Partner Katharine Furse
Sheppards, Outwood, Surrey
Brompton Cemetery West Brompton, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Greater London, England
Dame Rachel Eleanor Crowdy, DBE (3 March 1884, Paddington – 10 October 1964, Outwood, Surrey) was an English nurse and social reformer. A series of letters from Katharine Furse to Rachel Crowdy dating from 1917 until Furse’s death in 1952 indicates that they shared a woman-loving friendship. The letters to Rachel continue until Katharine’s death in 1953 at the age of 77. Alison Roberta Noble Neilans died at the young age of 58, after twenty-nine years as Secretary of the Association for Social and Moral Hygiene. Among the numerous mourners at her funeral were her feminist friends and colleagues Rachel Crowdy, Nina Boyle, Nancy Astor, Grace Abbott (chairman of AMSH), Miss F. Barry of St. Joan’s International Alliance, Miss K. Courtney of the League of Nations Union, Daisy Solomon of the British Commonwealth League, Miss Anna Munro, Miss Marian Reeves of the Women’s Freedom League and many more from the international arms of organisations such as the Open Door Council and the International Council of Women, Bessie Rischbieth of the Australian Federation of Women Voters represented Australian women.
Crowdy was Principal Commandant of Voluntary Aid Detachments in France and Belgium from 1914 to 1919 and Chief of the Department of Opium Traffic and Social Issues Section of the League of Nations from 1919 to 1931. She was also an active member of the British National Committee for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade.
The daughter of James Crowdy, Rachel Crowdy was educated at Hyde Park New College before training as a nurse at Guy's Hospital. She met Katharine Furse in 1911, volunteering to serve as a Red Cross nurse in case of invasion. At the outset of World War I Furse and Crowdy travelled abroad to discover what was being done for the wounded, their investigation resulting in the establishment of rest stations. Crowdy was appointed Principal Commandant of V.A.D.s in 1914. She was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. One of her sisters, Edith was the Deputy Director of the Women's Royal Naval Service from 1917 to 1919, while another sister, Isabel was the Assistant Director Inspector of Training for the same organisation. From 1919 to 1931 Crowdy was Head of the Social Questions and Opium Traffic Section of the League of Nations, making her the only woman to be head of an administrative section of the League. In 1920-21 she accompanied the International Typhus Commission to Poland at the height of the post-war epidemic there. On her retirement from the League, she was guest of honour at a dinner for six hundred women at the Café Royal.
Crowdy was made an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1927. In 1931 she was a member of the British delegation to the Institute of Pacific Relations conference at Shanghai. Also in 1931, it was noted in the press that she had criticised the USA for allowing eleven states to retain the legal age of marriage for girls at 12 years. She sat on the 1935-36 Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of Armaments, visited Valencia and Madrid during the Spanish Civil War with the Parliamentary Commission in 1937, and sat on the 1938-39 Royal Commission on the West Indies.
In 1939 Rachel Crowdy married Colonel Cudbert John Massy Thornhill, CMG, DSO (4 October 1883 – 1952), a British Officer of the Indian Army and of The Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6). In World War II she acted as Regions Advisor to the Ministry of Information, reporting on bomb damage in British cities.
Dame Rachel Crowdy died at her home in Outwood, Surrey on 10 October 1964.
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