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Saturday 17 July 2010


The one thing that everyone knows about my great great aunt Margaret (if they’ve heard of her at all) is that she received the psychic cross-correspondences. It’s an extraordinary story, and was the subject of my earlier post on her.

But I know that her grandchildren and great grandchildren regret that such a one-sided picture is always painted of her (and of her daughter and son-in-law who were best known for similar reasons). It's too easy in researching one's family tree to pounce on the "good stories" and forget that these are real people, and that they are other people's ancestors as well. I am guilty as charged, and would like to make some small amends with the following obituary of her which gives a much more rounded impression of her than I had before I found it this morning online.

In Memoriam.

Our “common cause,” writes a correspondent, has lost a wise and steadfast supporter in Mrs Verrall, whose death, after some months of suffering, took place at her Cambridge home on July 2nd. Both she and her brilliant husband, Professor Verrall, who died in 1912, had done much to help women to realise their powers, and to give of their best, unhampered by artificial restrictions. Mrs Verrall (formerly Miss Margaret De Gaudrion Merrifield) was one of the early students of Newnham College, where she worked with success for the Classical Tripos and where she afterwards held the post of classical lecturer and tutor. She was a remarkably able teacher, for her own brain was clear as well as powerful, and she knew how to make a subject clear to those she addressed. She was also a good speaker, but she preferred the life of the study to that of the platform and committee room, although her political interests (which were, in general, on the side of the Liberal party) were deep and keen. Her work as a scholar included the translation of the text of Pausanias for “The Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens,” brought out by herself and Miss Jane Harrison, and she arranged for publication of her late husband’s lectures on Dryden. As a member of the Society for Psychical Research, she gave much of her time and thought to the investigation of mental and physical phenomena in some of their many mysterious and as yet uncomprehended forms.

At the simple funeral service, conducted at St. Giles’s Church, Cambridge, on the 5th inst., by the Rev M.A. Bayfield, rector of Hertingfordbury, the members of Newnham College, including Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, the former Principal, Mrs. B.A. Clough and Miss Jane Harrison walked in procession behind the coffin, which was preceded by the nearest relatives, Mrs. W.H. Salter (Mrs. Verrall’s only daughter) with Mr. Salter, and Miss F. de G. Merrifield (sister) being the chief mourners. The kindness shown by Mrs. Verrall as Hon. Secretary of the Belgian University Committee in Cambridge was recognised by the attendance of some of the leading Belgian professors and their wives, and beside a wreath from Newnham College was one inscribed “Le corps professorial Belge reconnaissant.”

The obituary appeared on p.181 of the newspaper “The Common Cause of Humanity,” the organ of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, on 14th  July 1916.

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