Born in Whitby 1891, Margaret Storm Jameson studied English Literature at the University of Leeds, graduating in 1912 with a First Class degree. For Jameson the University was anything but an ivory tower, and she played an active part in student politics, speaking as a socialist and an advocate of women’s suffrage. As the author of over 50 books alongside countless articles, she was active in feminist, socialist and anti-war politics throughout her life. She tells her life story in several autobiographical texts, most notably, Journey from the North, which was published in two volumes (1969-70).
At the time of Jameson’s studies at Leeds between 1909 and 1912, the radical Leeds Arts Club, celebrated for its advocacy of avant-garde politics, philosophy, art and literature, had a powerful formative influence on University staff and students. After leaving University, Jameson became an active member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and during June-July 1913 she joined The Women’s Pilgrimage. This march on behalf of women’s votes culminated in a rally of 50,000 women in Hyde Park on 26 July 1913.
During the First World War, Storm Jameson’s brother, Harold, joined the Royal Flying Corps. Although he was only 17, he was soon promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and won both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross before he was shot down in January 1917. Her father, a captain in the merchant navy, was captured by the Germans and made a prisoner-of-war. Jameson’s socialist commitment, and her feminist friendships, led her initially to develop a pacifist viewpoint. After the war she joined the Women’s International League, an internationalist, feminist organisation that worked for post-war reconciliation and supported the League of Nations.
In 1933, she wrote that if another war were declared she would persuade her son not to enlist:
“I shall tell him that it is nastier and more shameful to volunteer for gas-bombing than to run from it. … I shall also tell him that war is not worth its cost, nor is victory worth the cost.”
Jameson became a founding member of the Peace Pledge Union in 1934.
The rise of fascism, including the initial popular support for the British Union of Fascists, Hitler’s expansionist ambitions, and his vicious regime of persecution and intolerance, later led her to renounce non-violence, leave the Peace Pledge Union and to reluctantly support the war against Germany in 1939. She was deeply concerned by the persecution of intellectuals in Europe and intervened wherever possible on their behalf. In 1934 she wrote a letter to the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels on behalf of the German pacifist writer, Ludwig Renn.
During the Second World War, as President of the London PEN Centre (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) , she mobilised the organisation behind refugee writers, arguing that it had a duty to support fellow writers who were being persecuted by their own governments on the grounds of race or convictions. She argued fiercely for the link between writing and political engagement, and she threw the weight of PEN behind the Allied propaganda campaign Storm Jameson’s life and work reflect her passionate commitment to intellectual freedom and her desire to understand and represent aspects of current social concern as they affected all levels of society – as well as the bitter losses of war, her novels engage with issues such as colonialism, inequality, poverty and deprivation. She was concerned with issues of cultural and national identity, seeking in her writing a form that would reveal the connections between elite and popular culture. From the 1930s onwards, she argued that the problems of nationalism could be overcome by fostering a European identity and a European community.
In the early 1980s, Journey from the North, the novel trilogy, Mirror in Darkness, and the short story collection Women against Men, were reissued by the feminist publishing house, Virago Press, bringing her renewed recognition as author and activist.
In 1926, Storm Jameson married Guy Chapman, who served in the Royal Fusiliers 1914-20 and was Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds, 1945-53. She died on 30 September 1986 at the age of 95 in a nursing home in Little Paxton, near St Neots.
With thanks to Professor Ingrid Sharp, Professor Jennifer Birkett and Christopher Storm-Clark