Glimpses of Girton: The Travels of the Power Sisters

The travels of Eileen, Rhoda and Beryl Power took them across the globe, leaving a fascinating trail of records that are now held in Girton Archive.  


The Archive holds small collections of personal papers for Eileen, Rhoda and Beryl, the daughters of Philip Le Poer Power and Mabel Clegg.  It is clear that even in childhood the sisters travelled abroad, as shown by  a photograph album taken during a family trip to Davos Platz in Switzerland in 1898.  The album shows the sisters on holiday with their maternal aunts, who raised them after the death of their mother. The photographs show skaters, sleighs and snowy landscapes (archive reference: GCPP Power, E 1/1).

The careers of the sisters enabled each to travel throughout their lives. Eileen and Beryl came to Girton in 1907 and 1910 respectively. Eileen became one of the foremost medievalists of her day, holding fellowships at Girton, King’s College London, and the London School of Economics. Beryl spent a distinguished career in the Civil Service, which she joined in 1915. Rhoda studied at St Andrews University from 1911 to 1913, before embarking on a career as an author and, later, a researcher and writer for the BBC.


Photograph caption:

Photograph of Eileen, Rhoda and Beryl Power as children on a trip to Davos Platz with their aunts in circa 1898, taken by an unknown photographer (archive reference: GCPP Power, E 1/1).


Eileen Power (1889-1940)

altAfter leaving Girton, Eileen went to France to study at the University of Paris and the École des Chartes. The Archive holds several of her letters from this time, wittily relating her experiences there. In 1920-1921, Eileen became the first female recipient of the Albert Kahn Travelling Fellowship, enabling her to travel throughout India, China, Burma and Indonesia. Eileen’s report on her travels was delivered to the Albert Kahn Fellowship’s Trustees in 1921 (archive reference: GCPP Power, E 3/7).


Eileen’s report and the letters she wrote to various friends during her travels provide an insight into how British travellers and scholars of this period viewed other countries, as well as recording her own experiences. A photograph shows her during the year of her Albert Kahn Travelling Fellowship (archive reference: GCPH 6/2/18/3).


For the catalogue of Eileen Power’s personal papers (archive reference: GCPP Power, E) see:


Photograph caption:

Photograph of Eileen Power, aged twenty-six, taken in 1915 by an unknown photographer (archive reference: GCPH 6/2/18/8).


Rhoda Power (1890-1957)

altIn January 1917, Rhoda Power travelled by train and ferry to Rostov-on-Don, near the Sea of Azov, to look after Maroosa, a businessman’s daughter. Rhoda kept diaries during her time in Russia, providing a personal account of the Revolution in 1917 and 1918 (archive reference: GCPP Power, R 1/1-2). Rostov, a Cossack town, came under siege by Bolshevik forces and Rhoda documents the face of growing chaos. She eventually fled across Russia, escaping on one of the last boats back across the North Sea. Her vivid and often humorous diary entries formed a basis for her book published in 1919, Under Cossack and Bolshevik.

After the Second World War, Rhoda travelled extensively in South and North America. She sent letters about her journey back to the UK for circulation among her friends. These are interspersed with snippets of historical knowledge and observations on the customs and politics of the countries she visited. The result is a vivid snapshot of a time and a place (archive reference: GCPP Power, R 2/1-3).

For the catalogue of Rhoda Power’s personal papers (archive reference: GCPP Power, R) see:


Photograph caption:

Photograph of Rhoda Power, aged twenty-seven, taken by Dorothy Hickling in 1927 (archive reference: GCPP Power, E 1/1).


Beryl Power (1891-1984)


Beryl Power’s career in the Civil Service allowed her to travel: firstly, as the recipient of a Laura Spelman Rockefeller memorial fellowship in 1925, to the USA to study the working conditions for women and children (archive reference: GCPP Power, B 2/1), then, in 1929, Beryl was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on Labour in India. She compiled scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings, papers, and photographs of her travels (archive reference: GCPP Power, B 2/2/1).

At the end of her appointment, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum) asked her to review working conditions in its oil fields in Persia (now Iran). A hand-annotated 1930 map held in the Archive shows 'good motor roads, roads suitable for light motor vehicles, caravan routes, and places of importance' across a part of Persia through which Beryl journeyed on her visit to the oil fields of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (archive reference: GCPP Power, B 2/5). Beryl’s journey through Burma (now Myanmar), Palestine, and modern-day Iran was recounted in typed letters intended for circulation among her friends back in England. These vividly describe her experiences and have been pasted into bound volumes, which also contain many of her photographs (archive reference: GCPP Power, B 2/4).

Beryl’s final great journey in the late 1940s was a return to India, Ceylon and Burma as part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East.

For the catalogue of Beryl Power’s personal papers (archive reference: GCPP Power, B) see:


Photograph caption:

Photograph of Beryl Power during her time working for the Royal Commission on Labour in India, circa 1929-31, taken by an unknown photographer (archive reference: GCPP Power, B 2/3).


Published: 03 October 2017