Ethel Sophia Fegan ranged in a wide variety of activities during her life and had two distinct careers, both of which are reflected in her papers. She was born in Kent and educated at Blackheath High School, London. After coming to Girton to read Classics 1896-1900, she studied for the Library Association examinations while teaching classics, and became Librarian at Cheltenham Ladies' College (1908-17). She received an MA in 1907 from Trinity College Dublin (quasi ad eundem) and was elected a Fellow of the Library Association circa 1910. During her time at Cheltenham, she inaugurated courses for professional training in librarianship, conducted correspondence classes for the Library Association, and devised the 'Cheltenham Classification' a library classification for schools. Subsequently she was for 12 years librarian of Girton College (1918-30), becoming an Honorary Fellow of the College in 1948. She also worked with Dr A C Haddon to build up the Haddon Library, and under his influence took the Cambridge Diploma in Anthropology (1929). After a sabbatical year in Nigeria (1928-29) she was appointed Lady Superintendent of Education for the Nigerian Government (1930-35) and in this role was a pioneer in the first official attempt to educate the women of that area.
She stayed in Nigeria, as a lay worker at Zaria Leper Colony (1938-39 and again 1945-46) for the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association, before resuming library work, investigating library conditions in British West Africa for the Carnegie Corporation of New York, working in various libraries in the UK and training Africans for library work at Achimota College on the Gold Coast, continuing to work well into her retirement. She was awarded the George V Jubilee Medal for her educational work in Africa.
On her return to Britain, Ethel Fegan worked as a volunteer in Cambridgeshire County Archives until she was over 90.
The papers contain notebooks of Fegan's Library Association lectures, also lectures, reports and articles on her research in Librarianship in Britain and Africa. They include catalogues and publications which reflect her interest in bibliography, particularly the publishing and the book trade in Cambridge. The papers also contain material which reflect her interest in African anthropology and her time spent in the field of education of African women.
Acquisition of the Fegan Papers is not well documented, but it would appear that the bulk of the papers was given to College by Ethel Fegan herself, when she retired as Librarian in 1930, and at other periods of her career. The diaries and photographs were received after her death, sent by a one-time landlady, Daphne Lloyd, in 1984. The papers have been stored in the archives but were uncatalogued until 1993, when enquiries into various aspects of Fegan's career prompted documentation of her papers.
The papers are arranged in four sections: Fegan 1: Personal and biographical; Fegan 2: Early career; Fegan 3: Later career; Fegan 4: Offprints.
Anthony Olden's article 'African Pioneer' Library Association Record 99/2 (February 1997) and book, 'Libraries in Africa: pioneers, policies, problems' Scarecrow Press 1995, draws on material in the Fegan Papers.
Further information on Ethel Fegan can be found in her Roll file at GCAS 2/3/1 (1896), in her staff file at GCAR 2/5/1/1/2 and in Professor Bradbrook's reminiscences 'Strong Minded Dons' at GCPP Bradbrook. There are also articles by Fegan on her experience in Africa in the Girton Review.