The Margaret Sanger Papers


Schreiner, Olive (1855-1920)

South African novelist and feminist writer. Married Samuel C. Cronwright (1894), one daughter. Born to missionary parents in Cape Colony, Schreiner began her career as a governess, but also began writing. In 1881, she emigrated to England and in 1883 published her first novel, The Story of an African Farm. In 1884, she met sex reform theorist Havelock Ellis and the two enjoyed an intimate friendship marked by a mutual interest in exploring the relationship between gender roles and sexuality. Schreiner was also politically active. While she never joined the Socialist Party, she did have socialist leanings and often expressed her support for the rights of working class labor and the importance of union efforts. However, it was to feminism that she was most committed. Initially convinced that women's sexuality undermined their ability to achieve gender equality, Schreiner eschewed sexual involvements until she fell in love with Karl Pearson. When she was rejected by Pearson she had a nervous collapse and in 1889, returned to South Africa. Though she married five years later and had a child (who died in infancy), Schreiner continued to explore the meaning of a feminist life. In 1911 she published Woman and Labor, a feminist tract that promoted women's suffrage and economic independence. Schreiner was also an outspoken opponent of racism and a pacifist, a position that led to her imprisonment during the Boer War. Among her novels were From Man to Man (1926) and Undine (1929), both published posthumously. Margaret Sanger, who had read and admired Woman and Labor, met Olive Schreiner through Havelock Ellis during her 1914-15 exile abroad.
References: Ruth First and Ann Scott, Olive Schreiner (1980); Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (1938).