Woolf, Leonard, 1880-1969

Alternative names
Birth 1880-11-25
Death 1969-08-14

Biographical notes:

Leonard Woolf, husband of Virginia Woolf, was a unique thinker and theorist in his own right--sophisticated, principled, and humane. His legacy is inextricably tied with the Bloomsbury Set, one of the most influential literary groups of the 20th century, and with Hogarth Press, which he co-founded with his wife.

From the description of Leonard Woolf letter to Wigram, 1935 June 10. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 52221264

Leonard Sidney Woolf (1880-1969) was an English historian and political essayist. He was married to author Virginia Woolf.

From the description of Letters of Leonard Woolf, 1900-1918. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 122383189

Born in 1880, Leonard Woolf worked for the Ceylon Civil Service from 1904-1911. He was the editor of the International Review , 1919, the literary editor of The Nation , 1923-1930, and joint editor of the Political Quarterly , 1931-1959. He was a member of the National Whitley Council for Administrative and Legal Departments of the Civil Service, 1938-1955. He was married to Virginia Stephen in 1912, and they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917. The Press published many of the works of the Bloomsbury group, including those of Virginia herself. To the Lighthouse , which was written in 1927, examined the life of an upper middle class British family, portraying the fragility of human relationships and the collapse of social values.

From the guide to the Woolf, Leonard Sidney, 1967, (Senate House Library, University of London)

Leonard Woolf was a British author, political essayist, and social reformer. He was a member of the Bloomsbury group--a group of friends, writers, artists, and intellectuals. He was married to author and fellow Bloomsbury member Virginia Woolf.

From the description of Letters to Clive and Julian Bell, 1906-1963. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 122369312

Leonard Sidney Woolf, author, publisher and political worker, was born in London, November 25, 1880, the third of ten children of Solomon Rees Sydney and Marie (de Jongh) Woolf. When his father died in 1892, Woolf was sent to board at the Arlington House School, a preparatory school near Brighton. From 1894 to 1899 he studied on a scholarship as a day student at St. Paul's, a London public school noted for its classical studies. In 1899 he won a classical scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge University.

At Cambridge, Woolf became part of a youthful group of intellectuals whose members included Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Thoby Stephen, John Maynard Keynes and E.M. Forster, who were students, and Bertrand Russell, who was a Fellow. In 1902 he earned his B.A. degree but stayed on at Cambridge for a fifth year to study for the civil service examination. In October 1904 Woolf left Trinity College to become a cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service in Colombo.

His professional progress was rapid. In August 1908 he was appointed an assistant government agent in the Southern Province, assigned to administer the District of Hambantota. Woolf's first book, The Village in the Jungle (1913) and his Stories of the East (1921) were based on his experiences in Ceylon. His official diaries as administrator of Hambantota were published in Diaries in Ceylon 1908-1911 (1962).

Woolf left Ceylon in May 1911 expecting to return after a year's leave. In July, however, he renewed his acquaintance with Virginia Stephen. Partly because he chose to marry Virginia and partly because of a growing distaste for colonialism, Woolf resigned from the Ceylon Civil Service early in 1912. The "Bloomsbury" group--a circle of artists, writers, critics and intellectuals living in or near that district-- began to make its mark during this period and came to dominate the British literary scene during World War I. The nucleus of the group included Clive and Vanessa Bell, the Woolfs, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry.

With the outbreak of World War I, Woolf turned his attention to politics and sociology. He joined the Labour Party and the Fabian Society and became a regular contributor to New Statesman. In 1916 he wrote International Government which outlined future possibilities for a supernational agency to enforce peace in the world. The book was incorporated by the British government in its proposals for a League of Nations at Geneva. Woolf was later active in the League of Nations Society and the League of Nations Union.

During the war Woolf spent much of his time caring for his wife who was then suffering extreme manic-depression. To provide her with a relaxing hobby they bought a small hand printing press in 1917. Their first project was a pamphlet containing a story by each of them, printed and bound by themselves at the Hogarth Press (named after Hogarth House, their home in Richmond). Other small books followed, mostly by little-known writers who were their friends including T.S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield and E.M. Forster. Within ten years, the Hogarth Press was a full-scale publishing house and included on its list such seminal works as Eliot's The Waste Land, Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room and Freud's Collected Papers. Leonard Woolf remained the main director of the publishing house from its beginning in 1917 until his death in 1969.

The Hogarth Press was never Leonard Woolf's sole occupation. He became editor in 1919 of International Review, edited the international section of Contemporary Review from 1920 through 1922, was literary editor of Nation Athenaeum from 1923 to 1930 and joint editor of Political Quarterly from 1931-1959. Woolf also served during the period between the wars as secretary of the Labour Party's advisory committees on international and colonial questions. From 1938 to 1955 he was a member of the National Whitley Council for Administrative and Legal Departments of the Civil Service.

Among Woolf's most important writings are After the Deluge (1931-51), a multi-volume modern political and social history, and his five-volume autobiography, Sowing (1960), Growing (1961), Beginning Again (1964), Downhill All The Way (1967) and The Journey Not The Arrival Matters (1969). He died August 14, 1969.

From the guide to the Leonard Sidney Woolf Papers, 1945-1969, (Washington State University Libraries Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections)


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  • Bloomsbury group--Correspondence
  • Political scientists--Correspondence
  • Authors, English--Correspondence
  • English literature--20th century
  • Bloomsbury group
  • Authors, English--20th century--Correspondence
  • Literature


  • Editors
  • Authors, English--Correspondence


  • Sri Lanka (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)