Founded in 1894 by newspaper proprietor, Joseph Snell Wood, as the Society of Women Journalists, the Society has a rich and varied history. Sylvia Kent explores this in her book The Woman Writer - The History of the SWWJ”, published in 2009 by the History Press.
The book is available direct from Sylvia (firstname.lastname@example.org) for £8.50 inc. P&P. (For overseas delivery, please contact Sylvia.)
During its first three years, the Society was managed by its founder, Joseph Snell Wood, who bore all the initial expenses. One early event which provided publicity and encouraged many women to apply for membership was a reception with Sarah Bernhardt. Although originally founded as a society for women journalists, over the years, the names of prominent men such as Sir Harry Brittain and George Bernard Shaw have been associated with the SWWJ as speakers at Society events and in other supportive roles.
In 1951, the Society became The Society of Women Writers and Journalists, a change in name which reflected an expanding remit. More recently, in 2004, following discussion amongst the membership, it was agreed that male writers should be welcomed as Associate members. Although at present they cannot become Council Members, our Associate members enjoy all the other benefits of membership; they are active in their support and their names appear regularly among the winners of our in-house competitions. Our Friends include workers in many associated professions, including theatre, publishing, education and art.
Well-known writers of all genres have been among the Society members, including Richmal Crompton, Ursula Bloom, Margery Allingham, Dr. Marie Stopes, Catherine Cookson, Lady Violet Astor, Vera Brittain, Clemence Dane and Nina Bawden. Joyce Grenfell was our President for 22 years and Lady Longford was our Honorary Life President for 25 years until her death in 2002. She was succeeded by Baroness Williams of Crosby, daughter of Vera Brittain.
Our current Patrons are Lord Quirk, Sir Tim Rice, The Earl of Stockton, Baroness Howard of Lympne (novelist Sandra Howard), and Simon Brett and they attend our events when time and other engagements permit
Although our members' memories do not stretch back to the great celebrations of the Society’s Golden Jubilee in 1944, some can tell tales of our 75th anniversary in 1969, which was commemorated with a special anniversary party at the House of Lords attended by Her Majesty, The Queen. More recently, our centenary year, 1994, was celebrated with a wealth of events including a literacy seminar, receptions, gala lunches and a weekend conference at Newnham College, Cambridge, and the 120th events in 2014 included a marvellous celebratory service at St Bride's church in Fleet Street, the spiritual home of the media, and a lunch at Stationer's Hall, another iconic venue for journalists and other writers Our late President, Victoria Wood, CBE, joined us for this landmark anniversary, commenting, “from pen and ink to Twitter, it's one hundred and twenty years of creativity and communication.”
In 2016, The Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe DSG accepted the role of Hon Life President of the Society, a position left vacant when Shirley Williams (The Rt Hon the Baroness Williams of Crosby) stepped down in order to reduce the number of voluntary commitments she had. Ann held the post until May 2019. It currently remains vacant.
The Society is committed to the future of the writing profession and we realise the need to continue to evolve and keep abreast of technological advances and changes in reading habits. To find out more about us and what we are doing now, do explore this website and join in the discussion on our social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter.