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Morten, (Violet) Honnor (1861–1913), nurse and journalist, was born at Mayfield House, Cheam, Surrey, on 13 November 1861, the only daughter among the four children of John Garrett Morten (1833–1900), a wealthy solicitor, and his second wife, Wilhelmina Milroy, née Black (1837–1907). She was a niece of the novelist William Black. She had two half-siblings by her father's first marriage. As a child she enjoyed playing billiards with Herbert Spencer, a family friend. She reached adulthood in ‘an old Stuart palace’, Ivy Hall, Richmond, Surrey, but eventually rejected the life of ‘a fine lady with nothing to do but pay great attention to dress, fashion, and society’ (Friedrichs, 304).

Aged twenty, Morten began nurse's training at the London Hospital under Eva Lückes, practised as a volunteer from 1885 to 1888, and came to accept nursing as her central calling. She gained the midwifery diploma of the London Obstetrical Society. In 1895 she began a course in scientific hygiene at Bedford College, London, and qualified for the certificate in 1896; her highest mark was her physics paper, reflecting her study of astronomical physics just after leaving school. In her later Who's Who entry she listed only astronomy and socialism as her recreations.

A steady schedule of journalism, speaking, and international travel characterized Morten's life. She contributed to The Hospital, Daily News, and other periodicals. She also published several classic nursing manuals: her Nurse's Dictionary of Medical Terms and Nursing Treatment (1891) reached an eighth edition by the time of her death. In 1889 she founded the Women Writers' Club with offices in Fleet Street. In the early 1890s she founded a nurses' co-operative and the Association of Asylum Workers. About this time she began to lecture widely on infant care, first aid, family health, and women's rights. Her audiences ranged from Women's Co-operative Guild chapters to the London Ethical Society, and even women prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs—prison reform being another of her causes.

About 1896 Morten took up residence in the inner London district of Hoxton. Here she and two college friends established a small settlement along ‘unsectarian and socialist lines’. The settlers, both male and female, lived like their neighbours, and kept house for themselves. In her autobiographical From a Nurse's Notebook (1899) she exulted at the local curate's terror of her Chianti, cigarettes, and unorthodox religious views. During these Hoxton years Morten stood, in 1897, for election to the London school board, a powerful body responsible for educating about 660,000 pupils and employing 15,000 teachers. Only twenty-nine women (of a total membership of 326) served on the board during its existence from 1871 to 1903. She came in first among the candidates in her district of Hackney but wisely switched to represent the City when one of her constituents spotted her publicly smoking and raised an outcry. On the school board she advanced radical positions: equal pay for women employees, school nurses in the poorest schools, and better facilities for retarded children. She founded the School Nurses' Society to provide free nursing care for London children. Morten's vigorous campaign to abolish corporal punishment in the schools earned her adverse coverage in teachers' publications.

About 1905 Morten established Oakdene, a Tolstoy-inspired settlement in Rotherfield, Sussex, which was partly funded by donations from Aylmer and Louise Maude, the English translators of Tolstoy's Resurrection. According to a friend the house followed a rule that ‘insisted on silence at the breakfast table—on the principle that people are never amiable at breakfast’ (Porritt, 136). The settlement was both a country holiday home for disabled children from inner London, each of whom was cared for by an adult settler, and a retreat for adults.

Like others of her generation devoted to serving the poor Morten caught ‘the St. Francis spirit’ in the 1890s (Porritt, 135). Her religious faith was that of a high-church ‘firm Protestant’, but she was rather secretive about it. She started writing a life of the Catholic martyr Edward Colman and published anonymously a ‘little devotional book’ entitled The Enclosed Nun, only revealing its authorship in a later book on St Francis's friend and disciple, St Clare (1912).

Morten, ‘militant in spirit’ (Votes for Women, 18 July 1913, 621), was a non-militant suffragist. She protested against the disenfranchisement of women by refusing to pay taxes, suffering instead the confiscation and public auctioning of some of her property. According to her friend the journalist Arthur Porritt, Morten submitted to more than one of these auctions in the months just before her death, of throat cancer, at Oakdene on 11 July 1913.

Ellen Ross

Sources  

Votes for Women (18 July 1913) · The Times (16 July 1913) · WWW, 1897–1916 · Nursing Times (26 July 1913) · British Journal of Nursing (19 July 1913) · H. Friedrichs, ‘“I was in prison—”: The story of Miss Honnor Morten's wonderful work’, Young Woman, 8 (1899–1900), 302–7 · P. Hollis, Ladies elect: women in English local government, 1865–1914 (1987) · J. Martin, ‘Gender, the city and the politics of schooling: towards a collective biography of women “doing good” as public moralists in Victorian London’, Gender and Education, 17/2 (2005) · A. Porritt, The best I remember (1922) · A. Stronach, ‘Women's work in social settlements’, Windsor Magazine, 36 (1912) · A. Turnbull, ‘“So extremely like parliament”: the work of the women members of the London school board, 1870–1904’, The sexual dynamics of history, ed. London Feminist History Group (1983), 134–48 · M. Vicinus, Independent women: work and community for single women, 1850–1920 (1985) · Votes for Women (30 May 1913), 514 · ‘Tax resistance growing’, Votes for Women (23 May 1913), 498 · H. Morten, Sketches of hospital life (1888) · H. Morten, From a nurse's notebook (1899) · census returns, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 · Bedford College register, Royal Holloway archives · b. cert.

Archives  

Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir Henry Burdett


Likenesses  

H. M. Paget, drawing, pubd 1899, Getty Images, London · H. Goulton May, photographs, repro. in Young Woman, 302, 305

Wealth at death  

£10,428 19s. 8d.: probate, 31 July 1913, CGPLA Eng. & Wales