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date: 30 September 2023

Ward [née Arnold], Mary Augusta [known as Mrs Humphry Ward]free


Ward [née Arnold], Mary Augusta [known as Mrs Humphry Ward]free

  • John Sutherland

Mary Augusta Ward [Mrs Humphry Ward] (1851–1920)

by Barraud, pubd 1889

Ward [née Arnold], Mary Augusta [known as Mrs Humphry Ward] (1851–1920), novelist, philanthropist, and political lobbyist, born on 11 June 1851 in Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, was the eldest child of Thomas Arnold (1823–1900), inspector of schools in Hobart Town, and his wife, Julia Sorell (1826–1888), daughter of William Sorell, of Hobart Town. Her father was the second son of Dr Thomas Arnold of Rugby and her uncle was the poet Matthew Arnold. Following her father's reception into the Roman Catholic church in January 1856 his position in Tasmania became untenable and the family returned to England. Julia and the three children were temporarily installed at Fox How, the Arnolds' family home in the Lake District, and Thomas went to Dublin to take up a tutorship secured for him by J. H. Newman at the Catholic University. While her mother and her younger siblings were united with Thomas Arnold in Ireland, Mary remained at Fox How. From 1858 to 1860 she was a boarder at Anne Jemima Clough's school at Eller How, Ambleside. Thereafter she boarded at a succession of schools.

In 1865, when Thomas Arnold converted back to Anglicanism, he was able to take up a university teaching post at Oxford. In July 1867 Mary was finally reunited with her family at Laleham, the large house which Arnold had built for his family in the Banbury Road. Possessed of striking looks (which she attributed to Spanish ancestry on her mother's side) and a powerful, if as yet unformed, mind, she was taken on as a protégée by Mark Pattison (whom she was later to use as the model for Wendover in Robert Elsmere). It was at Pattison's instigation that she began her research into early Spanish history, and she was also writing tales and novels which found no favour with publishers. At this period of her life she was strongly influenced by the philosopher T. H. Green.

In July 1871 Mary Arnold met a young fellow of Brasenose College, (Thomas) Humphry Ward (1845–1926), son of the Revd Henry Ward and Jane Sandwith; they were married on 6 April 1872. Through her husband she acquired other influential friends, notably Mandell Creighton and his wife, Louise, Walter Pater, and John Richard Green. She was by now publishing some of the fruits of her Spanish research. In 1873 she was instrumental with Louise Creighton and Mrs T. H. Green (Charlotte Green) in setting up the Lectures for Women Committee, an initiative which led to the establishment of Somerville Hall (later Somerville College) in 1879. The Wards had three children: Dorothy Mary Ward (1874–1964), Arnold Sandwith Ward (1876–1950), and Janet Penrose Ward (1879–1956).

Following the success of his anthology The English Poets in 1879, Humphry Ward resolved to give up academic life. He took a position on The Times in January 1881, and a year later became the newspaper's principal art critic and occasional leader writer. In November 1881 the family moved to London. Over the next few years Mary Ward established herself as a leading journalist and literary hostess. In 1881 she published her first book, Milly and Olly, a tale for children. Her translation of Henri Amiel's Journal intime was published in 1885. She met Henry James in November 1882, and it was a trip with James to the theatre to see the American actress Mary Anderson in January 1884 which led to Ward's first published novel, Miss Bretherton. Macmillans published the novel, which was well received but sold poorly.

None the less Mary Ward was encouraged to embark on a more ambitious work—Robert Elsmere. Macmillans turned the new project down, but it was accepted by the prescient George Smith, of Smith Elder. After much revision, Mrs Ward's drama of religious faith and doubt was finally published on 24 April 1888. It was critically reviewed at length by W. E. Gladstone in the May 1888 issue of Nineteenth Century. Robert Elsmere was amazingly successful, in Britain and in the United States (where it was not, however, protected by international copyright). On the strength of her sales, Mrs Ward secured a record-breaking £7000 for the American rights of her third novel, David Grieve. This work, which marked the author's growing concern with social problems, was published in 1892, having been held back until the passing of the international copyright agreement in the USA. It was another best-seller. On the strength of her sales success Mrs Ward bought a large country house, Stocks, near Aldbury in Hertfordshire—a costly establishment which was to absorb much of her income. Despite alarming collapses in her health she produced a series of highly successful novels over the next few years in partnership with Smith Elder. Marcella (1894) was her first attempt at a literary heroine, a line continued with Helbeck of Bannisdale (1898) which contains a sensitive evocation of her early relationship with her father.

Mrs Ward's philanthropy, and her practicality, were expressed in the establishment of a ‘Settlement’ for the working classes in the St Pancras area of London. Initially founded on Unitarian principles, ‘University Hall’ in Gordon Square eventually led to the building of the secular Passmore Edwards Settlement (named after its principal donor, J. Passmore Edwards) on the corner of Tavistock Square. The centre (which pioneered the children's play movement in England) opened in 1897. Mrs Ward's uneasy relationship with Anglicanism was given expression in a campaign conducted in The Times in September 1899, arguing that the sacraments should not be denied to those who could not bring themselves to believe in the biblical accounts of miracles. Meanwhile her output of best-selling fiction continued unabated, though poor health and the increasing need to write for money were taking their toll. Eleanor (1900) reflected the author's love of Italy, where she now habitually spent holidays. Lady Rose's Daughter (1903) and The Marriage of William Ashe (1905) marked a growing penchant for melodrama. A distinct decline in the quality of her writing is detectable in Fenwick's Career (1905) and The Testing of Diana Mallory (1908).

In 1904 Mrs Ward's daughter Janet married the historian G. M. Trevelyan, and her first grandchild, Mary Trevelyan was born in 1905. Her son Arnold had embarked on a career in politics and was elected Liberal Unionist member for West Hertfordshire in 1910, a seat he held until 1918. 1908 was a pinnacle in Mrs Ward's career, for it was in this year that she made a triumphant tour of North America (where, among other powerful contacts, she formed a friendship with Theodore Roosevelt).

Less happily it was in June 1908 that Mrs Ward consented to head the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association. The anti-suffrage fiction which followed (Daphne, 1909; Delia Blanchflower, 1915) triggered a downturn in her popularity, particularly in the United States. Members of her own family, friends such as Louise Creighton, Somerville College (which she had helped found), and the bulk of those associated with the Passmore Edwards centre were opposed to her political views on women's rights. The Case of Richard Meynell (1911), a sequel to Robert Elsmere, was also something of a failure. Poor health and an exhausting round of speech-making and article-writing for the anti-suffrage cause conduced to a deterioration in her fiction. She was now writing principally for money, a situation exacerbated by financial losses in 1913 in the form of Arnold's massive gambling debts, which his mother undertook to pay.

During the years 1914–18 Mrs Ward's authorial fortunes mended somewhat. At the request of Roosevelt she wrote a work of propaganda for the American market, England's Effort (1916), a book which is credited with helping to bring the United States into the First World War. It was followed by the similarly journalistic Towards the Goal (1917) and the post-war Fields of Victory (1919). She was assisted in the writing of these works and in the running of the Passmore Edwards centre by her unmarried daughter, Dorothy. The war novel Missing (1917) and the evocation of the Oxford of her girlhood, Lady Connie (1916), are the best fiction she produced in the last phase of her career. Also of interest is the autobiographical A Writer's Recollections (1918). Tax demands and Arnold Ward's continued gaming losses led to her finding herself virtually bankrupt in 1919. She was made a CBE in March 1919 and in February 1920 was invited by the lord chancellor to be one of the country's first women magistrates. In the same month she was awarded an honorary degree by Edinburgh University. By now she was totally disabled by bronchitis, neuritis, and heart disease. She died on 24 March at 4 Connaught Square, London, and three days later was buried near Stocks at the church of St John the Baptist, Aldbury, Hertfordshire. She was survived by her husband.


  • J. P. Trevelyan, The life of Mrs Humphry Ward (1923)
  • E. Huws Jones, Mrs Humphry Ward (1973)
  • J. Sutherland, Mrs Humphry Ward: eminent Victorian, pre-eminent Edwardian (1990)
  • The letters of Thomas Arnold the younger, 1850–1900, ed. J. Bertram (1980)
  • The New Zealand letters of Thomas Arnold the younger, 1847–1851, ed. J. Bertram (1966)
  • d. cert.


  • BL, Add. MS 43505
  • Bodl. Oxf., notebook, incl. Oxford Lectures for Ladies minutes
  • Claremont Colleges, California, Honnold/Mudd Library, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
  • Col. U., Library, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
  • Hunt. L., letters
  • Mary Ward Centre, Queen's Square, London, corresp. and papers
  • UCL, family diaries
  • Washington University, St Louis, Missouri, notes and literary papers
  • BL, corresp. with Thomas Anstey Guthrie (F. Anstey)
  • BL, corresp. with Macmillans, Add. MS 54928
  • BL, corresp. with Society of Authors, Add. MS 56840
  • BLPES, letters to Frederic Harrison
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Viscount Addison
  • Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, letters to ninth earl of Carlisle
  • NL Scot., corresp. with Lord Haldane
  • NL Scot., corresp., mainly with Lord Rosebery
  • Richmond Local Studies Library, London, Sladen MSS
  • U. Leeds, Brotherton L., letters to Edmund Gosse
  • Wellcome L., letters to the Barlow family


  • C. L. Dodgson, photograph, 1872, NPG
  • Barraud, photograph, pubd 1889, NPG [see illus.]
  • L. Graham Smith, pastel drawing, 1889, Somerville College, Oxford
  • J. R. Story, oils, 1889, NPG
  • R. Lehmann, chalk drawing, 1890, BM
  • E. Arnold, photograph, 1898, Somerville College, Oxford
  • W. & D. Downey, photograph, woodburytype, NPG; repro. in W. Downey and D. Downey, The cabinet portrait gallery, 1 (1890)
  • Elliott & Fry, photograph, NPG
  • Loud, photogravure (after Elliott & Fry), NPG
  • A. Steiner, crayon drawing, Mary Ward Centre, London
  • photographs, repro. in Sutherland, Mrs Humphry Ward

Wealth at Death

£11,306 3s.: administration, 8 May 1920, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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