Kathlyn Oliver (born 1885) was a suffragist and founder of the Domestic Workers' Union of Great Britain and Ireland (est. 1909–1910). The Freewoman, a feminist journal, printed the correspondence in 1912 between Kathlyn Oliver and Stella Browne, on sexual desire.
The British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology (BSSSP), of which Edith Lees Ellis was a member, was established in 1913 to provide a forum for the discussion of new ideas in the field of sex reform. The first woman member of the society was the militant suffragist Cicely Hamilton, and she was soon joined by a number of other notable feminists, such as Kathlyn Oliver and Stella Browne, and by Mrs Mary Scharlieb, one of the first women to gain a medical qualification in Britain. The membership of these women suggests that feminism and sexuology were not necessarily antithetical views and feminists did not reject the idea of sexologists such as Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter.
After the death of her father when Kathlyn Oliver was in her middle twenties she supported herself, unusually for a woman of her class, through domestic work. At this point although approximately 29 per cent of the officially recorded labour force were women, the majority of them were in domestic service — nearly 1,500.000 women in 1911. In the unindustrialized South employment opportunities for women other than in teaching and domestic service were rare. Domestic work, whether paid or unpaid, was not without real dangers: Lilian Barker nearly died in 1904 when some beeswax she was heating in the oven for polishing ignited, she suffered horrific bums and spent three months in hospital.
Oliver worked in London as a servant for Mary Sheepshanks–a prominent activist in the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance. Oliver instead chose to support the People’s Suffrage Federation which argued for universal franchise for both men and women. She also contributed to debates on sexuality in the feminist press, and corresponded with radical sexologist Edward Carpenter on the subject of her love and sexual desire for other women.
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