WILSON, Francesca Mary

1888 - 1981

Francesca Wilson

Francesca Mary Wilson was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the 1 January 1888, second daughter of Robert Wilson, a hatter, and his wife Laura Maria née Wallis, who married at Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1883. In 1901, a 13 year old living at 18 Lynwood Avenue, Bentinck Road, Elswick, Newcastle with her parents, 51 year old Robert and 50 year old Laura, with two siblings, Winifred Laura 16 and William Maurice 10, both born in Newcastle. Following an education at the Central Newcastle High School for Girls and Newnham College, Cambridge, she qualified as a teacher and in 1911 described as an history teacher when a patient at a hospital at 8 Upper Church Street, 16 Catherine Place, Bath, Somerset. Whilst teaching in Gravesend during the First World War and with her interest in travel and languages she was led into relief work with Friends in 1916, and worked with French refugees at Samoens, later becoming involved in caring for wounded Serbian troops in Corsica and North Africa under the auspices of the Serbian Relief Fund. In 1919 she moved to Vienna where she worked with the Quaker Relief Mission and Save the Children and where she taught the children art which was exhibited in London with great success. He then embarked on a period of famine relief work with a Quaker team in Russia in 1922-23. From 1925 she settled in Birmingham where she taught history at the Edgbaston Church of England College for Girls and obtained leave to go to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, visiting three times to organise housing and medical care for children. During the Second World War and afterwards she worked with Spanish refugees in the south of France, with Polish refugees in Hungary, and after the war worked with displaced persons in Germany under UNRRA. Her home was open to all sorts of lodgers, including refugees from Nazi Germany and Russia, and she adopted several young people, providing them with a home and opportunity for education. In 1939 she was living at Shepherds Close, Hinksey Hill, Abingdon, Oxford with her widowed mother Dorothy. After the war she moved to London, where she taught for the WEA and the University of London adult education classes. In the 1940s and 1950s she toured Britain addressing public meetings on humanitarian aid and post-war reconstruction, and also broadcast on these issues. During her life Francesca published a number of books and was a prolific author of reportage and journalism, policy documents on displacement, practical guides to relief work, historical works and anthologies of travel writings, biography, and autobiographical accounts. From the early 1950's she owned properties in Walbserswick, Suffolk. She died in London on 4 March 1981, aged 93.