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date: 30 September 2023

Moberly, Winifred Horsbrughfree


Moberly, Winifred Horsbrughfree

  • Margaret E. Rayner

Winifred Horsbrugh Moberly (1875–1928)

by Bassano, 1920

Moberly, Winifred Horsbrugh (1875–1928), college head, was born on 1 April 1875 in Calcutta, the ninth child and the fourth daughter of Charles Morris Moberly (1837–1897) and his wife, Eliza Augusta (1841–1909), daughter of James Dorward of Trichinopoly. Her father, an officer in the Madras staff corps, was cousin to Charlotte Anne Elizabeth Moberly (1846–1937), the first principal of St Hugh's Hall, Oxford. As a young woman, she visited her elder sister Ethel Charlotte and her husband, Frederick James Whishaw, in St Petersburg (where the Moberly family also had connections during the nineteenth century); she retained her delight in travel throughout her life, together with a love of pictures and flowers.

Winifred Moberly was educated at Winchester and Sydenham high schools before entering Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, as Romanes scholar in English literature in 1894. In 1896 she gained a second in classical honour moderations but left Oxford a year later when her father died. Until her mother died in 1909, most of Winifred Moberly's time after Oxford was given to her family, but she was appointed briefly as a housekeeper at Lady Margaret Hall in 1906. In 1910 she returned from New Zealand to become bursar of the Hall for two years following an extension of its buildings; she was a great success both in her duties and with the students, who particularly appreciated the parts she played in their amateur dramatics as stage manager, scene-painter, and actress.

The outbreak of the First World War brought challenging opportunities for Winifred Moberly. For the first few months she organized training schemes for unemployed women on behalf of the Central Committee on Women's Employment; her responsibilities included the organization of Queen Mary workshops and the training of women for a home help scheme. Between 1915 and 1917 her management skills were fully employed when she became organizer, in Russia and Galicia, of five Millicent Fawcett hospitals. These were units of doctors, matrons, and nurses sent out to the eastern front by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and partly financed by the Polish Fund in Britain. The hospitals were scattered over a very wide area with very little means of communication between them. In Petrograd, opposite the Warsaw station, she established a unit in a small maternity hospital for refugees who had fled from Poland, Estonia, and Latvia before the major advance of the German army. At the same time she was administering a fever hospital at Kazan on the Volga as well as two general hospitals and a convalescent home for mothers and children. In 1917 she moved to Galicia and organized a unit in an Austrian agricultural college which had been converted into a hospital for peasants with infectious diseases (but overflowing with military patients) in a region that had changed hands six times in the course of the war. Work in Galicia was followed, in 1917–18, by her appointment as area secretary in Calais for the Young Women's Christian Association with the task of setting up recreation huts and canteens for the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps. Finally, in 1918, she undertook a six weeks' tour in the USA, on behalf of the War Workers' Campaign, lecturing on women's work.

By the end of the war, Winifred Moberly had won a reputation for courage, determination, and persuasive leadership. In 1919 she was appointed principal of St Hilda's Hall for women in Oxford. When she arrived there it was small, short of money, and ultimately controlled by a committee in Cheltenham associated with the Ladies' College. She led the great changes in the early 1920s which provided a secure foundation for the subsequent development of the Hall. St Hilda's doubled in size by the acquisition and extensive modification of a neighbouring property; an appeal for funds was launched and, with the granting of a royal charter in 1926, the traditional link with Cheltenham was broken so that St Hilda's (as a college) could become firmly established within the university. In 1920, with the other women principals, she was awarded an honorary MA when the university admitted women for the first time.

Winifred Moberly had an extraordinary gift for making and retaining friends. Within St Hilda's she welcomed everyone with warmth and cheerfulness, and she never seemed to forget a name; even shy freshers found themselves talking easily to her. She generated good conversation and laughter on high table and in student gatherings. In appearance she was well built with dark hair; her round face, so readily covered with a smile, was dominated by blue eyes. By 1925 there were signs of the physical and mental illness which would cut short her career as principal. Winifred Moberly died, unmarried, at Laverstock House, Laverstock, near Salisbury, on 6 April 1928, and was buried five days later at St Andrew's in Laverstock.


  • W. H. Moberly, ‘With the NUWSS hospitals in Russia’, Brown Book (1916), 62–4
  • W. H. Moberly, ‘Galicia’, Brown Book (1917), 45–8
  • W. H. Moberly, ‘YWCA work for the WAACs’, Brown Book (1918), 40–42
  • E. M. J. [E. M. Jamison], ‘Winifred Horsbrugh Moberly’, Brown Book (1928), 25–7
  • Brown Book (1915), 18–19, 36
  • Brown Book (1917), 10–12
  • Brown Book (1918), 18
  • M. E. Rayner, The centenary history of St Hilda's College, Oxford (1993)
  • The Times (10 April 1928)
  • The Times (13 April 1928)
  • Oxford Mail (13 April 1928)
  • Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette (13 April 1928)
  • Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette (4 May 1928)
  • baptismal register for Bengal, BL, 5 May 1875
  • d. cert.


  • Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
  • St Hilda's College, Oxford


  • photographs, 1919–28, St Hilda's College, Oxford
  • Bassano, photographs, 1920, NPG [see illus.]
  • Bassano, photographs, 1920, St Hilda's College, Oxford
  • C. Ouless, oils, 1929 (after photographs), St Hilda's College, Oxford
  • photograph, repro. in The Times (11 April 1928), 16

Wealth at Death

£4162 19s. 2d.: probate, 19 May 1928, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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British Library, London