About Mary Dormer Harris

Mary Dormer Harris was born in 1867 at Dale House, Stoneleigh and educated in Kenilworth, Twickenham, France and Germany before going to Oxford University, where she took a first class honours degree in 1888. She then taught and researched many aspects of the history of Coventry, eventually producing an edition of the fifteenth century Leet Book. She published a number of articles and books, including the popular “Unknown Warwickshire” in 1924. She was connected with the Dugdale Society and the Birmingham Archaeological Society, lectured in local history at Birmingham University and was a Vice President of the Workers Educational Association. Before the first World War she had been active in the women's suffrage movement and she continued to encourage the involvement of women in public work. She was also as a member of the local League of Nations Union and In 1916 became the first lady to address the Leamington Literary Society and in 1917 she became one of the two first ladies elected as members.

A playwright herself, she was a founder of the Dramatic Study Club in 1922 and was much involved in the amateur productions of the Loft Theatre. She was well known for her parties at her home at 16 Gaveston Road, Leamington, which might start with earnest readings from Shakespeare or Shaw, but then develop into riotous charades. Her obituaries talk about “her zest for life, her sympathy with the joys and sorrows of everyone about her, here kindliness and humour and her unaffected sympathy”. Others mentioned “her wide circle of friends, young and old”, her tact and wise counsel, her love of the past “balanced by a perpetually fresh and gay enthusiasm which carried a touch of idealism”, her “gaiety and fun” and her “profound scholarship”. “Above all, she was a very good friend, and was most helpful to a number of young people who came into her circle”. Many of those “young people” still remember her kind deeds.

A fascinating biography, “
Mary Dormer Harris: The Life and Works of a Warwickshire Historian”, by Jean Field, was published in 2002. This well illustrated book is of great interest to those wishing to learn more about Miss Harris's life and to local historians alike.