Dora Marsden (1882 – 1960)

Portrait-MarsdenBorn in Marsden in 1882. In 1900 began teaching at Owens College, where she met Christabel Pankhurst and other suffragists. Dora joined and became a leader in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU) by 1908.  The following year she resigned as a teacher and became a full time agitator for the WSPU, graduating from suffragist to suffragette. She was sentenced to two months in prison for vandalism in 1909: she refused to wear prison clothes and served her time in the nude, even wriggling out of a straightjacket that had been forced on her. After a hunger strike she was released and continued to agitate. She disrupted political meetings (including a speech by a young Winston Churchill). The WSPU ‘promoted’ her to a clerical position to temper her agitation. Dora, meanwhile, had grown tired of the ‘skirt movement’ and sought a liberty beyond feminism.

In 1911, Dora founded The Freewoman (1911 – 1912), a periodical described by one forgotten nobody as “a disgusting publication… indecent, immoral and filthy.” Financial troubles led to a re-launch as The New Freewoman (1914). And an ever more keen search for liberty led to a re-launch as The Egoist (1914 – 1919).

In the 1920s – 1930s Dora wrote three books: The Definition of the Godhead (1928), The Mysteries of Christianity (1930) and The Philosophy of Time (published only in 1955). During the writing of these books she went from a self-imposed isolation to confinement in a mental hospital, where she spent the remainder of her life.


Select Bibliography


The Freewoman (1911 — 1912). Editor.
The New Freewoman (1913). Editor.
The Egoist (1914 — 1919).


The Definition of the Godhead (1928). Author.
The Mysteries of Christianity (1930). Author.
The Philosophy of Time (1955). Author.

Representative Quote

One point at least in our “attitude” has been caught - our “commonness.” It is cardinal, and we must insist on it. We are “common.” This does not mean, either on our lips, or on others, that we are like everybody else. Tout au contraire! It means that we are egoistic, individual, selfish. To be “common” with the “fine” means to be in the bonds of selfish motives and to see others in the same - not to be under sway of the fine concepts; the “noble” emotions; to be running amok of the whole cultural structure. And so we are. We are seeking our individual satisfactions, and find instruction in tracing out the ridiculous figure cut by those who are gadding about pretending to seek other peoples.

The Freewoman, Volume 1 Number 2, July 1st 1913