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Full Access A Woman of Books: Miss C.M. Ridding and the Younghusband-Waddell Collection

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A Woman of Books: Miss C.M. Ridding and the Younghusband-Waddell Collection

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Daughter of a Victorian clergyman, Caroline Mary Ridding (1862–1941) was one of the few experts who could catalogue the materials that came to the UK in the wake of the Younghusband Mission. In 1911, after completing her work on the part of the collection received by the Cambridge University Library, she was put forward as the curator of the Oriental department of the library. This proposal was rejected with five favourable and six contrary votes but was nonetheless remarkable and shows how the acquisition of competence in rare and emerging subjects such as Oriental studies could open spaces for women at a time in which they were still largely excluded from academia. It also shows how books could make people and shape lives. Having graduated in classics from Girton College, Cambridge, Ridding became a Sanskritist and eventually taught herself Tibetan. After spending a significant amount of unpaid time poring over esoteric Buddhist documents that few people at the time could read, she eventually became a respected member of the Royal Asiatic Society and the first woman to be employed by the Cambridge University Library. This article explores the relationship between the life of this eccentric woman and oriental books and manuscripts, against the background of the rapidly transforming society of the late British Empire and the new aspirations that women had started to develop towards the turn of the century.


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