Posted by: helenrobertsbradford | August 14, 2009

Describing ‘a wild woman of India’

I always find that encountering an archive for the first time, especially a collection of personal correspondence and photographs, is a rare treat.  The PaxCat project has begun by cataloguing the papers of Barbara Bruce (1906-1976), Quaker, sculptor and volunteer nurse and relief worker in India in the 1940s.

Barbara Bruce in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, c1940, with the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz

Barbara Bruce in Almora, Uttar Pradesh, c1940, with the anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz

Unlike Miraben (Madeleine Slade) and Annie Besant, Barbara’s life has slipped into the history of India and left very little public trace.

As I describe her letters home to her parents, her tiny black and white photographs, and the hundreds of letters she received from friends and co-workers, more of her life unfolds and the significance of her work becomes clear.

The English Quaker nurse becomes Vasanti Ben (her Indian name), a committed worker towards the Gandhian ideals of sarvodaya (commonweal) and satyagraha (nonviolence).  Or, as she describes herself in this photograph taken in the Himalayas , ‘a wild woman of India’.

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