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Simon [née Harvey], Dame Kathleen Rochard, Viscountess Simon (1863/4–1955), slavery abolitionist, was born in Kyle, co. Wexford, Ireland, the elder of the two daughters of Francis Eugene Harvey of Kyle and his wife, Frances Elizabeth, daughter of John Pollock. In later years she ascribed her love of liberty and hatred of servitude to her parents' influence. She was educated privately and at various schools in Dublin. She trained as a nurse and worked in some of the poorest districts of London where she learned the conditions under which women had to bear and try to rear their babies. On 21 February 1885 she married Dr Thomas Manning MD of co. Kerry, and she then accompanied him to Tennessee. It was there that she first encountered white racism when she saw a young girl excluded from a gathering because of her colour. ‘My name is Kathleen, what is yours?’ she asked as she held out her hand (Harris). That girl was the ‘Amanda of Tennessee’ to whom, together with ‘all those who have suffered and still suffer in slavery’, Kathleen Simon later dedicated her book on twentieth-century slavery. It was the revelation of continuing racial discrimination in the United States, in the aftermath of slavery, that led her to join the Anti-Slavery Society on her return to Britain.

After her husband's death Kathleen Manning moved to England, where on 18 December 1917 she married, as his second wife, the widower . She had been a governess to his children after the death of his wife and had renewed acquaintance with him in 1917 when she sought his assistance when her son by her first marriage, serving in the Irish Guards, became a prisoner of war. During the period of the Black and Tans in Ireland, Kathleen Simon worked on behalf of the nationalist Irish and urged her husband to speak against the actions of the Black and Tans. Then, throughout the 1920s, she researched for her important work on the survival of chattel slavery throughout the world, including the British empire and British protectorates. Her resulting study was greeted as a ‘startling indictment of modern civilisation’ (Sunday Times, 1929) and it was acknowledged that: ‘This country cannot wash its hands of responsibility’ (Daily News, 1929).

Kathleen Simon revealed that slavery was still socially accepted in Abyssinia, Sudan, Arabia, the British protectorate of Sierra Leone, Liberia, China, Hong Kong, Burma, and Nepal. But she also looked at less blatant forms of servitude including peonage, indentured labour, and debt bondage in South America and Asia, and she even confronted—and excoriated—the current British colonial policy of exacting forced labour by Africans in east Africa. She estimated that the number of slaves, worldwide, might exceed 6 million, and that there was one feature common to all shades of slavery: ‘the individual ceases to possess the rights of a human being and becomes a property’ (K. Simon, Slavery, 1929, 2). She did not blench from spelling out that slavery all too often involved flogging, sexual abuse, and even torture and killing of the victims, many of them children.

Kathleen Simon's uncovering of the slave-owning wealth of the rulers of Abyssinia embarrassed the supporters of Haile Selassie against the aggression of Italy. Her championing of the domestic girl slaves, officially—and very euphemistically—called mui tsai or ‘adopted daughters’, in Hong Kong, Malaya, and Ceylon, was part of a campaign over several decades for their emancipation by Lieutenant-Commander and Mrs Haslewood, Edith Picton-Turbervill MP, and Eleanor Rathbone MP, together with Chinese and Ceylonese activists on the ground. She attacked forced labour in British Africa as incompatible with the principles of trusteeship under the League of Nations, and was supported in this by the International Labour Organization's body of experts, including Lord Lugard and Sir Selwyn Fremantle who reported that ‘the only way to prevent forced labour from developing into “conditions analogous to slavery” was to abolish it altogether’ (K. Simon, Slavery 1929, 190).

Kathleen Simon did not only use her pen in monographs, articles (for example, in the Empire Review, 1930), and book reviews for the Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines' Friend, she also travelled the country indefatigably, speaking at innumerable meetings to rouse public opinion and raise funds for emancipatory campaigning, in tandem with John Hobbis Harris and his wife, Alice. For example, in October and November 1933 she spoke in Sale, Letchworth, Hull, Oxford, and London. In February 1934 she spoke in Fulham; and in November she spoke in Belgravia; at Wisbech, the birthplace of Thomas Clarkson; and in Sutton. That year alone she addressed about 10,000 people.

Once the racist persecution of Jews under German Nazism was under way, Lady Simon, created DBE in 1933, took up the Jewish cause and was sympathetic to Zionism. She also raised a great deal of money for the work of the Anti-Slavery Society of which she was joint president and to which she gave her library of books on slavery. In April 1940 she organized an African Conference at 11 Downing Street on native races and peace terms, emphasizing the obligation to train for self-government and oppose racial discrimination and the colour bar. Crippled by painful osteoarthritis and having to walk with a stick, she was unquenchable and inspirational to the end. ‘For Lady Simon slavery was a flaming injustice. She could not live in peace in the same world with a single man who claimed another as his property’ (Annual Report of the Anti-Slavery Society, 31 March 1955). ‘It is hardly an exaggeration to say that she filled the place in Britain that Harriet Beecher Stowe had earlier filled in the United States’ (The Times, 21 April 1955). Small, cheerful, and outgoing, Lady Simon died at her home, 10 Linnell Drive, Golders Green, Middlesex, on 27 March 1955 and was cremated at Golders Green. Her age was variously given as eighty-two or eighty-three; in fact she was ninety-one.

Sybil Oldfield

Sources  

Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines' Friend (1930–55) · The Times (21 April 1955) · Annual Report of the Anti-Slavery Society (31 March 1955) · A. Harris, Tribute in, Anti-Slavery Reporter (May 1955) · Manchester Guardian (28 March 1955) · S. Miers, ‘Britain and the suppression of slavery in Ethiopia’, Slavery and Abolition: Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, 18/3 (Dec 1997) · Burke, Gen. Ire. (1958) [Harvey, formerly of Bargy Castle] · D. Dutton, Simon: a political biography of Sir John Simon (1992) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1955) · WWW, 1951–60 · d. cert.

Archives  

Anti-Slavery International, London, speeches, reviews, and reports for the Anti-Slavery Society · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. · Bodl. RH, corresp., notebooks and papers relating to Anti-Slavery Society |  TNA: PRO, corresp. with colonial secretary, CO 967131


Likenesses  

photograph, c.1935, Anti-Slavery International, London · Stobl, marble bust, Anti-Slavery International, London

Wealth at death  

£3751 16s. 0d.: probate, 3 May 1955, CGPLA Eng. & Wales