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Muriel Orr-Ewing papers

 Collection — Box: 1-84, Photobox 1-38, MC 3.15
Identifier: MS 70
Note on names: Throughout the finding aid, Muriel Orr-Ewing is referred to as "MOE" regardless of what name she was using at the time of the record creation.
Frequently used nicknames for friends and family are in parenthesis after the person's full name.
The "Meiko 5 Subject spiral notebook" was a notebook MOE kept circa 1980 until her death in 1994. It contains handwritten notes for several lectures, short stories and poetry. It also has her notes from the University at Buffalo opera course, the beginnings of a memoir and her final burial wishes. The notebook was disbound and each section was numbered individually. The biographical information is in I. Biographical, the writings in IV. Writings, and the opera course in V. Schools Subseries D. University at Buffalo opera course.
II. Correspondence: In processing this series, there were individually named folders and general files (arranged alphabetically by author's last name). The Archivist sorted through the general files and removed any correspondence belonging to an individual's folder. In the collection of postcard correspondence, the Archivist removed recognized individuals and filed them with their other correspondence. The rest of the postcards were treated as a separate general correspondence series arranged chronologically (since author's last names could not always be determined).

Dates

  • 1822-1994
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1974

Creator

Language of Materials

Collection is predominantly in English. Materials in French, German, Spanish, and Japanese are indicated in the folder descriptions.

Terms of Access

Muriel Orr-Ewing papers, 1822-1994 (bulk 1920-1974) are open for research.

Copyright

Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.
Material documenting the Japan Society of London's activities are the intellectual copyright of the Society and permission to cite or reproduce any part must be given by the Executive Director of the Society. (see http://japansociety.org.uk/ for further details).

Extent

84.5 Linear Feet (74 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 2 record cartons, 38 photo album boxes, 1 oversize folder, 5 card boxes, 2 oversized flat boxes, 1 framed object)

Overview

Correspondence, diaries, photograph albums of Muriel Orr-Ewing (nicknamed "Meiko"). Collection includes records as founding president of the British Association of Women Executives and headmistress of the English girls finishing school, The Grove. Also includes personal correspondence with opera singer, Adèle Leigh, child author Berthe Grimault, and other notable writers and poets.

Biographical Note

"Why I want to keep [a diary], is that all day long I have such an urge to record -- if only for myself -- the richness and fullness of every day, every hour. If only one could capture even the thoughts of a single hour! I roam so far and wide in my thoughts -- the outside gestures of the day are only the smallest part of my existence. " [Series III, Diaries and scrapbooks, Subseries A Diaries, box/folder 40.2, Diary #31, 1949-1950, pg. 16-17]
From a very early age, Muriel Orr-Ewing (nicknamed "Meiko") was a prolific writer. Having a talent for expressing herself in words, Meiko chronicled her life through correspondence, diaries and photographs. Blessed with a sharp and intelligent mind, she dedicated much of her own life to teaching others which brought her many devoted followers.
Born on March 21, 1900, the second of five children, Muriel Emma Lucy Muschamp spent her early childhood in the small town of Stäfa, Switzerland. There, her British father, Allen Muschamp, was headmaster of Institut de Stäfa, a small preparatory school for boys.
Briefly educated at an all-girls convent school in Menzingen, Muriel left Switzerland in 1916 when her father moved the entire family to England. Soon after their move, Muriel left her parent's home to take up work as a live-in governess. Then in 1921 she met Dicky Hammerton who was a school-friend of her eldest brother. The two made an immediate connection and were quickly engaged.
Two years after her engagement with Dicky, Muriel quit her job as a governess to live the life of a single girl in London. That May she was introduced to Cuthbert Boyd Bowman (nicknamed "Boodh") through a mutual friend. "I liked meeting Mr. Bowman immensely," she wrote in her diary that night, "...got on with him splendidly – specially on the subject of Switzerland." The next day she wrote, "I am rather in a devilish mood -- I feel I want to start an intrigue with Bowman"1.
Boodh and Muriel begin dating even though she was still engaged to Dicky. After months of carrying on two full relationships, Muriel made a final decision: if Boodh got the "Japan job" she would break her engagement to Dicky and marry him. "Since yesterday I feel that if Boodh really is going to Japan in about a month, I'll go with him and burn my boats. God knows whether I shall regret it…" 2 When Boodh secured a teaching position at the Koto Gakko in Matsue, Japan, Muriel broke off her engagement with Dicky. A month later on March 25th, Muriel and Boodh were married at her parents' house in Leicester. The next day the two set sail for Japan.

Japan and Singapore3: Japan would always be an important influence for Muriel. From the moment she set foot off the boat in 1924, she fell in love with Japan and the Japanese way of life. She wore kimono, taught herself Japanese, and even studied Chanoyu, the art of Japanese tea, with a master. But perhaps her greatest memory of living in Japan was the birth of her children. In late October 1924, while living in the small medieval town of Matsue, her eldest son Peter was born. The two were very close and it was Peter who first nicknamed Muriel "Meiko" -- a Japanese term of endearment for a special "mother". Later her students and close friends would also call her "Meiko".
On August 28, 1928 Muriel's second son, Anthony Muschamp Boyd Bowman was born in Kanazawa, Japan. Much to her horror, the baby was born breach with a severe case of Downs Syndrome. She left Japan that autumn to bring Anthony to doctors in London. "I was told by the greatest specialist in town that Anthony would never be normal. He is a so-called Mongolian imbecile -- devoid of thyroid glands -- the only consolation they could give me is that he would not be a criminal imbecile"4.
On top of having to handle the two children, Muriel had been growing apart from her husband, Boodh. She was disgusted with the way he handled their financial and personal affairs and as a result she physically distanced herself from him. After Anthony's birth, she was so unhappy in her marriage, Muriel decided the return to England for Anthony's care would be a final separation in their marriage.
While Muriel and the boys were in England, Boodh lost his job in Japan. In March 1930 he was hired to teach at the Raffles Institute in Singapore. Although fed up with her marriage, Muriel was convinced to make one last ditch effort with her husband and got on a ship bound for Singapore.
On board the S.S. Comorin, she met a young woman who was on her way to South India to get married. Muriel was intrigued by Debonnaire's intense personality and found herself drawn towards the woman. Even after arriving in Singapore, Muriel could not forget her time on the boat with Debonnaire. After a year and half, the two women, who were still in touch, decided to leave their husbands and travel north together.

Austria: In November 1931 Debonnaire and Muriel moved to Kitzbühel, Austria to set up a home together. They hosted boarders which they called "paying guests" to make their money. Muriel also taught German and French to the children of a few ex-patriots living in the area. At first, Muriel was extremely satisfied with her life. "I really do love [Debonnaire]," she wrote in her 1931-1934 diary, "that is true… I shall love her always and stand by her always -- that I know, as well as I can know anything in this world."5.
However, after only a few years their relationship began to unravel. Finally in the fall of 1936, Muriel experienced a complete breakdown. She was sent to a nerves clinic in nearby Innsbruck where she met and fell in love with neuro-psychotherapist, Dr. Franz Xavier Schmuttermayer. On September 11, 1936, Muriel married Franz and moved into a small apartment with him and his mother.
For a couple of years, everything went well. Muriel found she and Franz had similar tastes in music and literature and they spent many evenings with friends enjoying the local culture. But everything changed once Nazi troops invaded and occupied Austria in 1938. Muriel was no longer considered a British citizen after her marriage to Franz. The situation grew worse and she found herself needing to flee the country with Peter. Muriel tried to convince Franz to come with them to England as the situation was too dire for them to remain in Austria. But Franz refused claiming he needed to stay to look after his mother. Plus he was convinced the Nazi invasion wouldn't last long. So, on the second anniversary of their marriage, Muriel left Austria and never saw Franz again.

"I feel so desolate, so desperate," she wrote in her 1939 diary, "Nothing but a miracle can stop war now at this stage… No money -- no money at all, or means of earning any, that's the hopeless situation I am in… When I think of Franzl my heart breaks… I can hardly bear it: my books, my piano -- all my diaries, photographs -- pictures…"6.

London and The Orchard School: After returning to England, it took a year for Muriel to regained her British citizenship. Meanwhile she started the groundwork to open her own school. On May 1940, the 34 Carlyle Square preparatory school successfully opened with eight students.
Unfortunately, during one of the 1940 London air raids, 34 Carlyle Square was destroyed. In September 1941 Muriel rented The Orchard, a large house in Kings Langley, to start a new school to prepare children for their public school entrance examinations.
Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld, a renowned child psychologist, would often recommend her patients to Muriel's Orchard School. In 1941, she recommended Hamish Orr-Ewing for Muriel's school. Muriel was immediately drawn to Hamish's father, Captain Hugh Orr-Ewing and soon came to rely on him as her greatest support. Even though the two both had estranged spouses, they decided to live together at The Orchard causing a great scandal amongst their peers. The two wouldn't marry officially until 1948 after both of their divorces were finalized.
Two of Muriel's students from the Orchard because life-long friends. Valerie Daniel was a troubled teenager who looked to Muriel for encouragement. They corresponded for many years and Valerie asked Muriel to be her daughter's godmother. Another student, Adèle Leigh, became a well known British opera singer. Muriel often took her future students to see Adèle sing at Covent Gardens and in return Adèle would come to Muriel's many social events as a guest and performer.
The Grove Finishing School: In 1945 Muriel lost her lease at The Orchard. She was devastated over the loss of yet another school. Then in late 1946, Muriel bought "The Grove", a beautiful stately home located in a town near Sevenoaks just outside of London, to start a new international all-girls finishing school.
The Grove Finishing School opened in the fall of 1947. A school "for the individual coaching of girls in subjects of post-school education and for vocational guidance," Muriel and her staff taught girls from all over the world foreign languages, art history, music history, English literature, ikebana, cooking, elocution and secretarial courses.

Prince Akihito of Japan visits the Grove: In 1953, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Hirohito sent his young 16 year old son, Prince Akihito to represent Japan at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. While on tour of Britain, the Prince spent an evening at the Grove playing table tennis with Muriel's second cousin, Michael Muschamp and dancing with the Grove girls at a ball held in his honor.

Berthe Grimault: In 1957 Muriel offered a Grove scholarship to 14 year old Berthe Grimault, a poor French farm girl who had achieved fame after publishing her first novel. When Berthe arrived in England, Muriel was horrified to find her half-illiterate. She then discovered the majority of Berthe's book was actually written by the village postmaster. The media rushed in when they learned about Berthe's scholarship, calling her a "pig girl amongst the debs". Although a trying time for Muriel, for Berthe attending a real English finishing school was a fantastical experience. After she returned to France in 1958, she published another novel with the village postmaster called "Berthe in Paradise" -- a surrealist fantasy based on her experiences in England and at the Grove. Muriel was asked to write the preface.

Chanoyu: Chanoyu is the ancient Japanese tradition of preparing a bowl of tea for honored guests. Muriel first witnessed the art of Chanoyu in 1925 while living in Matsue. She was so impressed by the ritual's absorbing, almost trance-like deliberate precision of movements, she wanted to learn the ceremony herself. A year later she met a tea master who was willing to teach her the art of Chanoyu. Finally in 1929, Muriel received an official certificate of authority to perform Chanoyu. Although she did not study enough to become a master, she was one of the first Westerners to receive such a certificate. Throughout the rest of her life she often performed Chanoyu for guests, students and friends.

British Women's Association of Women Executives: In 1953 Madame Yvonne Foindant, head of the European group for women in business, Les Femmes Chefs d'Entreprises Mondiales (FCEM), asked her colleague Tinou Dutry, to help organize a British branch. Tinou sent out a letter of interest to many of Britain's top female executives and Muriel was the first to respond. In 1954 Muriel became the first President of the British Association of Women Executives. Very active with the group, she chaired meetings, organized fund raising events and represented Britain at the Annual International Congresses.

The Japan Society of London: In 1949 after a long period of inactivity, the Japan Society of London was revived in-part by Sir Robert Craigie, Major-General Roy Piggott, and Colonel J.W. Marsden. Remembering Muriel from when they both lived in Japan, Major-General Piggott asked her to assist with the revitalization of the group by becoming an active member. Muriel became very involved with the Japan Society of London and often lectured on topics such as Geisha, Chanoyu, and the History of Japanese Music. She also put on performances such as Fujito, a Japanese Noh play which Muriel translated herself.

Moving to Buffalo: After being headmistress of the Grove for almost 23 years, Muriel felt she needed a change. In 1969, she sold the large estate and moved to London where she continued to be active in the community. But by 1974 she was tired living on her own and jumped at the chance to move in with her son, Peter who was at that time Professor of Linguistics at the University at Buffalo.
Muriel readily took to Buffalo and the United States and even became a naturalized citizen in 1975. She enjoyed many of the cultural activities the Buffalo-Niagara region has to offer including performances at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Artpark in Lewiston, NY, and the Chautauqua Institution. She was also very active with many UB Women's Club groups including the History of Art, History of Music and Bookclub.
Muriel Orr-Ewing died on April 15, 1994 in Buffalo, NY.
1 Diary #12, 1923 (Series III Diaries and scrapbooks, Subseries A Diaries, box/folder 35.1)
2 Diary #13, 1924 (Series III Diaries and scrapbooks, Subseries A Diaries, box/folder 35.2)
3 From a rough draft of speech for the British Association of Women Executives (BAWE), "Fisher, Foyle, Feihl" (Series VI. Community activities, Subseries B BAWE, box/folders 64.10-64.11)
4 Diary #17, 1927-1930: Arabian Sea-Lausanne, pg. 85 (Series III Diaries and scrapbooks, Subseries A Diaries, box/folder 36.3)
5 Diary #18, 1931-1934: Lausanne-Kitzbühel (Series III Diaries and scrapbooks, Subseries A Diaries, box/folder 37.1)
6 Diary #26, 1939: Innsbruck-London (Series III Diaries and scrapbooks, Subseries A Diaries, box/folder 38.4)

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in seven series: I. Biographical and genealogical, II. Correspondence, III. Diaries and scrapbooks, IV. Writings, V. Schools, VI. Community activities, VII. Photographs, and VIII. Cassette tapes.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated by Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Dr. Peter Boyd-Bowman, June-November 1999. Additional deposits were made by Dr. Boyd-Bowman between 2003-2004.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Separated Materials

Musical playbills and invitations from the 1940s-1980s were sent to The Music Library's collection.
Theatre playbills from the 1940s-1970s were sent to American University Special Collections to be included in their Playbills collections: Last accessed 15 April 2008.
Three books were removed to the Rare Book Collections:
Neiga Sensei Santaicho Calligraphy Textbook by Neiga, circa 1844
Genji Gojuyonjo by Toyokuni Utagawa, circa 19th century
Book of Japanese Prints, circa early 20th century

Processing Information

Collection processed by Jessica Tanny, June 2005-December 2007. Additional material added and finding aid updated by Matthew Oliver, December 2015.
Finding aid encoded by Danielle White, February 2015.

Creator

Source

Title
Finding Aid for the Muriel Orr-Ewing papers
Status
completed
Author
Finding aid prepared by Jessica Tanny.
Date
2008
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
und

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

Contact:
420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-2916
716-645-3714 (Fax)