Unsung Methodists, Evelyn Kate Isitt, 1876-1948, Touchstone (NZ Faith Magazine) p16, accessed online 17.8.2019 http://www.methodist.org.nz/files/docs/mcnz%20admin%20office/touchstone/2016/touchstone%20may%202016%20web.pdf

[6] Manchester Guardian 28.1 1948 p4

[7] Manchester Guardian, 7.7.1919 p6

[8] Nottingham Journal, 28.1.1948 p2

[9] Votes for Women, 11.7.1913

[10] Votes for Women, 7.8.1914

[11] The Globe, 4.3.1918 p3

[12] Belfast News-Letter, 12.9.1924 p9

[13] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian p178.

[14] Manchester Guardian, 8.5.1944 p3, Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd.

[15] Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Evelyn_Isitt

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