Charlotte Mary Yonge was born and lived all her life at Otterbourne, near Winchester. Her father had, on marrying, renounced a military career and moved from his family roots in Devon, but annual visits to cousins there were an important and enjoyable part of CMY's childhood. She was educated at home by her parents, William and Frances (nee Bargus), both of whom came from clerical families, and their conviction that women's education and talents should be nurtured within a framework of paternal Christian authority shaped her character, and is reflected in her writing. At 7 years she began teaching in Sunday school, and at 13 she was further influenced by John Keble, who had been appointed to the neighbouring parish, Hursley. He prepared her for confirmation, and encouraged her to view her writing as a talent to be developed in the service of the church, though he warned her against too blatant a tone of Christian polemic.
She wrote over 200 volumes of fiction and non-fiction, as well as historical romances for children, text-books, a history of Christian names (1863), a life of her cousin Bishop Patteson (1874), and a memoir of Hannah More (1888). She also edited 'The Monthly Packet', a magazine for young ladies, from 1851 until 1890. Her most famous works of fiction include 'The Heir of Redclyffe' (1853), 'The Daisy Chain' (1856), 'The Young Stepmother' (1861), 'The Clever Woman of the Family' (1865), and 'The Pillars of the House' (1873). They explore the moral conflicts of sheltered lives, duty versus ambition, and the difference between real and apparent goodness. Although written mainly for young women, they were admired by her literary contemporaries, and in dealing with relationships in large families, often in isolated rural areas, they reveal changes in social mobility, education and housing, and in the Church of England.
In 1868 Emily Davies wrote to Charlotte Yong, requesting her support for 'the proposed college for ladies', which CMY declined to offer, stating her preference for home education for girls, possibly continued voluntarily by the girls themselves, as being far more valuable both intellectually and morally. She also had 'decided objections to bringing large masses of girls together.' Nevertheless, Girton College has an impressive collection of Yonge's published work, as well as an important archive of papers, from various sources.
Most of the papers consist of correspondence: personal correspondence of CMY, correspondence about her work, and with her publishers. In addition there is a small collection of photographs, mainly of CMY but including a few of acquaintances. There is also published material, some with CMY as author, translator or editor, and some containing biographical information.
The papers were acquired as gifts or bequests from three sources: A N D Atkinson (date unknown and no details), Caroline Ridding in 1935 and 1941-44, and Harold James Ruthven Murray in 1943. Caroline Ridding (1862-1946, Girton 1883) was an ardent admirer and a collector of CMY's works. H J R Murray was the brother of Hilda Murray (Girton 1915) and father of K M E Murray (Girton 1938). The papers were listed in the 1970s and the previous numbers in the catalogue reflect this listing.