Agatha Harrison was a welfare worker, pacifist and Quaker, and dedicated to the struggle for Indian independence. Her father was a Methodist minister, and her mother the daughter of a portrait painter. Born in Berkshire, the family moved to Jersey and then, on Agatha’s father’s death, to Bristol, where she attended Redland High School, helping out at the school in exchange for the waiving of her fees. From the age of 16, she taught and assisted at Kent College, Folkestone, where she received training for the Froebel teaching certificate by night. She then turned to welfare work at Boots Chemist in Nottingham, and at Dairycoates, a tin box factory in Hull, where her role was to protect the interests of the women who worked there, negotiating fair wages and better working conditions on their behalf. In 1917 she was appointed welfare tutor at the London School of Economics. Three years later she travelled to China to conduct welfare work in factories there and to undertake an industrial survey.
In 1928, Agatha Harrison began working with the Women’s International League, an organization whose concerns included the relationship between India and Britain and which, to that end, welcomed representative Indian women visiting London and sent British representatives to sessions of the All-India Women’s Conference. She also accompanied the Royal Commission on Labour, as Beryl Power’s assistant, on their international tour which included a visit to India to inspect their factories, workshops and villages. Back in the UK, she helped C. F. Andrews in his preparation for Gandhi’s visit to attend the Second Round Table Conference in 1931, eventually becoming Andrews’ assistant. Thus began an extensive correspondence and working relationship with Gandhi. She worked hard to spread his message in Britain and accompanied his party on visits to the poor in India. She also made various trips to India as part of the India Conciliation Group where she visited jails and attended meetings with prominent political figures.
Agatha Harrison attended numerous India League meetings, also speaking at some of them, and was kept under surveillance by the Indian Political Intelligence. In May 1946, her name was added to the ‘stop list’ of people who should not be permitted to enter India without prior consultation. She died of an unsuspected heart condition in May 1954. Speaking at a tribute to her in London, Krishna Menon said of Harrison: ‘she had no office or title, and no flags were lowered for her, but all over India people honour her name’ (Harrison, p. 131).