Mary Borden

Mary Borden (May 15, 1886, Chicago – December 2, 1968) (married names: Mary Turner; Mary Spears, Lady Spears; pseud. Bridget Maclagan) was an Anglo-American novelist and poet whose work drew on her experiences as a war nurse. She was the second of the three children of William Borden (d. 1904), who had made a fortune in Colorado silver mining in the late 1870s.[1]

Glyn Warren Philpot - Mary Borden - Google Art Project
Mary Borden by Glyn Philpot

Family background and early life

Mary Borden—known as May to her friends and family[2]—was born into a wealthy Chicago family. (Her brother, William Whiting Borden, became well known in conservative Christian circles for his evangelistic zeal and early death while preparing to become a missionary.) Mary attended Vassar College, graduating with a BA in 1907. On a tour of the Far East, she met and married Scottish missionary George Douglas Turner, with whom she had three daughters; Joyce (born 1909), Comfort (born 1910) and Mary (born 1914).

In 1913, she and Turner moved to England where Borden joined the Suffragette movement. She was arrested during a demonstration in Parliament Square for throwing a stone through the window of His Majesty's Treasury. She spent five days in police cells until bailed by her husband.

World War I and nursing

Lady Spears (May Borden) and Sir Edward Spears in the Lebanon, 1942
May Borden (center) with Sir Edward Spears (back row, left).

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, she used her own considerable money to equip and staff a field hospital for French soldiers close to the Front in which she herself served as a nurse from 1914 until the end of the war, see Voluntary Aid Detachment. There she met Brigadier General Edward Louis Spears, with whom she engaged in an affair at the Front. Her husband separated from her and took custody of their children. Following the dissolution of her marriage, she married Spears in 1918.


During her war-time experience she wrote poetry such as 'The Song of the Mud' (1917).[3] Notably, her work includes a striking set of sketches and short stories, The Forbidden Zone (1929), which was published in the same year as A Farewell to Arms, Good-Bye to All That and All Quiet on the Western Front. Even in this context, contemporary readers were disturbed at the graphic - sometimes hallucinatory - quality of work coming from a woman who had first-hand experience of life on the front line.[4]

The Forbidden Zone contained five long poems that describe what she saw and did working in the military hospital, and are full of passionate energy and compassion. Their style is reminiscent of Walt Whitman who also tended to the wounded on the battlefield, in his case during the American Civil War.

She wrote a number of other poems about the war and also about her affair with Spears which were not published in book form until 2015, one hundred years after they were written. Mary Borden, Poems of Love and War, edited by Paul O'Prey, was published in London by Dare-Gale Press,[5] distributed by the University of Chicago Press[6] in the US. Her war poems were slow to be recognised but now feature in several modern First World War poetry anthologies[7]

Her 1937 novel Action for Slander was adapted into a film the same year.[8]

World War II

Living in England between the wars, she was drawn back to France in the expectation of mounting some sort of aid facility similar to that she had run in the first war. With funds donated by Sir Robert Hadfield via his wife, Lady Hadfield, she set up the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit, which was based in Lorraine until forced by the German Blitzkrieg to retreat across France before its evacuation from Arcachon in June 1940. In Britain, the unit re-grouped and received further funding from the British War Relief Society in New York. In May 1941, the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit was attached to the Free French in the Middle East, before accompanying their forces across North Africa, Italy and France. Journey Down a Blind Alley, published on her return to Paris in 1946, records the history of the unit and her disillusion with the French failure to put up an effective resistance to the German invasion and occupation.[9]

A first person account of Lady Spears and the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit can be found in the memoirs of Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, To War with Whitaker.[10]

Later life

In her later life, she often returned to the United States and assisted her nephew-in-law Adlai Stevenson II in his run for the presidency, even writing some of his speeches.[11]

Centenary of the First World War Armistice

In November 2018 the Tower of London created an installation to commemorate the centenary of the ending of the First World War, called Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers. This saw the moat filled with thousands of tiny flames and a soundscape composed by Mira Calix which is a choral setting of one of Borden's love sonnets[12] written at the Somme for Louis Spears[13].


  • The Mistress of Kingdoms; or Smoking Flax by Bridget MacLagan (Pseudonym) (1912)
  • Collision by Bridget MacLagan (Pseudonym) (play) (1913)
  • The Romantic Woman by Bridget MacLagan (Pseudonym) (1916)
  • The Tortoise (1921)
  • Jane - Our Stranger (1923)
  • Three Pilgrims and a Tinker (1924)
  • Four O'Clock and Other Stories (1926)
  • Flamingo (1927)
  • Four O'clock (1927)
  • The Forbidden Zone (1929) OCLC: 1852756
  • Jehovah's Day (1929)
  • A Woman with White Eyes (1930)
  • Sarah Gay (1931)
  • Action for Slander (1937)
  • The Woman I Love (1937)
  • Journey Down a Blind Alley (1946)
  • You, the Jury (1952)
  • Poems of Love and War (2015)


  1. ^ Megan Mckinney. "The Bordens Struck it Rich in Leadville".
  2. ^ "A Short Biography". Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  3. ^ | Full text of "English Review" August 1917, including 'The Song of the Mud'
  4. ^ Conway, Jane (2010). A Woman of Two Wars. London: Munday. p. 150.
  5. ^ "Dare-gale Press". Dare-gale Press. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  6. ^ "Poems of Love and War". University of Chicago Press. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  7. ^ O'Prey, Paul (2014). First World War: Poems from the Front. London: Imperial War Museum.
  8. ^ "Action for Slander (1937)" – via
  9. ^ Borden, Mary (1946). Journey down a Blind Alley. London: Hutchinson & Co. p. 296.
  10. ^ To War with Whitaker, The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly 1939-45 ISBN 0-7493-1954-2
  11. ^ "Mary Borden - An Extraordinary Life - Mary Borden: A Woman of Two Wars".
  12. ^
  13. ^

Further reading

  • Everett F. Bleile, The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers, 1948; pg. 56.w
  • Jane Conway, A Woman of Two Wars: The Life of Mary Borden Munday Books, 2010.
  • Hazel Hutchinson, The War That Used Up Words: American Writers and the First World War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.
  • Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering. 1937.
  • Paul O'Prey (ed.), Mary Borden, Poems of Love and War. Dare-Gale Press, 2015.
  • Max Wyndham, Under Two Flags: Life of Major General Sir Edward Spears. 1997.

External links

This article incorporates text from The Modern World Encyclopædia: Illustrated (1935); out of UK copyright as of 2005.

1929 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1929.

1936 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1936.

Action for Slander

Action for Slander is a 1937 British drama film directed by Tim Whelan and starring Clive Brook, Ann Todd and Googie Withers. An army officer is falsely accused at cheating at cards by a man whose wife he had an affair with and struggles to clear his name. It was an adaptation of the 1937 novel Action for Slander by Mary Borden.

Action for Slander (novel)

Action for Slander is a drama novel by the Anglo-American writer Mary Borden.It was first published in 1936 by William Heinemann. A British army officer faces disgrace when he is falsely accused of cheating at cards by a fellow officer whose wife he has had an affair with.

Ariadne J. and Mary A. Borden House

The Ariadne J. and Mary A. Borden House is a historic house located at 92 Globe Street in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Beyond the Deepening Shadow

Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers was an artistic installation at the Tower of London in November 2018, to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Each evening in the week before Remembrance Day, 10,000 torches were lit in the moat of the tower, after an opening ceremony of a bugle call, minute of silence and reveille. The torches remained lit for several hours while loudspeakers broadcast a soundscape composed by Mira Calix, based on a sonnet written by nurse Mary Borden to a British officer at the Somme. The event was conceived by Tom Piper and directed by Anna Morrissey.The installation was similar to Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, an installation of poppies at the Tower which commemorated the start of the war. That was so popular that crowd control measures were organised to control the large number of spectators.

Borden (surname)

Borden is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Amanda Borden (born 1977), American gymnast

Delyone Borden (1985– ), Bermudan cricketer

Eugene Borden (1897–1971), American character actor

Frederick Borden (1847–1917), Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence, 1896–1911

Gail Borden (1801–1874), inventor of condensed milk and founder of Borden, Inc.

Gail Borden (figure skater) (1907–1991), American figure skater

Harry Borden (1965– ), portrait photographer

James W. Borden (1810–1882), judge and diplomat

Laura Borden (1863–1940), wife of Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden

Lizzie Borden (1860–1927), American murder suspect; subject of an American nursery rhyme

Lizzie Borden (director) (born Linda Borden, 1958– )

Mary Borden (1886–1968), 20th century novelist

Olive Borden (1906–1947), American film actress

Sir Robert Laird Borden (1854–1937), eighth Prime Minister of Canada, 1911–1920

Steve Borden (born 1959), American professional wrestler better known as Sting

Walter Borden (born 1942), Canadian actor, poet and playwright

William Cline Borden (1858–1934), American surgeon and planner of Walter Reed Army Medical Center

William Whiting Borden (1887–1913), American philanthropist and missionary

Win Borden (1943–2014), American politician, lawyer, and businessmanFictional characters:

Alfred Borden, a character in The Prestige

Erwin Mortier

Erwin Mortier (born 28 November 1965) is a Dutch-language Belgian author. Spending his youth in Hansbeke, he later moved to nearby Ghent, where he became city poet (2005-2006).He wrote as a columnist for newspapers like De Morgen and published several novels:

Marcel (1999) - ISBN 2-213-61352-4

My Fellow Skin - ISBN 1-84343-046-0

Shutter Speed - ISBN 1-84343-172-6

While the Gods Were Sleeping (2008)Collections of his poetry were published from 2001 on.

Among the literary prizes awarded to Mortier there are debut prizes in Belgium and in the Netherlands for Marcel, in 2002 the C. Buddingh' prize for his debut in poetry, and in 2009 the AKO Literatuurprijs for While the Gods Were Sleeping.Mortier came out of the closet with A plea for sinning, a collection of essays (2003). Other non-fiction included Evenings on the Estate: Travelling with Gerard Reve (2007), and A farewell to Congo: Back to the equator with Jef Geeraerts (2010).

He translated war prose by Ellen N. La Motte, Mary Borden and Enid Bagnold in Dutch, and produced the first Dutch translation of Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts.

Frederick Lewis Allen

Frederick Lewis Allen (July 5, 1890 – February 13, 1954) was the editor of Harper's Magazine and also notable as an American historian of the first half of the twentieth century. His specialty was writing about recent and popular history.

Allen was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied at Groton, graduated from Harvard University in 1912 and received his Master's in 1913. He taught at Harvard briefly thereafter before becoming assistant editor of the Atlantic Monthly in 1914, and then managing editor of The Century in 1916. He began working for Harper's in 1923, becoming editor-in-chief in 1941, a position he held until shortly before his death, aged 63, in New York City. His wife, Dorothy Penrose Allen, died just prior to the 1931 publication of his best-known book, Only Yesterday.

Allen's popularity coincided with increased interest in history among the book-buying public of the 1920s and 1930s. This interest was met, not by the university-employed historian, but by an amateur historian writing in his free time. Aside from Allen, these historians included Carl Sandburg, Bernard DeVoto, Douglas Southall Freeman, Henry F. Pringle, and Allan Nevins (before his Columbia appointment).[1]His most famous book was the enormously popular Only Yesterday (1931), which chronicled American life in the 1920s. Since Yesterday (1940), a sort of sequel that covered the Depression of the 1930s, was also a bestseller. The 1933 Hollywood film "Only Yesterday" was ostensibly based on his book, but actually used only its timeline, with a fictional plot adapted from a Stefan Zweig novel.He wrote the Introduction to Mabel S. Ulrich's collection of essays by notable woman writers of the day, including Mary Borden, Margaret Culkin Banning, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Susan Ertz, E. M. Delafield, Rebecca West, Isabel Paterson and Storm Jameson, The More I See Of Men (Harper & Brothers, 1932).

His last and most ambitious book, The Big Change, was a social history of the United States from 1900 to 1950. (He had originally written a Harper's article about how America had changed between 1850 and 1950, but decided to limit the chronological scope of his book.) Allen also wrote two biographies, the first of which was about Paul Revere Reynolds, a literary agent of the era. This work is notable because it contains a chapter about Stephen Crane, but is difficult to find because it was privately published.

In 1950, Allen was one of five narrators for the RKO Radio Pictures documentary film, The Golden Twenties, produced by Time, Inc..The Frederick Lewis Allen Memorial Room in the New York Public Library was established by the Ford Foundation in 1958. It is Room 228e on the second floor of the library, and is fully accessible to wheelchair users. However, admission is limited to writers under book contract to a publishing company.

Frederick Maurice (British Army officer)

Major-General Sir Frederick Barton Maurice, 1st Baronet, (19 January 1871 – 19 May 1951) was a British Army officer, military correspondent, writer and academic. During the First World War he was forced to retire in May 1918 after writing a letter to The Times criticizing Prime Minister David Lloyd George for making misleading statements about the strength of British forces on the Western Front. He also founded the British Legion in 1920, and served as its president from 1932 to 1947.

Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit

The Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit was an Anglo-French volunteer medical unit which served initially with the 4th French army in Lorraine, eastern France, during the Second World War from February 1940 until it was forced to retreat on 9 June ahead of the German advance. Its official French designation at that time was Ambulance Chirurgical Légère de Corps d’Armée 282. The unit made its way across France via Bordeaux to Arcachon from where it was evacuated back to Britain, arriving at Plymouth on 26 June. The unit re-grouped and re-equipped in Britain before sailing on 20 March 1941 for the Middle East, landing at Suez on 2 May. Under the designation of HCM (Hôpital chirurgical mobile) 3 Ambulance Hadfield-Spears, it was attached to the Free French forces (1st Free French Division) in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy and France before being dissolved in Paris in June 1945 on the order of General Charles de Gaulle.

Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green

Immanuel on the Green (Episcopal) is an historic church in New Castle, Delaware, listed as a contributing property in the New Castle Historic District. The church is situated near the center of New Castle at the northeast end of the Green, or town common, making it a prominent local landmark and tourist attraction. Operating continuously since 1689, it is the oldest Anglican parish in Delaware and the oldest continuously operating Anglican/Episcopal parish in the country. The church building was constructed between 1703 and 1708 and enlarged in 1822. The interior and roof were rebuilt following a disastrous fire in 1980.

Joseph McKean

Joseph Borden McKean (July 28, 1764–September 3, 1826) was a distinguished Philadelphia lawyer and judge. He served as state Pennsylvania Attorney General when appointed by his father, Governor Thomas McKean, and like his father, also served as presiding judge of the District Court of Philadelphia

List of works by Glyn Philpot

Glyn Warren Philpot (5 October 1884 – 16 December 1937) was an English painter and sculptor, best known for his portraits of contemporary figures such as Siegfried Sassoon and Vladimir Rosing.

Nurse writer

Nurse writers are nurses, primarily registered nurses (RNs), who write for general audiences in the creative genres of poetry, fiction, and drama, as well as in creative non-fiction. The published work of the nurse writer is analogous to that of the physician writer, which may or may not deal explicitly with health topics but is informed by a professional experience of human vulnerability and acute observation. The following is a partial list of nurse writers, grouped by century and arranged chronologically by year of birth.

The Woman I Love

The Woman I Love (aka Escadrille and The Woman Between) is a 1937 American film about a romantic triangle involving two World War I fighter pilots and the wife of one of them. It stars Paul Muni, Miriam Hopkins, and Louis Hayward. Anatole Litvak's Hollywood directorial debut was a remake of his French film L'Equipage, which was, in turn, based on Joseph Kessel's novel of the same name. This was the last film for actor Colin Clive and was released after his death in 1937.

Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean (March 19, 1734 – June 24, 1817) was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. McKean served as a President of Congress. He was at various times a member of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties. McKean served as President of Delaware, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and Governor of Pennsylvania.

Voluntary Aid Detachment

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) was a voluntary unit of civilians providing nursing care for military personnel in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The most important periods of operation for these units were during World War I and World War II. Although VADs were intimately bound up in the war effort, they were not strictly speaking military nurses, as they were not under the control of the military, unlike the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service, and the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. The VAD nurses worked in both field hospitals, i.e., close to the battlefield, and longer-term places of recuperation back in Britain.

William Whiting Borden

William Whiting Borden (November 1, 1887 – April 9, 1913) was a philanthropist and millionaire Christian missionary candidate who died in Egypt before reaching his chosen field, Gansu province in China.

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