Special Collections

We hold thousands of unique books, manuscripts, artifacts, and letters ranging from the 1400s to the 1900s. Special collections can be invaluable primary sources for research. Newnham students will be invited to see a range of special collections related to their learning before their subject formal halls, and can get in touch with the Librarian at any time to learn more about our rare books and book a reader’s appointment.

Image of book and pamphlet from library exhibition


Virginia Woolf delivered a lecture at Newnham College in October 1928 on the subject of Women and Fiction. This talk, along with another lecture to Girton students, would form the basis of A Room of One’s Own. Virginia Woolf’s cousin, Katharine Stephen, was the first librarian, and later Principal, of Newnham College. Our Rare Books room is named in her honour.

Newnham College Library holds an impressive collection of first edition works and related items by Woolf. This collection was given to the College in 1981 at the bequest of Louise Hoyt Porter. Described as an ‘ardent admirer of VW’s books’, Miss Porter wanted her treasured collection to be housed in an English women’s college.

The collection includes publications that illuminate the wider context of the Bloomsbury Group and importance of the Hogarth Press, founded by Woolf and her husband Leonard in 1917. There are early examples of Hogarth Press printing such as Kew Gardens, one of 150 copies printed in 1919. It has hand colour-washed wallpaper wrappers from Roger Fry’s Omega workshops and a closer look reveals that the initials ‘L’ and ‘V’ have been clearly pasted over the original ‘Leonard’ and ‘Virginia’ of the colophon.

Particularly beautiful are the dust jackets of many of the works, including those for Granite and Rainbow (Hogarth Press, 1958) Between the Acts (Hogarth Press, 1941) and A Writer’s Diary (Hogarth Press, 1953), all designed by Virginia’s sister, Vanessa Bell. Further items of interest include a pamphlet produced in 1928 to promote the Bloomsbury Group to the American market.


During her long artistic career, Patricia Jaffé (NC 1954, and a Research Fellow from 1962) assembled a collection of books illustrated by 20th and 21st century women wood engravers, of which she herself was an accomplished example. In 2022 her family donated these books to Newnham College Library, partly in recognition of their relevance to a college with a vested interest in the history of women’s lives, studies, and work throughout the 20th century.

The collection, comprising around 450 books and featuring over 100 artists, includes texts illustrated by Clare Leighton, Agnes Miller Parker, and Cambridge artist Gwen Raverat, as well as a number of artist retrospectives and both histories of and guides to the art of wood engraving. The majority of the items are beautifully produced, often typeset, printed and bound by hand at private presses. The collection also includes assorted ephemera such as correspondence, calendars, pamphlets, and prospectuses.

Jaffé’s own book, Women Engravers, is included in the donation, and itself features many of the artists represented in the collection. During her time as a Research Fellow at Newnham, Jaffé set up her own printing press in the college’s Old Labs, where she produced prints of her own wood engravings, some of which are now housed in Newnham’s archives. In gathering together these books into a single collection, Jaffé has created an invaluable resource for researchers of 20th century printmaking, and for current and future students.


Newnham College Library holds over 300 books on parenting, including childcare advice from the 18th century to the 20th century. This collection includes excellent primary sources on the social history of the family, gender, and childhood.

Covering infant development and behaviour, education, healthcare, nutrition, psychology, and household finances, these are the books that guided generations of new mothers, fathers, and grandparents through trends in caring for and rearing a family, from toddlers to teens.

The Parenting collection was donated by Christina Hardyment (NC 1964), author of Dream Babies: child care from Locke to Gina Ford (London: Frances Lincoln, 2007).

Book open at frontispiece


Newnham College Library has significant holdings in the field of German Romanticism, thanks to a collection of material relating to the German Romantic writer, Clemens Brentano (1778-1842). The collection was donated to the College by Miss Edith Renouf (NC 1881). Miss Renouf’s grandfather, on her mother’s side, was Christian Brentano, Clemens’ brother.

The collection contains a number of early editions of the works of Brentano and his circle, including works by Achim von Arnim, Bettina von Arnim (née Brentano), Joseph von Görres and Ludwig Tieck, as well as several  books by the eighteenth-century writer Sophie von La Roche (1730-1807), the grandmother of Clemens, Christian, and Bettina Brentano.

Perhaps most notable in the Renouf collection are two important manuscripts. The first was written around 1817 in the hands of Clemens Brentano and Luise Hensel (1798-1876) and is a collection of poems by Luise Hensel. Dr Mathelinda Nabugodi introduced this manuscript, and explained some of the history surrounding the work, for Newnham’s 150th Anniversary in 2021. The second is a manuscript of Clemens Brentano’s poetic work Romanzen vom Rosenkranz, one of a number of copies of the manuscript now known to be in existence. Brentano worked on the Romanzen between 1804-12. It remained an unfinished, abandoned work, (the manuscript is not in Brentano’s hand, but was made by a friend, J.F. Böhmer), and was published posthumously in 1852.

The book spines of children's books


In 1934, Newnham College was given 358 volumes by Dr G. F. Rogers, a Cambridge medic who studied at Caius in the 1880s. His donation of late 19th century children’s books, folklore and fairy tales forms the core of the Library’s ‘Rogers Collection’.

The collection he gave to Newnham is diverse and also includes books on animal magnetism and mesmerism, a rare pamphlet by the suffragist Cicely Hamilton and a collection of stories by spirit medium Madam Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society.

Rogers’ donation includes a prominent collection of folktales from all around the world. The boundaries between folk, fairy tale and children’s literature are ambiguous but, for many young readers, fantasy is a popular basis of children’s literature. Historians of children’s literature often regard two competing forces: fantasy and fun on the one hand; realism and didactic morality on the other.

Many examples of the latter, by authors such as Mrs Trimmer, Hannah More, Mrs Sherwood and Mrs Marcet were not a significant part of Rogers’ core donation, but are held as ‘Rogers Additions’. Besides the books given to the College by Rogers himself, the Collection also contains an additional 325 volumes of ‘Rogers’ Additions’: books either already held in the Library when the gift arrived or similar in content and added subsequently.

Gill Sutherland, 2015

Newnham’s Rogers Collection is included in the Cambridge Libguide for Children’s Literature.

Stefan Zweig

Newnham College Library holds a collection of books from the 1920s and 1930s inscribed to Austrian writer and translator Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) by their French and Belgian authors (including Paul Valéry, André Suarès, and Romain Rolland).

Born in Vienna, Zweig lived a vibrant life among intellectual luminaries there until 1934, when he fled Nazi persecution, first to England, then New York, and finally to Brazil. Alongside his own widely translated fiction, Zweig wrote several biographies – from Dostoevsky to Dickens to Marie Antoinette. His autobiography, The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European, documents the end of the Habsburg Empire and the rise of fascism through the eyes of a writer in exile.

The French inscriptions inside these books record the authors’ admiration and friendship for Zweig. Their places of publication span Paris to Tunis, and traces of Zweig’s own shelfmarks suggest he carried these books from home to home as an émigré.

This collection offers a glimpse of twentieth century literary networks across Europe and beyond. The books were donated by members of Newnham, and they complement the College’s strong tradition of modern linguists and translators, from Jane Harrison to Constance Garnett, as well as the Library’s significant holdings of rare books that have travelled the world.