Jane Gamble came from a Virginian family but was born in England in 1810. Her mother died soon after her birth, and she returned to America with her father, but after his re-marriage, when she was three years old, she was sent to England where she was adopted by her uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs James Dunlop, of London. They had one son, an invalid, and Jane became a companion for her cousin, and a cherished member of the household. She received a good education, and soon developed an appetite for reading, and for writing plays and poetry. James Dunlop, a wealthy tobacco trader who had emigrated from America, was a patron of artists, and Jane benefited from this hospitable and lively milieu. Her literary talents, her personal grievance at being exiled from her first home by a stepmother, and her contact with artistic and literary circles, combined to shape her character and views on life. She saw herself as a tragic figure, crossed by fate - the epitome of the heroines of her own compositions. With the help of a relative she published one play in 1846, and towards the end of her life a further eighteen, during the years 1880-1884. In the British Library catalogue they appear under a nom de plume 'Miss D Nutt'. There is no indication why this name was chosen, though there may be a connection with Caroline Jane Nutt, who was JCG's companion from 1875 to 1885; it is possible that she had contacts with publishers, or may even have been related to the London bookseller, David Nutt. At the least, she would have encouraged and assisted with proof-reading.
By 1851 JCG's uncle, aunt and cousin had all died, leaving her free to travel to Italy, for which she had always longed. Italy was the setting for the romantic episode which may have confirmed her feminist convictions, and led to her endowment to Girton. She was now an heiress, and was courted by Henry Wikoff, an American who had first met her in London in 1835, and who re-appeared in her life a few days after the death of her cousin, and pursued her across Europe. The affair ended with him convicted of her abduction in Genoa, and imprisoned there. On his release he published his own account of this adventure. No mention of it is to be found in her own journal, however. She died in 1885 at Florence and is buried at Kensal Green, London.
Jane Catherine Gamble, who had not been a student at Girton and had no official connection with the College, nevertheless became its first major benefactor on her death in 1885, when she bequeathed Girton her residuary estate. This amounted to about £19,000 and enabled the purchase of additional land and a large expansion of the buildings. The College also acquired sculpture and books as part of her legacy. The Gamble Essay Prize was founded in her memory in 1888.
The papers comprise Jane Gamble's own writings, including her literary compositions; her business papers and related correspondence and also a collection of letters, mementoes and artefacts preserved by her.
In 1935 her bankers, Coutts of London, discovered that they held two boxes in Jane Gamble's name, containing old documents and manuscripts. These were forwarded to the College, and contained her personal papers. They were stored in a trunk in the Library and a complete list made by Susan Bain in 2000.
The original order found in the trunk has been maintained and arranged into three series which reflect the major activities of the creator.
Biographical details can be found in: Barbara Stephen, 'Girton College' (Cambridge: CUP, 1933); The Girton Review (December 1885) and Susan Bain, 'Memoirs and mementoes' Girton Annual Review (2002). Details of the courtship by Henry Wikoff can be found in: Henry Wikoff, 'My Courtship and its Consequences' (New York: J C Derby, 1855) and Duncan Crow, 'Henry Wikoff, the American Chevalier' (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1963).