Robert A. Danielson
Biography Olive Emilie Albertina Schreiner (Mar. 24, 1855-Dec. 11, 1920) was born on the Eastern Cape of South Africa to missionary parents from the Wesleyan Missionary Society. With the failure of the mission and subsequent business ventures, Schreiner had a difficult life often living with siblings as she was educated. She became a governess to support herself, but often had conflicts with those who hired her. From her exposure to her very religious family, Schreiner rejected traditional religious doctrines for an intellectual belief in an agnostic Absolute and her own view of morality separate from organized religion. She suffered strong asthma attacks most of her life. From 1881-1889 Schreiner lived in England becoming involved with various freethinkers and their organizations. On her return to South Africa, she opposed Cecil Rhodes for his “strop bill” that permitted black and colored servants to be beaten for minor offences. She argued against the Boer War and hoped for a non-racist, non-sexist South Africa. Schreiner became the vice-president of the Women’s Enfranchisement League in 1907, but withdrew her support when the organization refused to include black women in the right to vote. In her later years she worked with other activists against World War I as a pacifist. Olive Schreiner was perhaps best known as an author, the first major fiction writer from South Africa. Her novel, The Story of an African Farm (1883) is a semi-autobiographical story interwoven with views of free thought, feminism, and philosophy. Her work Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonland (1897) was written as a satirical response to Cecil Rhodes and the “strop bill.” Woman and Labour (1911) presents her concerns with socialism and the equal treatment of women. Two uncompleted works were finished after her death; From Man to Man (1926) is considered one of her finest works about racism and feminism in South Africa, and Undine (1929), which was actually one of her first written manuscripts.
Robert A. Danielson