Winifred Holtby was born on 23rd June 1898 to a prosperous farming family in the village of Rudston in Yorkshire.
A governess provided her early education and then she went to Queen Margaret's School in Scarborough. After passing the entrance exam for Somerville College, Oxford in 1917, she decided to join the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in early 1918. However soon after her arrival in France, the War ended.
The following year she returned to study at Oxford where she met Vera Brittain, a fellow student, and they became lifelong friends.
After graduating from Oxford, in 1921, Winifred and Vera moved to London, hoping to establish themselves as authors.
Winifred’s early novels; ‘Anderby Wold’ (1923), ‘The Crowded Street’ (1924) and ‘The Land of Green Ginger’ (1927), met with only moderate success.
As a journalist though she was both prolific and well-known. Articles appeared in more than 20 newspapers and magazines, including the feminist journal Time and Tide and the Manchester Guardian newspaper. To this she added a weekly column for the trade union magazine The Schoolmistress.
She still found time to write novels and published both ‘Poor Caroline’ (1931), Mandoa! Mandoa!’ (1933), as well as a study of Virginia Woolf (1932) and a short story volume, ‘Truth is Not Sober’ (1934).
Winnifred was a committed feminist, socialist and pacifist. She gave many lectures for the League of Nations Union and was a member of the feminist Six Point Group. She was active in the Independent Labour Party and was a campaigner for the unionisation of black workers in South Africa.
After Brittain's marriage in 1925 to George Catlin, Winifred shared their home, although Catlin was not best pleased by either the arrangement or his wife's close friendship with her.
In 1931 the symptoms of high blood pressure, recurrent headaches and bouts of lassitude brought forth a diagnosis of Bright's disease. She was given two years to live. Winifred now put all her efforts into what was to become her crowning achievement: South Riding.
Winifred Holtby died on 29th September 1935, aged 37. South Riding was published a few months later in March, 1936. It received voluminous praise and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 1936.
In her will she left funds and her own collection of books to a library in Soweto which opened its door as the Winifred Holtby Memorial Library in December 1940. It was the first library to be built in Africa specifically for Africans.