Who was Katherine Low?
According to local legend, Katherine Low was a local social philanthropist and suffragette. I am sorry to say she had no Battersea connections and here is no known evidence that she was a suffragette. So why, you may wonder, was a social welfare initiative named after her established in Battersea?
The answer is that it followed her role in the United Girls School Mission which supported the Peckham Settlement. For reasons yet undiscovered (though it may have been to do with being motivated by Charles Booth’s poverty maps), after her death her friends decided to set up and name a new Settlement house and chose Battersea over Camberwell.
Born in America in 1855, Katherine Mackay Low (known as Katie) was the daughter of Andrew Low II, a wealthy Savannah-based Scots cotton trader and his second wife, Mary Cowper Stiles. After the end of the American Civil War settled in England in Leamington Spa, and Katie went to the Francis Holland School in Sloane Square.
Andrew Low died in June 1886, leaving £618,000 from which there were legacies for each daughter, with the bulk of the estate going to William.
As there is unfortunately no substantial surviving archive, we know very little about Katie’s role in the Mission and the Peckham Settlement, except that she was its Treasurer from about 1908 until her death in 1923 at the age of 67. In her last few years Katie lived at 106 Park St, Grosvenor Square. She is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin in East Haddon in Northamptonshire.
Described as ‘a woman of independent means’, Katie was in fact a millionairess worth around £4.5million in today’s money. Her wealth was inherited from her father, from her brother William, and from others like her second cousin Mary Catherine Philips. Upon her death Katie left a small bequest of just under £13,000 in today’s money to Peckham Settlement.
Katherine Low’s name is well known in Battersea but the woman herself, her beliefs and her activities remain very much a mystery. As there are no surviving papers, research to explore her life will be a difficult task.
Published with kind permission from the Battersea Society.
Katherine Mackay Low died on January 2nd, 1923, her many friends decided to create a memorial to her which would also further the kind of service to which she had devoted herself