Russell, Sarah Elizabeth

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Russell, Sarah Elizabeth

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Sarah Elizabeth Russell was a granddaughter of Lord Bertrand Russell, philosopher and peace activist. Her father, John Conrad Russell, was Bertrand Russell’s first son from his marriage to Dora Black. Her mother, Susan Lindsay, was the daughter of American poet Vachel Lindsay.

Sarah was the first daughter born to John and Susan, and the second child in their family (the first child, Anne Russell, was born to Susan Lindsay and adopted by John Russell prior to Sarah’s birth).

Sarah’s family initially lived in a small flat in Cambrian Road, Richmond, but by 1950, they had moved to the main floor of 41 Queen’s Road in Richmond with Bertrand Russell (Monk 316-317). In December 1952, Bertrand Russell married his fourth wife, Edith Finch, and soon after she moved into the Queen’s Road home, Sarah’s parents moved out of it (Monk 355). Sarah’s parents separated in 1954 and divorced by 1955 (Monk 359-360).

Thereafter, Sarah and her sisters became the subjects of a protracted family custody dispute, the result of which was that Bertrand and Edith Russell won full custody of the children in 1961, with their father, John Russell, retaining visitation rights (Monk 400).

Sarah attended Kingsmuir School, a boarding school in Sussex, while the family resided at 41 Queen’s Road (Griffin 503). In 1956, Bertrand and Edith Russell moved the family to Plas Penrhyn, their home in Wales. Following this move, Sarah and her sisters attended Moreton Hall, a private girls’ boarding school in Shropshire (Monk 370; Griffin 503). Near Russell’s home in Wales lived the Cooper-Willis family: mother Susan Williams-Ellis, a renowned potter; father Euan Cooper-Willis, and daughters Siân and Anwyl, who were close friends of Sarah and her sisters.

Sarah left Moreton Hall, possibly as early as 1961, to complete her studies at Dartington Hall, a progressive co-educational boarding school in Devon. In 1966, she commenced a program in English Language and Literature at the University of Reading. She appears to have taken a break in 1970, when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia (Monk 500). Sarah returned to her program in 1977, and in 1979, she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in the second division of the second class.

In 1975, Sarah’s younger sister Lucy died by self-immolation (Monk 501-502). This event had a significant impact on Sarah and is addressed in her diaries (see Series 2).

Little is known of the later period of Sarah’s life, though Ray Monk, biographer of Bertrand Russell, writes that Sarah spent much of her life in psychiatric care (500).


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G. Dunks, 2024.




Griffin, Nick (ed.). The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970. London: Routledge, 2001.

Monk, Ray. Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921-1970. England: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 2000.

Moorehead, Caroline. Bertrand Russell: A Life. London: Penguin Books, 1992.

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