In Memoriam: Sally Mitchell
by Peter M. Logan
The author of five books and an encyclopedia, the feminist scholar and Emeritus Professor of English Sally Mitchell passed away on January 1, 2016. Mitchell specialized in Victorian literature and was well known for her innovative work on women writers and Victorian periodicals. She earned her Ph.D. in 1977 at Oxford University, where her dissertation, “The Unchaste Woman,” was one of the earlier studies of disobedient and disadvantaged women in literature. It became the basis of her 1981 book, The Fallen Angel: Chastity, Class, and Women’s Reading, 1835-1880. Typically for her, it examined canonical works alongside popular novels, social reform treatises, and stories in cheap periodicals. She was interested in literature, she explained, “not primarily for aesthetic reasons but as a reflection of and an influence on history and society," and her later research reflected her focus on cultural history.
This was particularly true of her study of turn-of-the-century girlhood, The New Girl: Girls' Culture in England, 1880-1915 (1995). In it, she used one of the least-studied of non-canonical genres, popular juvenile fiction, to examine ideas that were an integral part of growing up for young female readers. During the three decades she examined, the Victorian ideal of femininity—the “Angel in the House”—declined and a new stereotype of a rebellious, independent “New Woman” emerged. Mitchell’s examination of the cultural production of the “new girl” in commercial publishing ventures thus added significantly to knowledge about the development of gender roles in the twentieth century.
Mitchell pursued these interests in two biographies of important but under-research Victorian women writers. In Dinah Mulock Craik (1983), she looked at a prolific writer of novels, poetry, and children’s literature, who also published major essays on “The Woman Question.” The second biography, Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer (2004), is the only full-length biography of Cobbe, a London journalist, suffragist, and antivivisectionist, who became one of the century’s most significant intellectuals.
Her other works included Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia (1988), and a related resource for undergraduates, Daily Life in Victorian Britain (1996). She also produced new editions of two important Victorian novels, Sara Grand’s The Beth Book, a semi-autobiographical story of female adolescence, and Mrs. Henry Wood’s East Lynne, which portrays female gender conformity as a drawn out form of masochism.
Mitchell arrived at Temple as an assistant professor in 1979. During her twenty-eight years here, she served notably on Faculty Senate, TAUP, Undergraduate Board, and Temple Press Board of Review. In CLA, she directed the Women’s Studies Program from 1987-89 and was a continuous member of the Women’s Studies Council from her arrival at Temple. In the English Department, she was Undergraduate and Graduate Chair. After retirement, she returned frequently to campus for meetings of the regional Victorian studies groups or to confer with current and former students or colleagues. We are all beneficiaries of Mitchell’s extraordinary energy, knowledge, and generosity.
The family of Sally Mitchell will host a memorial event in her honor, to give her many friends a chance to come together and celebrate her life:
Sally Mitchell Memorial Celebration
Sunday, February 21, 2016
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House
20 East Mermaid Lane