Mrs Helen A. Archdale

Helen Archdale in 1928 © National Portrait Gallery, London[1]
Helen Alexander Archdale née Russel, 56, (1876-1949) suffragette, feminist and journalist, was the first main editor of Time and Tide, until 1926. Her parents were both active campaigners for women’s rights – but her father died a month before she was born. Helen was heavily involved in the international and pacifist side of feminism, in many organisations, and from 1926 to 1934 was the chair of Equal Rights International. At the time of this dinner she was living in Geneva.[2] Helen’s daughter Betty Archdale, also on this table, would make her own name, beating Australia in cricket and then working and spending her life Down Under. I suspect this table was organised by both Helen and her daughter. Her eldest son’s marriage was very imminent, at the weekend after the dinner.


My suggested plan for the table of Abbott, Slimon, McFarlane, Helen Archdale, Mayo, Marsh, Betty Archdale and Moore would seat her between two suffragettes, Florence McFarlane and Winifred Mayo. Plenty to reflect upon in their cause and to debate ongoing campaigns.


Given her “intense relationship” with Lady Rhondda I wonder how much she will have enjoyed this festival. I will seek expert advice. In the short term the upcoming marriage of her son at the weekend would doubtless have been on her radar screen.


Helen Alexander Archdale née Russel was born at Nenthorn, Berwickshire, on 25th August 1876, the daughter of Helen Evans née Carter (or Helen DeLacy Evans)[3] (1834 – 4.10.1903) and Alexander Russel (1814-1876), editor of The Scotsman and an active supporter of Sophia Jex-Blake in her attempts to secure medical education for women in Edinburgh. Helen Evans was the fifth member of the Edinburgh Seven, the group of women who were permitted to enrol as matriculated students at Edinburgh University in October 1869, the first women to do so in a British university. [4] Recently they received their honorary MBChB degrees, posthumously, 150 years late.[5a]

Described as “the prematurely white-haired widow” of Captain Harry J. De Lacy Evans, of the Royal Horse Artillery”, Helen Evans was born in Athy, Ireland, the third daughter of Major Henry Carter of the Bengal Native Infantry, and his wife, Helen, née Gray. Her second husband and Helen’s father, Alexander Russel, died on 18th July 1876, one month before the birth of their daughter Helen (Alexander).   

Helen (Alexander) was educated at St Leonards School (other alumni at the dinner, Lady Rhondda, and Evelyn Whyte), and then at the University of St Andrews, for one year, one of the first women to attend the university.[5b] At 25 she married the Fermanagh born (Edinburgh registered?) Captain, later Lieutenant-Colonel, Theodore Montgomery Archdale (1875–1918), of the Royal Horse Artillery, who at the time was stationed in India: military marriages seems to be the family pattern – the same RHA as her mother’s first husband, and her grandfather in the army in Bengal. They had two sons and one daughter (Helen Elizabeth “Betty”, also on this table). Helen appears to have been estranged from Theodore from about 1913. He drowned at sea, on active service, on 10th October 1918, one month, one day before Armistice Day, a passenger on board The Leinster, sunk by torpedoes in the Irish Sea, en route from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) to Holyhead, Anglesey. Helen was then living at 97 Horseferry Road, Victoria before later moving to Chelsea Court, SW3 in 1922 and then to No 15 Chelsea Court which she shared with Lady Rhondda in 1929 (N.B. moving in with Margaret after 1927 i.e. after leaving the Time and Tide editorship).

Helen Archdale's Suffragette Medals  Image with kind permission of Abbotsleigh Archives [x]
Helen Archdale’s Suffragette Medals. Image  ©Abbotsleigh Archives, reproduced with permission [6] By sheer coincidence this image was added to The Dinner Puzzle on October 19th, 111 years later. 
In September 1908, on her return from India, Helen joined the WSPU, becoming a prominent member, in 1909 being imprisoned in Dundee along with Adela Pankhurst, Maud Joachim, Catherine Corbett, and Laura Evans, after disrupting a meeting addressed by Winston Churchill. They started a hunger strike, and were released after four days. In early 1910 Helen became the Sheffield organizer of the WSPU. In 1911 she moved to London and became the prisoners’ secretary of the union, in December herself being sentenced to two months for window-breaking. From October 1912 onwards she worked in various capacities on the WPSU‘s new organ The Suffragette and from 1915 on its successor Britannia.

Early in the war Helen started a training farm for women agricultural workers, setting up a society, the Ensbury Growers Ltd.. Jane Claydon writes: “Land had been purchased near Bournemouth before the war to provide employment for women. Shares were made available and training was provided for the women. It was a co-operative, the society housed the women for 10 shillings a week. They lived in groups, and each group had a plot of land to work. Helen Archdale described herself as the Manager of Ensbury Growers.” [5c] Helen served as a clerical worker with Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps from 1917, and in 1918 worked in the women’s department of the Ministry of National Service.

Helen had “an intense relationship” with Lady Rhondda, starting when in committee work during the war.[7] Helen is often referred to as the first editor of Time and Tide though that position is also ascribed to Vera Laughton – but the latter was given notice for her “dreadful performance” on the paper – Helen taking over to play a key role in the early years.[8] Helen became in effect the first editor of Time and Tide until 1926, when differences with Lady Rhondda over the running of Time and Tide came to a head.

Helen stayed on as a Director and lived with Margaret in Chelsea and at Stonepits, Kent, was a founder member of the Six Point Group, and a major player in the feminist movement. Helen also had a close friendship with Adela Pankhurst, (with whom she had been arrested in 1909) including employing her as a governess for her children while on holiday in Switzerland in 1913. She was heavily involved in the international and pacifist side of feminism: from 1927 she was a co-opted member of the Liaison Committee of Women’s International Organizations in Geneva and from 1926 to 1934 she chaired Equal Rights International. Helen was also a founder member of the Open Door Council and Open Door International, more focused on women’s equality within the workplace.

At the time of the dinner Helen and her daughter Helen (Betty) may also have had something else on their minds: at the coming Saturday her son Alexander Mervyn Archdale, actor, was going to marry the “pretty 25 year old actress Miss Lilian Patricia Dysart Wolseley”, daughter of a retired sugar planter, in a quiet Henrietta Street registry office wedding. [9] [10] [11]


Helen continued to be active and most probably sought to guide Betty’s career (including steering her into the Women’s Royal Navy Service in WW2.) She was secretary of the Women’s Political and Industrial League, a member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, of the Electrical Association of Women, and of the Institute of Journalists. She contributed articles to The Times, the Daily News, Christian Science Monitor, and The Scotsman.

Helen Archdale died at 17 Grove Court, St John’s Wood, London, on 8th December 1949. At that point Betty was well established in Australia, but her son Alexander did not move there until 1951.


[1] Helen Alexander Archdale (née Russel), by Lafayette, half-plate film negative, 3 February 1928, NPG x42311 © National Portrait Gallery, London

[2] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, pp340-1

[3] Her Will states Helen Carter or Helen DeLacy Evans or Helen Russel

[4] M. A. Elston, Edinburgh Seven (act.1869–1873), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004, this version:28 May 2015 accessed 18.1.2018

[5 a b c] Many thanks to Jane Claydon, former Deputy Headmistress of St Leonards School, for these nuggets and for her write up of the Ensbury Growers story, sourced from the school magazine, the St Leonards Gazette, of May 1915.

[6] With many thanks to Julie Daly, School Archivist, Abbotsleigh Archives, Wahroonga, NSW 2076, Australia, the school where Helen’s daughter Betty was Headmistress.

[7] David Doughan, Archdale (née Russel), Helen Alexander (1876–1949) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. September 2004, updated 28 May 2015, accessed 18.1.2018

[8] Catherine Clay, Time and Tide, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, p32

[9] Western Daily Press, 27.3.1933

[10] Ailsa McPherson, Alexander Mervyn Archdale, 1905-1986 Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 17, MUP 2007, accessed 15.5.2018

[11] Helen Archdale, Wikipedia

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