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Charlotte Frances Shaw letters

Collection MS-2008-017: Charlotte Frances Shaw letters


  • Creation: 1898 - 1950
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1898 - 1912

Scope and Contents

This collection contains correspondence from Charlotte Frances Shaw to her friends Gilbert and Mary Murray regarding her domestic arrangements, travel plans, and health concerns. Additionally, there are two telegrams from Bernard Shaw to Gilbert Murray concerning plays and legal matters and one telegram from Bernard Shaw and Granville Barker to Murray regarding plans to meet at Oxford. There is also a letter from Blanche Patch, Bernard Shaw's secretary, to an unknown correspondent discussing the injury and health issues that eventually led to Bernard's death.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note: Charlotte Frances Shaw

Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend Shaw was born on January 20, 1857, in Derry, Ireland to Horace Townshend and Mary Kirby. Her father died in 1885, leaving Charlotte a wealthy heiress. For much of her life, she rejected the idea of marriage and turned down all offers made to her.

Charlotte became friends with British socialists Beatrice and Sidney Webb and, in 1895, became a member of the Fabian Society. During this time, she played a role in founding the London School of Economics, donating the funds to establish a library at the school. She was among the first Trustees of the school and later served as a Governor.

Through the Webbs Charlotte met Irish playwright Bernard Shaw in 1896, and a year later she made a proposal of marriage to him, which he rejected. Bernard believed that the difference in their wealth was too great. However, when Charlotte left on a world tour, Bernard suffered an injury to his foot and she returned to nurse him back to health in the country. In 1898, Bernard proposed marriage and they were married that same year. However, the two maintained a deep friendship throughout their life together, with Charlotte acting as Bernard’s secretary and agent. Their courtship was the basis for Bernard’s play, A Village Wooing.

In 1922, Charlotte met and developed a friendship with T. E. Lawrence, which lasted until his death in 1935. She was an avid traveller, became involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and participated in the Boston Suffrage Parade of 1914.

Charlotte Shaw died September 12, 1943. Her ashes were stored until 1950, when her husband died, and their ashes were mixed together and spread in the garden at their home at Ayot St. Lawrence, England.


Anand, Jessie. "Biography: Charlotte Payne-Townshend." The Heroine Collective. May 23, 2016. Accessed March 09, 2017.

"An unsung heroine of LSE – Charlotte Shaw." LSE History. February 16, 2017. Accessed March 09, 2017.

"Charlotte Frances Townshend (5D27)." Townsend (Townshend) Family Records. 2012. Accessed March 09, 2017.

Holroyd, Michael. George Bernard Shaw: The Search for Love. London: Chatto & Windus. 1988.

Biographical note: Bernard Shaw

Bernard Shaw was born George Bernard Shaw on July 26, 1856, at number 3 Upper Synge Street (now 33 Synge Street), Dublin. He was the third and last child of George Carr Shaw, a grain merchant, and Elizabeth (Gurly) Shaw, a singer who instilled an appreciation for music in her young son. Bernard disliked the name George and never used it, although he signed his initials "G.B.S." He attended school until the age of 15, when he left to become an office clerk. He left Dublin for London in 1876 and did not return for 30 years. He began his writing career in the late 1870s with the publication of several articles in journals and political newspapers, along with a series of novels published in socialist periodicals. Most of this early fiction was not well received, and Bernard's primary reputation was as a journalist, critic, and political ideologue, especially after he joined the Fabian Society in 1884, of which he became a prominent member. He moved into playwriting in 1892 when his first play, Widowers' Houses, was performed by J. T. Grein's Independent Theatre. This ran for only one performance, and his next two plays, Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893) and The Philanderer (1893), were not performed for many years. He achieved success, however, with the plays Arms and the Man (1894) and Candida (1897), which were well-received in both London and New York.

In 1898 Bernard married Charlotte Payne-Townsend, a wealthy Irish heiress and fellow Fabian, and their marriage lasted until her death in 1943. He wrote prolifically around the turn of the century, producing some of his best known plays during this time, including The Devil's Disciple (1897), Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), You Never Can Tell (1899), and Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1899). During this period he also wrote John Bull's Other Island (1904), which was performed for King Edward VII in 1905, Major Barbara (1905), Man and Superman (1905), and The Doctor's Dilemma (1906). In 1913 he wrote Pygmalion, which was produced first in Vienna, then in London in 1914, and later adapted into the musical My Fair Lady in 1956.

Bernard's dramatic production slowed during the First World War as theatre costs increased and his pacifist stance grew highly unpopular. He reemerged after the war to write three of his great plays: Heartbreak House (1920), Saint Joan (1923), and The Apple Cart (1929). Saint Joan helped him win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, and for the rest of his life he was awarded many honors and titles, few of which he accepted. As he grew older he began to spend more time at his cottage at Ayot St. Lawrence in Hertfordshire, which he purchased in 1906 and would later become known as "Shaw's Corner." When he died on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94, he left behind a prolific bibliography that included more than fifty plays. According to his instructions he was cremated and his ashes were mingled with his wife's and spread in the garden at Shaw's Corner.


Hogan, Robert, ed. Dictionary of Irish Literature, 2 vols. Westport: Greenwood P, 1996.

Holroyd, Michael. Bernard Shaw, 4 vols. London: Chatto and Windus, 1988-1992.

Laurence, Dan. Bernard Shaw: A Bibliography, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.

Wearing, J.P., Elsie Adams, and Donald Haberman, eds. G.B. Shaw: an annotated bibliography of writings about him. 3 vols. DeKalb: Northern Illinois UP, 1986- 1987.

Biographical note: Gilbert Murray

Gilbert Murray was born in Sydney, Australia, to Sir Terence Aubrey Murray, a wealthy stock farmer, and Agnes Ann Murray. Murray was educated at St. John's College, Oxford, where he studied Classics. In 1889, at the age of twenty three, Gilbert married Mary Henrietta Howard. Gilbert taught Greek at Glasgow and, in 1897, published The History of Ancient Greek Literature. He went on to become deeply involved in stage productions of plays. He became friends with Bernard Shaw and served as the model for the character of Adolphus Cusins in Shaw’s play, Major Barbara. Gilbert’s wife and mother-in-law were also inspiration for characters in the same play.

Gilbert Murray died in 1957.


Holroyd, Michael. George Bernard Shaw: The Search for Love. London: Chatto & Windus. 1988.

Larson, Gale Kjelshus., and MaryAnn Krajnik. Crawford. Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Biographical note: Mary Henrietta Murray

Mary Henrietta (Howard) Murray was born in 1865 to Rosalind Howard, countess of Carlisle, and George Howard, the ninth earl of Carlisle. She married Gilbert Murray in 1889. She was a member of the Quaker movement, but converted to Catholicism in 1933.

Mary Murray died in 1956.

Sources: Holroyd, Michael. George Bernard Shaw: The Search for Love. London: Chatto & Windus. 1988.


0.25 Linear Feet (1 container)

Language of Materials



Contains letters and postcards from Charlotte Frances Shaw to her friends Gilbert and Mary Murray regarding her domestic arrangements, travel plans, and health concerns. Additionally, there are two telegrams from Bernard Shaw to Gilbert Murray and one from Bernard Shaw and Granville Barker to Murray. There is also a letter from Blanche Patch, Shaw's secretary, to an unknown correspondent.




Purchased from Second Life Books - ABAA, 2008.

Related Materials

Samuel N. Freedman collection of Bernard Shaw, MS.2002.044, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Bernard Shaw letters to Bernard Partridge, MS.2005.039, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Bernard Shaw questionnaire, MS.2002.039, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Processing Information

The form of Shaw's name in the collection title (and throughout the finding aid) was changed during reprocessing in 2017 from Charlotte Shaw to Charlotte Frances Shaw to reflect the authorized form of her name according to the Library of Congress.

Charlotte Frances Shaw Letters
1898-1950 (bulk 1898-1912)
Michael Pesce, Spring 2009; Marion Querici, Spring 2010; and Stephanie Hall
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States