Olive Schreiner

A woman of substance

March 24 1855 - December 10 1920
Artist: Barbara Wildenboer
Location: Main Road, Kalk Bay
Barbara Wildenboer’s memorial on Main Road, Kalk Bay, pays tribute to Olive Schreiner’s efforts to achieve racial and sexual equality.
Picture:© Sunday Times

During the first decades of the 20th century, Olive Schreiner spoke and wrote passionately in support of the Women's Enfranchisement League, which met in homes and halls throughout the city of Cape Town, including the English Church schoolroom that once stood on Main Road, Kalk Bay. Though the author of the feminist classic Women and Labour - and the best-selling The Story of An African Farm - was a major force in the worldwide struggle for women's suffrage, by 1912 she had quit the League she helped establish because it refused to campaign for the vote for all women in South Africa. White South African women received the vote in 1930; black women, and men, had to wait until 1994.

From The Archives
Story of an African Farm
When The Story of an African Farm was first published, it was considered an extremely controversial text — so controversial that Schreiner initially published it under the male pseudonym, Ralph Irons.
Critical acclaim
Scan the first reviews of The Story of an African Farm, which, surprisingly for the time, were mostly favourable.
Scribbled objections
Olive Schreiner worked for many years with the Women’s Enfranchisement League, a body established to fight for the rights of (white) women to vote.
A Hollow Victory
Long after Schreiner’s death, white women were finally given the vote in South Africa. Celebrating the momentous news, the Women’s Enfranchisement League rushed out a copy of its journal, The Flashlight, under the headline "Victory".
Schreiner's views on race
For her time, Olive Schreiner was a progressive woman, advocating the extension of rights to black South Africans.
Life Stories
A woman for all time
All her life Olive Schreiner advocated equality of the sexes and, in her defence of freedom, found herself at odds with the colonial government.
The Kalk Bay connection
Less known than her status as one of South Africa’s great writers is Olive Schreiner’s role as an early feminist.
Making the Memorial
Who is Barbara Wildenboer?
Barbara Wildenboer’s site-specific installations include Epitaph at the Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan and the Bridge at the Spier Sculpture Biennale, Stellenbosch.
The Light Bulb Moment: The Artist's concept
"I wanted to capture Schreiner’s belief in the power of the vote and so decided on using voting crosses in the piece," Barbara Wildenboer says about her concept for the memorial.
"If a race or class is willing to demonstrate and do and die for freedom they will ultimately be free"
Olive Schreiner
Olive Schreiner
Picture: © Sunday Times


In this lesson plan, learners are asked to find out about Olive Schreiner's attitudes, ideas and relationships from studying photographs, letters and pamphlets.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
Images from Olive Schreiner’s life.
Artwork images for the memorial
Take a closer look at the Heritage Project memorial to a lesser-known part of Olive Schreiner’s life.