Evelyn Sharp, the ninth of eleven children, was born on 4th August 1869. Her father, James Sharp, was a slate merchant. Her brother, Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), later gained fame as the leader of the folk-dance revival. Evelyn only had a couple of years of conventional schooling, but successfully passed several university local examinations.
In 1881 Evelyn Sharp, aged twelve, was sent to Strathallan House School. She enjoyed boarding school: "School was the great adventure of late Victorian girlhood, where girls for the first time found their own level." Sharp was an intelligent girl and passed the Cambridge Higher Local Examination in history. Whereas her brothers went to the University of Cambridge, she was sent to a finishing school in Paris.
Against the wishes of her family, Sharp moved to London where she undertook daily tutoring while writing articles for the Pall Mall Gazette and the girls' magazine, Atalanta. She later claimed that a writer should approach children as equals and "make them feel on a level with the author". Sharp also wrote and published several novels including, The Making of a Prig (1897), All the Way to Fairyland (1898) and The Other Side of the Sun (1900).
On 30th December 1901, Evelyn Sharp met Henry Nevinson for the first time at the Prince's Ice Rink in Knightsbridge. She later recalled, "when he took my hand in his and we skated off together as if all our life before had been a preparation for that moment." Although he was married to Margaret Nevinson, they soon became lovers. Nevinson wrote in his diary that Evelyn "was both pretty and wise - exquisite in every way". Evelyn later told him: "The first time I saw you I knew you wanted something you have never got." The situation was further complicated by the fact that Nevinson was also having an affair with Nannie Dryhurst.
Nevinson, who was an experienced journalist, helped her to find work writing articles for the Daily Chronicle and the Manchester Guardian, a newspaper that published her work for over thirty years. Sharp's journalism made her more aware of the problems of working-class women and she joined the Women's Industrial Council and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Sharp and Nevinson shared the same political beliefs. He told his old friend from university, Philip Webb, that Evelyn possessed "a peculiar humour, unexpected, stringent, keen without poison" but "above all she is a supreme rebel against injustice.
Evelyn Sharp worked as a journalist and a part-time teacher. In November, 1903, her father died: "I went to Brook Green to live for the best part of a year with my mother... By the time I was free again I had lost my teaching connection, and, rather than attempt to work it up again, I determined to rely instead on journalism for my regular income. I was equally sorry to give up my private pupils and my school lecturing, which not only interested me but also brought me into contact with children at a period when I was writing stories about them. At the same time, I have never regretted a change which caused me seriously to adopt a great profession and led to many journeys and adventures that would not otherwise have come my way."
In 1905 Sharp and Nevinson established the Saturday Walking Club. Other members included William Haselden, Henry Hamilton Fyfe, Clarence Rook and Charles Lewis Hind. According to Angela V. John, the author of Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Women (2009): "Although Evelyn and Henry were serious walkers, both the Saturday Walking Club and dining with friends afforded the opportunity to be together in public in a manner that was acceptable."
In May 1906 she told Nevinson that she would give up all her literary fame to "belong to you openly and fairly." The following month she wrote to Nevinson: "If it isn't true that you love me it isn't true that the sun shines or that my heart beats quicker when I hear you at the door. My heart is only ill because you put a smile into it that will never die, and my heart had not learnt to smile before." Evelyn Sharp was desperate to have children, but as Nevinson remained married this was impossible. She told a friend that she knew that she was "longing for the impossible" and that "I can hardly bear to look at a baby now."
In the autumn of 1906 Sharp was sent by the Manchester Guardian to cover a speech by Elizabeth Robins. She later wrote: "Elizabeth Robins, then at the height of her fame both as a novelist and as an actress, sent a stir through the audience when she stepped on the platform. The impression she made was profound, even on an audience predisposed to be hostile; and on me it was disastrous. From that moment I was not to know again for twelve years, if indeed ever again, what it meant to cease from mental strife; and I soon came to see with a horrible clarity why I had always hitherto shunned causes."
As a result of hearing the speech, Sharp joined the the Women's Social and Political Union. Sharp later recalled the differences between the suffragists (NUWSS) and the suffragettes (WSPU). Suffragists had waited and worked for so long that they felt they could wait a little longer. Suffragettes who had become "suddenly aware of an imperative need, could not wait another minute."
Evelyn Sharp made her first WSPU speech at Fulham Town Hall in January 1907. In her autobiography, Unfinished Adventure, Sharp admitted that she was terrified by public speaking and that it caused a "cold feeling at the pit of the stomach". However, she used humour to disarm her audience and Emmeline Pankhurst claimed that she was one of the WSPU's best speakers. She went on a WSPU demonstration with Henry Nevinson on 13th February 1907. He recorded that after being attacked by a police officer he resorted to language that was "something horrible."
In 1907 Sharp began a regular column on women's suffrage for the Daily Chronicle. However, in November the editor decided to stop the articles because they "alienated" so many readers. C. P. Scott, her editor at the Manchester Guardian, disapproved of the WSPU's tactics but admitted that Sharp was "the ablest and best brain in the movement".
In January 1909 Sharp was sent to Denmark to lecture on the militant suffrage movement. The following year she was appointed as secretary for the Kensington branch of the WSPU. Another member was the surgeon Louisa Garrett Anderson and the two women became very close friends. The two women sold Votes for Women in Kensington High Street.
Sharp also published Rebel Women (1910), a series of vignettes of suffrage life. Angela V. John, the author of Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Women (2009), has argued: "It brought together in fourteen revealing vignettes the mundane, yet extraordinary, lives of suffragettes. Evelyn tells tales of the unexpected. we see a working-class mother and lady writer making common cause and a little rebel who seizes the moment to join the boys in her own version of cricket. The stories warn us never to jump to conclusions or judge people by appearance."
Evelyn's mother was unhappy about her daughter being a member of the WSPU and made her promise not to do anything that would result in her being sent to prison. In a letter on 25th March 1911, her mother absolved her from that promise: "I am writing to exonerate you from the promise you made me - as regards being arrested - although I hope you will never go to prison, still I feel I cannot any longer be so prejudiced and must really leave it to your own better judgment. So brave, so enthusiastic as you have been for so long - I have really been very unhappy about it and feel I have no right to thwart you - much as I should regret feeling that you were undergoing those terrible hardships which so many noble and brave women have and are doing still... I feel sure what a grief it has been that you could not accompany your friends: I cannot write more but you will be happy now, won't you?"
Evelyn now became active in the militant campaign. On 7th November she was sent to Holloway Prison for fourteen days for breaking government windows. In her autobiography, Unfinished Adventure, she explained what happened when she arrived in prison: "When the doctor asked me if I minded solitary confinement, I surprised him by saying truly that I objected to it because it was not solitary. You might be left alone for twenty-two out of twenty-four hours, but you could never be sure of being left for five minutes without the door being burst suddenly open to admit some official. Yet this threat of interruption, while it destroyed solitude, which I love, never took me from the horror of the locked door, just as one never lost the irritating sense of being peered at through the observation hole."
On 22nd November Evelyn Sharp wrote from her prison cell: "Just by sitting here with cold feet and being given suet pudding (without treacle) for dinner, and going without a bath, and being treated like rather a dangerous child - one is doing more for the cause than all the eloquence of the last five years." However, later Sharp admitted that she felt uncomfortable about taking militant action: "Who am I to be doing all these ugly things when I only long for solitude and a fairy tale to write.... I only know I shall go on till I drop and so will hundreds of others whose names will never be known."
On 5th March 1912, detectives arrived at the WSPU headquarters at Clement's Inn to arrest Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Frederick Pethick Lawrence. It was the Pethick-Lawrences who edited and financed the WSPU's newspaper, Votes for Women. As Angela V. John has pointed out: "Frederick Pethick Lawrence believed that Evelyn was the one person with the requisite technical experience and political acumen to take over the paper as assistant editor - it was just twenty-four hours away from going to press - and this she agreed to do." Elizabeth Robins has argued that the newspaper now had an editor of "distinguished ability and rare devotion."
Sharp was also an active member of the Women Writers Suffrage League and on 24th August 1913 she was chosen to represent the organisation in a delegation that hoped to meet with the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, at the House of Commons to discuss the Cat and Mouse Act. McKenna was unwilling to talk to them and when the women refused to leave the building, Mary Macarthur and Margaret McMillan were physically ejected and Sharp, Sybil Smith and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison.
The arrest of Sybil Smith, the daughter of the William Randal McDonnell, 6th Earl of Antrim, and the mother of seven children, created problems for the government and Sharp and the other suffragettes were released unconditionally after four days. Henry Nevinson arrived at the prison gates with red roses and a bottle of Muscat. He wrote in his diary that they "had perfect happiness again". Weighing less than seven stone she was taken to the home of Hertha Ayrton where she was looked after by her doctor friend, Louisa Garrett Anderson. A few days later she spent time in the Oxfordshire home of Gerald Gould and Barbara Ayrton Gould.
Sharp continued to be involved with Henry Nevinson. As he was a foreign correspondent he was often out of the country. When he was away she wrote him passionate love letters. On one occasion she said: "Oh I am so glad I love some one who could never make me feel ashamed of what I have given so freely." Women found Henry Nevinson very attractive. Henry Brailsford has argued that "Nevinson was a handsome man, who carried himself with a noble air which earned him the nickname of the Grand Duke. His blend of humanity, compassion, and daring made him a popular figure in his own lifetime." Olive Banks commented: "He obviously admired the courage and determination of the militant leaders. At heart a romantic, his view of women was not without its protective side, and female beauty had a strong appeal to him. On the other hand, his passion for freedom, which inspired so much of his work, gave him sympathy also for women's need for political rights and self-determination."
Angela V. John has argued that: "He was cultured and courteous yet rebellious. He travelled to faraway and dangerous places. A touch of shyness, an ability to listen to others and an appreciation of women's rights and of intelligent women ensured that many found him irresistible." Evelyn Sharp also made a big impression on Nevinson. In 1913 he wrote to Sidney Webb: "She (Sharp) has one of the most beautiful minds I know - always going full gallop, as you see from her eyes, but very often in regions beyond the moon, when it takes a few seconds to return. At times she is the very best speaker among the suffragettes."
Sharp left the Women's Social and Political Union in protest against the expulsion by Emmeline Pankhurst of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Frederick Pethick Lawrence. The breakaway group formed the United Suffragists and Sharp edited its journal, Votes for Women. Other members of this organisation included Henry Nevinson, Margaret Nevinson, Hertha Ayrton, Israel Zangwill, Edith Zangwill, Lena Ashwell, Louisa Garrett Anderson, Eveline Haverfield, Maud Arncliffe Sennett, John Scurr, Julia Scurr and Laurence Housman.
Unlike many members of the women's movement, Sharp was unwilling to end the campaign for the vote during the First World War. This brought her criticism from the leaders of the WSPU. In 1914 Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." In
October 1915, the WSPU changed its newspaper's name from The Suffragette to Britannia. Emmeline's patriotic view of the war was reflected in the paper's new slogan: "For King, For Country, for Freedom'. In the newspaper anti-war activists such as Ramsay MacDonald were attacked as being "more German than the Germans".
Her friend and fellow campaigner for women's suffrage, Beatrice Harraden, objected to the unpatriotic tone of some of her articles in Votes for Women. Evelyn was also asked by C. P. Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, to modify the pacifist tone of some of her stories that were published in the newspaper during the war.
During the First World War a group of wealthy suffragettes, including Janie Allan, decided to fund the Women's Hospital Corps. Evelyn Sharp did support this venture and she visited Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray when they were running the hospital in Claridge Hotel in Paris.
A pacifist, Sharp was active in the Women's International League for Peace that was established soon after the war started. She was one of 156 British women invited to its conference in The Hague in April 1915. Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, refused permission for the women to go. Only Chrystal Macmillan, Kathleen Courtney and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who had already left the country, managed to attend the conference.
Sharp was also a member of the Tax Resistance League and refused to pay income tax on her earnings. She argued that to do so amounted to "taxation without representation". By 1917 she owed six years' tax and the authorities declared her bankrupt. Her possessions were seized and sold at public auction. Her friends came to her aid and purchased items that they later gave back to her.
On 10th January 1918, a majority in the House of Lords, voted for the Qualification of Women Act. Evelyn Sharp wrote that later that night she walked around the scenes of their long fought battle. It "was almost the happiest moment of my life" when "I walked away up Whitehall on the evening that the lost cause triumphed." Two days later Henry Nevinson hosted a dinner in honour of the victory. Guests included Sharp, Elizabeth Robins, J. A. Hobson, Gerald Gould and Barbara Ayrton Gould.
Nevinson later argued that the persistence of the United Suffragists that had made the triumph of 1918 possible. He added that all its members would admit that our very existence through those four years from February 1914 to February 1918, were almost entirely due to the brilliant mind and dogged resolution of Evelyn Sharp, who inspired our members to maintain their enthusiasm."
After the Armistice, Evelyn Sharp, now a member of the Labour Party, worked as a journalist for a variety of newspapers, including the Daily Herald and the Manchester Guardian. She visited Russia several times. In November, 1917, she had written in her diary that she was "thrilled at the news of the Russian Revolution". In an article published in The Nation in 1919, Sharp argued that the Bolsheviks were creating a society "in which no one shall starve, and no able-bodied person shall be idle". She added that communism was "the most magnificent ideal of life ever conceived." However, Sharp never joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and by the early 1920s she had become totally disillusioned by the repressive measures of the Soviet government.
In May 1922 the Manchester Guardian started a daily Women's Page. Edited by Madeline Linford, it dealt with "subjects which are special to women" and aimed at the "intelligent woman". Evelyn Sharp was its first regular columnist. Other contributors included Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby. As Angela V. John has pointed out: "It became renowned, provoking debates about the necessity for space dedicated to women."
Henry Nevinson and Margaret Nevinson still lived together. They used to eat separately except for Sundays. According to her biographer, Angela V. John: "Her final years were lonely ones, plagued by depression." Christopher Nevinson described their home "a cheerless uninhabited house". Henry wrote: "Children are a quiverful of arrows that pierce the parents' hearts."
In 1928 Margaret told friends that she wanted to go into a nursing home "and have done with it". She tried to drown herself in the bath. Henry Nevinson wrote to Elizabeth Robins about her health: "At present I am in great tribulation, for Mrs. Nevinson's mind is rapidly failing, and I am perplexed what is best for her. To send her to a mental home among strangers seems to me cruel, but all are urging it, partly in hopes of reducing the great expense. I am so much opposed to it that I should far rather go on spending my small savings in the hope that she may end quietly here." Margaret Nevinson died of kidney failure at her Hampstead home, 4 Downside Crescent, on 8th June 1932.
Henry Nevinson married Evelyn Sharpon 18th January 1933 at Hampstead Registry Office. Evelyn was 63 and Henry was in his seventy-seventh year. Evelyn wrote that "if age and experience have any value at all, they should help and not hinder the explorer who sets out to sail the uncharted seas of married life." The prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, offered to be best man but they refused as they had not approved of him becoming the leader of the National Government. Evelyn shocked the guests by wearing a black dress for the ceremony. Sharp's autobiography, Unfinished Adventure, was published later that year.
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War the Nevinsons' house in Hampstead was bombed and in October 1940 the couple moved to the vicarage at Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. Henry Nevinson died aged 85 on 9th November, 1941. Sharp wrote in her diary: "There was a flaming red sunset right across the sky and the reflection of it was across the room."
Margaret Storm Jameson told Evelyn that "you were woven into his life by memories, going back years and years" and that he had depended on her "as an anchor and centre". Maude Royden claimed that Evelyn and Henry's "happiness had lit up a room like a lamp". George Peabody Gooch added that the "greatest thing in his life was their love for each other".
Evelyn returned to living alone in London flats as she had done for most of her adult life. She died in Methuen Nursing Home, 13 Gunnersbury Avenue, Ealing, on 17 June 1955. During her life she had published over thirty books including fifteen novels, several volumes of short stories, the libretto for an opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a history of folk dancing and a life of the physicist Hertha Ayrton.