Olive Emilie Albertinia Schreiner was born on 24 March 1855 at the mission station at Wittebergen in the Eastern Cape, she was the ninth child of twelve. Her parents were Gottlob Schreiner, a missionary, and his wife Rebecca Lyndall, the daughter of a Londen reverend.
Olive received most of her education from her mother – a well read; cultured and gifted woman. In 1874 Olive began work a governess, the occupation by which she was to earn her living for the next seven years. Around this time she began work on STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM.. She had by then finished her first novel, UNDINE, eventually published posthumously in 1929.
She travelled to England to find a publisher for her book. She stayed in London for 6 years. Her asthma attacks became more frequent and she returned to South Africa for health reasons. She lived at Matjiesfontein. During this period she published DREAMS (1890) and DREAM LIFE AND REAL LIFE (1893). During a visit to Cradock she met Samuel Cron Cronwright a progressive young farmer. On 24 February 1894 they were married and he adopted the name Cronwright-Schreiner as a sign that the one was not subservient to the other. She was 38 years old and he 30. She was restless and for the sake of her health her husband abandoned his farming. They went to live in Kimberley where their only child, a daughter, was born on 30 April 1895. The baby only survived for 18 hours.
During the Anglo-Boer war the couple were strong supporters of the Boer cause. They moved to Hanover in 1900 and then to De Aar in 1907. Her husband was elected to the Cape Parliament in 1902. In De Aar she was extremely unhappy and called the town “a town of wind-mills”.
Olive was a pioneer in the cause of women’s liberation. In 1911 she published WOMAN AND LABOUR. Under the slogan “Give us labour!” the book articulated the need of middle class women for a more active role in society.
In 1914 she left for Europe once more. She spent most of the First World War in Brittain. Her health failing, she returned to Cape Town where she died during the night of 10 December 1920. she was buried in the family plot in Maitland Cemetery. According to a wish once expressed, she was reburied on the top of Buffelskop, a mountain near Cradock, overlooking the farms Krantz Plaats and Gannahoek. On 13 August 1921, Olive Schreiner was re-interred together with her infant daughter and her favorite dog Nita.
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