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The weaving school in Philippolis

Philippolis was privileged to serve as Emily's first "test case" in creating development projects. This was , at the time, a highly innovative attempt to promote local Boer women's livelihoods, and to rebuild the morale of the local community.  A local Jewish merchant, Mr Moritz Liefmann, provided his unused house and shop for Emily's use. Emily and her young friend, Margaret Clark, had arrived with 17 crates of materials and equipment. The first spinning and weaving school in South Africa opened officially on 13 March 1905, and soon 13 Boer girls were learning these skills. The farmers provided wool from their merino sheep and angora goats. The women experimented with natural dyes from local plants and fruits. The girls produced woollen suits, blankets and rugs, which soon found were sold at local markets and church bazaars. The products were also exhibited at the Rand Show in Johannesburg.


In the evenings, Emily and Margaret would go on walks, or would read poetry and sing songs with the staff.

By 1906, there were 60 girls in the weaving project, and the little shop in Waterkloof (5 km from Philippolis) served as a distribution centre.  The place was bustling with girls, mothers and babies. Marion Rowntree came from England to help manage the project. When she returned to England, her place was taken by RP Milroy, a Scotsman and professional weaver.

By July 1905, Emily moved to Langlaagte in Johannesburg, to start her second weaving school, while Margaret Clark continued with the work in Philippolis. Emily continued to receive donations, which enabled her to train many Boer girls in the Transvaal. Supporters in Switzerland provided hundreds of spinning wheels (see Elsabe Brits, Emily Hobhouse: Beloved Traitor, 2016.

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Weaving school at Philippolis
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Emily Hobhouse in Springfontein


In the second week of February 1901, Emily Hobhouse  passed through Springfontein and was received by Rev Sandrock, the German missionary.  At this stage, the refugee camp only had about 400 inhabitants.


On her journey from Kimberley to Bloemfontein, the train stopped over at Springfontein on Sunday 21 April 1901. There was a group of 600 people waiting to be transported to Bethulie, where a new camp was under construction. As these people had been travelling for two days without receiving food, Emily bought as much food as she could for them. Ten days later, Emily passed by Springfontein station again.  To her horror she found, still massed on the railway siding, the same unfortunate people whom she had seen when passing north ten days previously. “Their conditions beggar description", Emily wrote.

The lady who changed history

In South Africa, Emily Hobhouse remains one of the most admired people of the Anglo-Boer War period.  Not only did she intervene in the concentration camps, and thereby saved many lives, but she also launched an innovative post-war development project for destitute Boer girls. 

A good summary of Emily's work is available here.

Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926)

The revered English lady

Weaving school Philippolis
Emily in Springfontein
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