Alice Zimmern

Alice Zimmern, (1855-1939) champion of women’s independence, education and suffrage moved into 41 Parliament Hill Mansions shortly after the flats were completed, and lived in Lissenden Gardens until her death in 1939. The daughter of German immigrants, a classics scholar and an early graduate of Bedford College London and Girton College Cambridge, she was one of a distinguished generation of Girtonians who made important contributions to the women’s movement.

Alice Zimmern’s early working life was spent in teaching, and writing text books designed to make learning interesting for her students, but by the time she moved to Lissenden gardens, research and writing had taken over from teaching, and it is as an erudite – and highly readable and persuasive – advocate for education for girls and votes for women that Alice Zimmern is now mainly remembered.

Alice Zimmern contributed numerous articles to journals such as Forum and the Leisure Hour, comparing the different education systems she observed in her travels, and, increasingly, reflecting on the education of women. In Women’s Suffrage in Many Lands (1909), written to coincide with the Fourth Congress of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance, she finds a number of historical precedents for women’s entitlement to the franchise and makes the argument that granting women the vote would, in some cases, merely reinstate a previously held right. Importantly, she shows, through a wide range of examples from different countries, that there is an ‘intimate …connexion between enfranchisement and the just treatment of women’. While most of the arguments she presents are moderate and pragmatic, she readily acknowledges the militant tactics of British suffragettes as effective in making women’s suffrage ‘the question of the day’. Both Zimmern’s The Renaissance of Girls’ Education (1898) and Women’s Suffrage in Many Lands made a major contribution to contemporary debates about the education and political rights of women.

Lissenden Gardens brought Alice Zimmern close to the pioneering Girls Schools that were springing up in North London around the turn of the century, and provided a base for the international research trips that informed publications on these major 20th century developments, and will have influenced the numerous articles she wrote on ‘women’s dwellings’, offering insight into the material conditions which defined the quality of women’s lives, including ‘Ladies’ clubs in London’, published in Forum (1896), and ‘Ladies’ dwellings’, which appeared in the Contemporary Review (1900). Here her flat in Lissenden Gardens would have stood as example of the labour-saving homes she believed modern women needed.

Zimmern’s ability to travel widely became limited by arthritis in the last decades of her life, though she continued to entertain many international visitors with feminist and pacifist interests in her Lissenden Gardens flat. Her last publication, a translation of Také Ionescu’s work, The Origins of the War (1917), published by the Council for the Study of International Relations. Alice Zimmern, who was unmarried, died at her Lissenden Gardens home, in March 1939, and was buried at Kentish Town parish church.

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