Margaret Postgate Cole’s primary connection to Nuffield College comes through her husband – who was a Fellow and Deputy Warden of the college, and whose personal library and papers form the basis of the Nuffield College Library. Margaret was an important and distinguished figure in her own right, however. She was active in the Guild Socialist movement and wrote widely; publishing works in labour history and biography, as well as detective fiction and poetry.
According to Cole herself, it was WW1 that provided the catalyst for her political life to follow. In particular, an important moment of political awakening came when her younger brother was called up to military service. An internationalist and a Socialist, he sought exemption as a conscientious objector. He was denied it, however (sympathy for those who objected on grounds other than religion was not widespread at the time). In turn he refused the non-combatant service offered as an alternative and as a consequence was briefly imprisoned. Later, Margaret – who had traveled to Oxford to offer her support – wrote:
…it is almost literally true that when I walked away from the Oxford court room…I walked into a new world of doubters and protesters – and into a new war – this time against the ruling classes and the government which represented them, and with the working classes, the Trade Unionists, the Irish rebels of Easter Week, and all those who resisted their governments or other governments which held them down. (1949, p.58)
She began working for the Fabian Research Department almost immediately thereafter.
Although increasingly politically minded then, Cole began her writing career as a poet, and in 1918 she published a volume of poems, many of which dealt with themes of war. Recently some of these poems have formed a part of anthologies published to mark the centenary of the war, such as Tim Kendall’s Poetry of the First World War. Nuffield College archive holds manuscript versions of some of these poems:
Cole, Margaret, 1949, Growing up into revolution: a personal record of the British Labour Movement by Margaret Cole, London: Longmans, Green
– (can be found in the library at ‘Nuf.Cole, Margaret’ – please ask staff)
Vernon, Betty D., 1986, Margaret Cole, 1893-1980: a political biography, Beckenham: Croom Helm Ltd.
– (can be found in the library at HX 243.C)
The library has lots more material on and by Margaret Cole – both in the archive and in the main collection. If you are interested please don’t hesitate to ask a member of staff for further details.