Sanderson, (Julia Sarah) Anne Cobden- (1853–1926), socialist and suffragette
by A. C. Howe

Sanderson, (Julia Sarah) Anne Cobden- (1853–1926), socialist and suffragette, was born on 26 March 1853 at Westbourne Terrace, London, the fifth of the six children of , radical politician and statesman, and his wife, Catherine Anne (1815–1877), daughter of Hugh Williams, timber merchant, and his wife, Elinor. Her early years were spent at Dunford House, Midhurst, Sussex, but after her father's death she attended schools in London and Germany. Her mother having moved to Wales in 1869, she spent lengthy periods among a loyal circle of family friends, most formatively with the poet and novelist George MacDonald, then residing at The Retreat (later, as Kelmscott House, the home of William Morris). In 1874 with her sister Ellen she accompanied Sir Robert Lambert Playfair on his expedition to the Aures Mountains, Algeria. In 1877 she set up home in London with her sisters, taking up social work in the East End, enjoying amateur theatricals, and continuing to travel abroad. In April 1881 at Siena in the company of her sister Jane [see ], and of Jane Morris, she met the briefless and unworldly barrister . They were engaged in February and married on 5 August 1882, when they both took the surname Cobden-Sanderson. The early years of their marriage were marked by travel, reading, philanthropy, theosophy, vegetarianism, and a keen interest in the ideas of Henry George and of their friend William Morris. Annie, somewhat dissatisfied with Sanderson's metaphysical search for the Absolute, encouraged him to take up the craft of bookbinding. Through their own manual work, they identified with the wider cause of the working class, joining Morris's Hammersmith Socialist Society in 1890. With Annie providing energy and funds as well as a ready needle, Thomas set up the Doves Bindery in 1893. He played a leading part in the arts and crafts movement, while at their Hampstead home Annie was hostess to a wide array of political and artistic friends. However, she spent the years 1897 to 1898 with their children Richard (1884–1964) and Stella (1886–1979) in Lausanne. There Thomas recorded ‘the freedom of her life suits her’, although her absence was part of a joint plan of ‘renunciation … the better way for ourselves and our children’ (Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 1.370, 378). After their return, Sanderson set up the Doves Press in 1899, but with Thomas much given to self-doubt as well as cosmic yearning, Annie's role was a vital one in sustaining his business and artistic ventures.

After 1900 Annie played a more active part in the socialist movement, organizing in 1902 an important series of lectures for the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in London and serving as treasurer of the Metropolitan ILP. She took a special interest in the needs of children, supporting the pioneering Bow Children's Clinic, set up by Margaret MacMillan, with whom Annie campaigned for school meals and compulsory medical inspection. She was also prominent in the right to work campaign. More dramatically, in 1905 she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and, following its Westminster protest in October 1906, she was imprisoned in Holloway, gaining the women's suffrage movement a high profile with this notorious mistreatment of ‘the daughter of him who gave you bread’, ‘one of the nicest women in England suffering from the coarsest indignity’ as George Bernard Shaw wrote to The Times (31 October 1906). Released in November, Annie continued to campaign for women's suffrage but in 1907 seceded from the WSPU to help form the Women's Freedom League. In late 1907 and early 1908 she and Thomas travelled to the United States, where Thomas was lionized in ‘arts’ circles, she in suffrage ones. On their return, Annie remained a prominent advocate of women's rights, attending suffrage congresses abroad, supporting the ‘Great Watch’ on Asquith's home in December 1909 (she was sentenced to a week's imprisonment but avoided this through the intervention of a third party), leading the procession to the Commons on ‘black Friday’ (18 November 1910), and escaping arrest in the ‘Downing Street raid’ a week later only through Winston Churchill's intervention. (She had been a guest at his wedding in 1908.) But she now turned primarily to the tactic of tax resistance, helping to set up in October 1909 the Women's Tax Resistance League and speaking widely on its behalf until it suspended activities in August 1914. However, by 1909, her husband, a fervent admirer of Annie's courage and selfless devotion to others, noted ‘The Labour Party, and especially the “right to work” is Annie's field. She has contributed her unit to the Women's Cause’ (Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 2.134–5). She was also interested in land reform, enrolling her father's name in the socialist cause in her pamphlet Richard Cobden and the Land of the People (ILP, c.1909).

Annie's increasing concern with unemployment led naturally to a close interest in the poor law, and having become publicly embroiled as a critic of its operation locally, she was elected on a reform platform to the Hammersmith board of guardians in March 1910. Her scope for influence proved limited, but through long service (until 1922) ‘a dear old lady still ever young’, she achieved much, especially for the women and children among ‘her Pauperibus’ (Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 2.348, 326). Thomas suffered severe mental anguish during the First World War, and they mixed largely in pacifist circles. After the war, Annie resumed her involvement in Labour politics in Hammersmith, campaigning for the unemployed in both the Hammersmith Pioneer and on the board of guardians. Following Thomas's death in 1922, Annie settled at great personal cost a lawsuit brought against her by Sir Emery Walker, seeking compensation for the typeface her husband had thrown into the Thames on closing the Doves Press in 1917. More happily in June 1926, she undertook the visit they had long planned to California, where she was fêted by their many friends and admirers, and in July she saw published by her son the heavily self-censored Journals of her husband. She died at 15 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, on 2 November 1926 and was buried on 6 November. Her work ‘in the service of humanity’ was commemorated by the Anne Cobden-Sanderson Fund organized by Sir Nigel Ross Playfair, reviver of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, and nephew of her travelling companion in Algeria half a century earlier.



The journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 2 vols. (1926) · W. Sussex RO, Cobden papers · Four lectures by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, ed. J. Dreyfus (1969) · A. Cobden-Sanderson, MS prison diary, BLPES, Kelley MSS · The collected letters of William Morris, ed. N. Kelvin, 4 vols. (1984–96) · Women's Tax Resistance League, minute books, 1909–14, Women's Library, London · minute books and records, 1908–22, LMA, Hammersmith board of guardians archives · A. Cobden-Sanderson, press cuttings and miscellanea, Hammersmith and Fulham Archives and Local History Centre, London · Hammersmith Pioneer (May 1921) · Hammersmith Pioneer (Oct 1921) · Hammersmith Pioneer (Jan 1922) · notes on Annie Cobden-Sanderson, Museum of London, Suffragette Fellowship MSS · The Times (Oct–Dec 1906) · The Times (4 Nov 1926) · 1902–10, BLPES, Independent Labour Party Archive · DNB · M. Tidcombe, The Doves Press (2003)


Stanford University, Morgan A. and Aline D. Gunst Memorial Library, L'Avenir commonplace book · W. Sussex RO, corresp. and MSS |  BLPES, corresp. with Independent Labour Party · BLPES, Kelley MSS


photograph, 1881, NPG · oils, Dunford House, Midhurst, West Sussex · photograph, NPG [see illus.] · photographs, W. Sussex RO · photographs (at Doves Bindery), Hammersmith and Fulham Archives and Local History Centre, London

Wealth at death  

£21,722 6s.: probate, 6 Dec 1926, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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(Julia Sarah) Anne Cobden-Sanderson (1853–1926): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/56224