Jane Esdon Malloch was born on 3rd April 1874 in Elderslie, Renfrewshire, one of the six children of John Malloch, a Scottish cotton manufacturer, and his wife, Margaret Marion McLeod. An intelligent girl she attended Glasgow University, where she studied Greek under Gilbert Murray. She developed a passionate affection for Murray but he was married to Mary Henrietta Howard, the daughter of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle.
According to Bertrand Russell: "She had been a brilliant student of Gilbert Murray's, had fallen in love with him though he was married, and at last wrote that she would go to the devil unless he had an affair with her... that the only way to deal with the situation was to do one thing or the other. Either he must have nothing to do with her or he must agree to her wish."
In 1895 she joined the Independent Labour Party branch of the university. It had recently been established by Henry Brailsford after hearing James Keir Hardie speak during the 1895 General Election. Other members included Norman Leys, Ronald Montague Burrows and Alexander MacCallum Scott.
Her biographer, F. M. Leventhal, has argued that she was "a headstrong young woman... she possessed remarkable beauty, which not only made her the cynosure of a host of undergraduate contemporaries, but was later to arouse the ardour of..." Henry Nevinson and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.
One of the men who was infatuated with Jane was Henry Brailsford, her philosophy tutor. His friends warned him against her. Alexander MacCallum Scott believed she was a neurotic who would prevent Brailsford from ever accomplishing anything in literature. Another friend said "she had no heart and would never love anyone". In December 1896, just as she was about to leave for a year at Somerville College, he asked her to marry him. Given the way she had been treating him, it was no surprise when she refused him.
In April 1897 Henry Brailsford joined the Philhellenic Legion, a volunteer force fighting for the Greeks in their struggle with Turkey. His war experiences gave him the material for his only novel, The Broom of the War God (1898). The novel brought Brailsford to the attention of C.P Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, and remembering the earlier recommendation he recruited him to investigate the turmoil in Crete.
Brailsford now arranged a meeting with Jane and told her of his assignment and asked her again to marry him. This time she said yes. His biographer, F. M. Leventhal, has argued: "Her motives for this sudden reversal after rebuffing him for nearly two years are not wholly explicable. Her father had died in July... and the Elderslie house was sold, leaving her essentially homeless... Now that he was gaining recognition as a foreign correspondent, Brailsford must have appeared a more enticing prospect than he had been as an unemployed philosophy lecturer, especially to one so eager to shake the dust of Glasgow from her feet... Given her repugnance for Brailsford, it is likely that their marriage was never consummated or, in any event, that it was virtually sexless." Bertrand Russell claimed that Jane married Brailsford "on the understanding that there should be no sexual intercourse because of her love for Gilbert Murray".
They were married in a civil ceremony in Glasgow on 29th September, 1898, a day before they left for Crete. Jane told him that she would not wear a wedding ring as it was a sign of bondage. The following year he became the Manchester Guardian correspondent in Paris. On their return to London Brailsford now became a leader-writer for The Morning Leader. Later he became a leader writer on the Daily News. As well as contributing to The Star and the weekly journal, The Nation.
Jane's marriage was extremely unhappy. One source claimed that Jane taunted her husband with being so unattractive that she was surprised he dared to go out in society. F. M. Leventhal has argued: "Her contempt for her husband derived partly from jealously for his intellectual gifts and literary facility... Jane Brailsford attempted to discover her own creative outlets, first as a novelist and later as an actress, but to no avail. Whether she was impeded because she was a woman or simply because, despite earlier promise, she lacked talent is unclear, but her efforts to build a reputation for herself other than as an adjunct to her husband and as an occasional participant in radical campaigns proved abortive."
Henry Nevinson was one of the many men who fell in love with her. He later recalled that when he first saw her she was wearing a "blue, silky thinnish dress, smocked at neck and waist, pale, thin... I never saw anything so flower-like, so plaintively beautiful and yet so full of spirit and power." He made regular visits to her home where "she was most sweet, with dove's eyes, but full of dangers" but found she sometimes expressed "a mocking spirit". Jane sent Nevinson a note about her "struggle to resist my own desire" but clearly informed him that she was in charge of the situation: "I am not an iceberg. I am a wild animal but with a brain - and because of that I see how degrading it was for both of us... a mere body I will not be to anyone. You might surely find in me something more than a physical excitement. Have once before been regarded like that by a man and I took it as a proof of his inferiority."
One friend claimed that Jane was "vain about her appearance... and was haunted by the fear that she would become ugly with advancing years". Henry Nevinson said that "at the age of twenty-eight she was already terrified of old age". Her sister-in-law later recalled that she would "kill herself if she ever lost her beauty."
Jane Brailsford was a great advocate of women's suffrage. She was a member of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. However, in 1906, frustrated by the NUWSS lack of success, she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation established byEmmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst. The main objective was to gain, not universal suffrage, the vote for all women and men over a certain age, but votes for women, “on the same basis as men.”
In July 1909 Brailsford wrote to The Nation arguing: "I have not before been in touch with a body of people so entirely selfless as the members of the Women's Social and Political Union. This absolute devotion to their cause, a devotion that stops at nothing and fears nothing - is acting like a magnet, drawing supporters slowly and steadily from all over the country. Nothing can stop this movement."
Henry Brailsford disagreed with the militant tactics of the WSPU but did believe women should have the vote and along with Laurence Housman, Charles Corbett, Henry Nevinson, Israel Zangwill, C. E. M. Joad, Hugh Franklin, Charles Mansell-Moullin, was a founder of the Men's League For Women's Suffrage. WSPU member, Evelyn Sharp later argued: "It is impossible to rate too highly the sacrifices that they (Henry Nevinson and Laurence Housman) and H. N. Brailsford, F. W. Pethick Lawrence, Harold Laski, Israel Zangwill, Gerald Gould, George Lansbury, and many others made to keep our movement free from the suggestion of a sex war."
Brailsford joined a group of suffragettes, including Constance Lytton and Emily Wilding Davison, who resolved to undertake acts of violence in order to protest against forcible feeding. On 9th November 1909, she was arrested in Newcastle after attacking a barricade with an axe. She was sent to prison for 30 days. After taking part in another demonstration on 21st November 1911, she was sentenced to seven days in Holloway Prison. Her friend, Henry Nevinson, wrote letters to the Home Office and an article in The English Review, that ensured she was not force-fed and she was released after three days.
The summer of 1913 saw a further escalation of WSPU violence. In July attempts were made by suffragettes to burn down the houses of two members of the government who opposed women having the vote. These attempts failed but soon afterwards, a house being built for David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was badly damaged by suffragettes. This was followed by cricket pavilions, racecourse stands and golf clubhouses being set on fire.
Some leaders of the WSPU such as Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, disagreed with this arson campaign. When Pethick-Lawrence objected, she was expelled from the organisation. Brailsford joined Elizabeth Robins, Mary Blathwayt and Louisa Garrett Anderson in showing their disapproval by ceasing to be active in the WSPU.
On 4th May 1913 the Brailsfords agreed to separate. Jane Brailsford, who moved to a flat in Warwick Crescent, told Henry Nevinson that "there is another woman more beloved" but he was unconvinced by this story. Brailsford visited her regularly and according to Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, he told him: "He has achieved little and enjoyed little and will have nothing that will live after him. His marriage has proved a failure and he has no children."
The couple moved back together in 1914. They disagreed about the First World War as he was a member of Union of Democratic Control whereas she was a patriotic supporter of the war effort. Nevinson met her in April 1915. He recorded in his diary: "Mrs. Brailsford met me at the Green: has grown very stout and rather deliberately rude and unpleasant in manner. Is probably unhappy in every respect, differing from her husband on all points - peace and war etc. She thinks vengeance for supposed atrocities must be exacted from Germany and supports the crushing policy. He is for easy terms so as to avoid future revenge."
Clifford Allen met Jane Brailsford for the first time in 1919: "She is excited, and nervy, anxious to talk much and quickly to avoid pauses for observation; she often sparkles in a quite horribly brilliant way, and then seems almost mad and secretly morose. I could not make out what part sex played in her make up; it might have done so vigorously in the past, but did not do so now. Her relation to Brailsford seemed astonishing and either malicious or totally impersonal... She was like a haunted figure from some foreign novel... I am convinced that there is a good chance of this woman going mad, when the whole tragedy of her life will suddenly flash back on her and then she might well kill Brailsford."
Henry Brailsford left his wife for the last time in 1921. Her biographer, F. M. Leventhal, has argued that: "She (Jane Brailsford) later suffered severe depression and a physical breakdown, possibly precipitating the uncontrolled drinking that blighted her later years. Regarding marriage as a form of subjugation, she never concealed her repugnance for her husband, whom she treated with contempt. At her insistence they had no children.... In 1921 they separated permanently, although she refused to agree to a divorce. By the late 1920s Jane Brailsford, incapacitated by alcoholism, was living alone in Kew, London."
I have not before been in touch with a body of people so entirely selfless as the members of the Women's Social and Political Union. This absolute devotion to their cause, a devotion that stops at nothing and fears nothing - is acting like a magnet, drawing supporters slowly and steadily from all over the country. Nothing can stop this movement.
The magistrates convicted me of "disorderly behaviour with intent to disturb the peace," and bound me over in the sum of fifty pounds and two sureties of twenty-five pounds each, to be enforced for twelve months; in default, one mouth's imprisonment in the second division. I, of course, had no option of finding sureties for twelve months, and was sentenced to the month's imprisonment. My companion, Miss Davison, was dismissed, as she had literally done nothing.
Mrs. Brailsford, who had struck at the barricade with an axe, was also given the option of being bound over, which she, of course, refused, with the alternative of a month's imprisonment in the second division.
We were put again into a van, but had only a short way to drive. We were shown into a passage of the prison where the Governor came and spoke to us. He was very civil, and begged us not to go on the hunger-strike. Then the matron came, a charming and very refined woman, who walked with a stick, being lame. Miss Davison had headed our little hand of twelve; when she was dismissed, Miss Dorothy Pethick, Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence's youngest sister, was our head and spoke for us. Her face had all the beauty that freshness, youth, and grace could give it, and, with it all, for her age - she was twenty-seven - there
was a wonderful strength about it. She spoke civilly to the Governor, but in a very determined way. He could not do enough for us.... Finally, Mrs. Brailsford and I were taken to different cells on the ground floor, where we were separated completely from the others.
The second morning, Wednesday, October 13, when the doctors came, I stood in the corner of my cell with my arms crossed and my fingers caught in my nostrils and my mouth. It was the best position I knew of for them not to be able to feed me by nose or mouth without having first a considerable struggle. They came, and after I saw that they had no tube I carne out from my corner and let them both look at my heart. They thumped, each of them in turn, and felt my pulse as well. Then they appeared to be agreed and went out. I said to them, "You seemed to be puzzled by my heart; I can tell you about it if you like." But they had made up their minds about something, and did not want any, help from me.
A wardress came in and announced that I was released, because of the state of my heart! Though this was fairly evident from the visit of the outside doctor, I had not realised it. I gathered my things together and went out. I called to Mrs. Brailsford; she was released too.
Mrs. Brailsford met me at the Green: has grown very stout and rather deliberately rude and unpleasant in manner. Is probably unhappy in every respect, differing from her husband on all points - peace and war etc. She thinks vengeance for supposed atrocities must be exacted from Germany and supports the crushing policy. He is for easy terms so as to avoid future revenge.
She (Jane Brailsford) is excited, and nervy, anxious to talk much and quickly to avoid pauses for observation; she often sparkles in a quite horribly brilliant way, and then seems almost mad and secretly morose. I could not make out what part sex played in her make up; it might have done so vigorously in the past, but did not do so now. Her relation to Brailsford seemed astonishing and either malicious or totally impersonal... She was like a haunted figure from some foreign novel... I am convinced that there is a good chance of this woman going mad, when the whole tragedy of her life will suddenly flash back on her and then she might well kill Brailsford."