First Post From Somerville

Somerville College is proud to possess the library of John Stuart Mill and his father, James Mill. Whilst the collection has been at Somerville since 1905 when Helen Taylor, Mill’s step-daughter, gave the books to the college for its newly-formed library, it is only in recent years that a major campaign has been launched to promote, preserve and research the books and the marginalia contained therein.

Displaying commemorating the gift of Mill's library to Somerville College.
Displaying commemorating the gift of Mill’s library to Somerville College.

On May 20th 2016,  the 210th anniversary of John Stuart Mill’s birth, Somerville College marked the occasion with an evening of lectures, networking and conviviality and the launch of its newest venture, Friends of the John Stuart Mill library.

Professor Alan Ryan presenting.
Professor Alan Ryan. Picture courtesy of Anne Manuel.




The renowned Mill scholar Professor Alan Ryan delivered his talk on “Drudges, Blue-Stockings, and Fallen Women: John Stuart Mill on Sex, Suffrage and Education”, whilst historian Dr Frank Prochaska talked about Mill and American Democracy which featured his fascinating findings from the marginalia in De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the treasures of Somerville’s collection.


Professor Frank Prochaska presenting.
Professor Frank Prochaska. Picture courtesy of Anne Manuel.

With more than one hundred in the audience there were plenty of questions, including those on Mill’s feminism and his varied and various  attitudes to women  and the validity of Mill’s views on a country (US) that he had never visited.  As ever, Mill’s thinking and writing seemed particularly relevant no more so than now in the run-up to the US Presidential election. The multi-disciplinary, multi-sector audience had plenty of opportunities for catching up over drinks both before and after the lecture and the Friends group had swelled in numbers by the end of the evening!

The lectures will be available to members of the Friends group through its annual newsletter to be published in the summer.  All enquiries about the collection, the Friends group or the project to preserve, promote and research the library should be addressed to, College Librarian and Archivist.


— Anne Manuel, Somerville College Librarian and Archivist.