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About Cecil Woodham-Smith
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Cecil Woodham-Smith

About Cecil Woodham-Smith

An Interview with Cecil Woodham-Smith

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Cecil Woodham-Smith was born in April 1896 into the well-known Irish family, the FitzGeralds. She had an army background: her father, Colonel James FitzGerald, after retiring from the Indian Army, was Deputy Commissioner for Berar, while her mother's family included General Sir Thomas Picton who served under Wellington and was killed at Waterloo. In 1928 she married George Ivon Woodham-Smith with whom she had an exceptionally close and deep relationship until his death in 1968.

In 1941 she began nine years of meticulous research for Florence Nightingale, which, when it was published in 1950, was acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic for its combination of scholarship and readability. Her second masterpiece of 'refined information', The Reason Why, followed three years later in 1953. A brilliant analysis of that central Victorian episode, the charge of the Light Brigade, it explored the fatally converging lives of Lords Lucan and Cardigan.

The Great Hunger, a formidable and moving account of the great Irish famine of the 1840s, was published in 1962. Queen Victoria (1972) was her last work before her death in 1977 at the age of 80.

In 1960 Cecil Woodham-Smith was made a CBE, an honorary Doctor of Literature at the National University of Ireland in 1964 and St Andrews in 1965 as well as an honorary Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1967.

As The Times wrote in its obituary notice on 17 March 1977: 'Cecil Woodham-Smith was one of the most gifted biographers and narrative historians of her generation. She displayed an attention to detail, a flair for story-telling, and an historical and human intelligence that set her work apart ... In life as in scholarship and literature Cecil Woodham-Smith was a perfectionist, content only with the highest standards. A good lecturer and most entertaining in conversation, she was sharply witty in speech, but sympathetic and generous in action, especially to her fellow writers and to young people.'

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