1855       Olive Emilie Albertina, the ninth of twelve children of Gottlob Schreiner, of German extraction, and Rebecca Schreiner née Lyndall, missionaries in South Africa sponsored by the London Missionary Society, is born on 24 March at Wittebergen mission station, Basutoland (now Lesotho). She is named after her three brothers, who died in infancy.

1857       Birth of Olive's younger brother, William Philip Schreiner, the future Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, a lawyer and an anti-British imperialist. He dies on 28 June 1919.

1861       When Olive is six, she begins a semi-nomadic pattern of moving from place to place, which will last until her death in 1920. The Schreiner family move to Kat River Mission Settlement at Healdtown, and a few years later to Balfour.

1864       Ellie, the twelfth and last child of Gottlob and Rebecca Schreiner is born. She dies the following year. Olive's novel, From Man To Man, is dedicated to her beloved sister. At about ten, Olive loses her orthodox faith.

1865       Gottlob Schreiner is dismissed from the Wesleyan Missionary Society for the misdemeanour of combining small trading with his missionary work. He undertakes petty trade.

1866      Haunted by debt Gottlob Schreiner is declared insolvent. Family disperses due to poverty.

1867       After Gottlob Schreiner's insolvency, Olive, together with her elder sister Ettie (later the temperance orator) and younger brother William, joins her elder brother Theo (school headmaster) and attends his school in the small South African township of Cradock, Eastern Cape.

1870       Olive works as a governess for her cousin Elise-Pauline Orpen, at Avoca, a small farm in the Colesber district. She begins to read books that introduce her to contemporary European intellectual debate.

1871       She meets free-thinking William Bertram at Hermon mission station. Reads his copy of Herbert Spencer's First Principles, which confirms her agnosticism. Bertram encourages her to read the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which exerted an enormous impact on her intellectual development. Schreiner announces that she is to be called Olive, not Emilie any more.

1872       Olive works as a governess to a family in Dortrecht. Has a brief love affair with the twenty-six year old Julius Gau, a politician and diamond merchant. Joins her elder brother Theo and elder sister Ettie at the diamond-fields at New Rush (later known as Kimberley, Northern Cape), where she teaches children of local diggers. Olive starts drafting her three novels, Undine, The Story of An African Farm (earlier title versions: Thorn Kloof, Mirage), From Man to Man (originally titled Other Men's Sins), and short stories. Her asthma attacks begin at around this time.

1873       Olive meets Mary Brown (a British feminist) and her husband Dr John Brown at Fraseburg. Later the couple will devise 'the English plan' to enable her to train in medicine in 1881.

1874       Olive works full time as a governess in the Cape Colony and writes fiction in her free time.

1875       Undine nearly completed. Olive reads John Stuart Mill's A System of Logic. Teaches at the Fouches at Klein Ganna Hoek farm near Cradock.

1876      Father dies. Olive reads Goethe and Montaigne.

1887       Olive visits her mother, who converts to Catholicism and finds shelter in a convent.

1879       Early version of The Story of an African Farm is complete (not yet with this title).

1880       Olive sends the manuscript of African Farm to Mary and John Brown, who reside in Burnley, Lancashire. They pass it to the Edinburgh publisher David Douglas, who turns it down but advises editing. Olive works on suggested revisions.

1881       Olive travels to England to train for a medical career and seek a publisher for African Farm. Stays with brother Fred Schreiner and his wife Emma in Eastbourne, Sussex. Enrols as a nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, but has to give up after several days because of ill-health.

1882       Olive goes to Endell Street Hospital in London to train as a midwife, but becomes ill and spends winter in Ventnor, Isle of Wight. Back in London, Olive meets a circle of women writers, socialists and social reformers, including Amy Levy, Eleanor Marx, Margaret Harkness, Dollie Maitland (Radford), Beatrix Potter (Webb), and Clementina Black.

1883       Chapman and Hall accept The Story of an African Farm on the recommendation of the eminent novelist, George Meredith. Published in two volumes in January, the novel proves as immediate success, and a second edition quickly follows. Fifteen editions will appear in Schreiner's lifetime.

1884       Olive meets Henry Havelock Ellis, a medical student with strong interest in literature and forms very close friendship with him.

1885       Olive joins the radical Men and Women's Club convened by the free-thinking Karl Pearson, to whom Schreiner is strongly drawn. Attends the meetings of the Fellowship of the New Life, an organisation founded by Thomas Davidson, and influenced by the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Meets its members, Edward Carpenter, the radical socialist and homosexual emancipationist; Edith Lees, Edith Nesbit, Frank Podmore, Hubert Bland, Edward Pease, and Henry Stephens Salt, a noted literary critic, ethical vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist, socialist, and pacifist. She also meets George Moore, the Irish novelist and art critic, who is strongly attracted to her.

1886       Intellectual relationship with Pearson breaks down. Olive suffers mental and physical collapse, being increasingly dependent on medications which contain combination of laudanum, strychnine and potassium bromide. Leaves London for Shanklin, the Isle of Wight, next Bournemouth, Kilburn, and Harrow-on-the-Hill, hoping to improve her health. Leaves England for an extended stay on the Continent. Still working on From Man to Man. Writes introduction to Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Olive's physician, Dr H. Bryan Donkin falls in love with her and, for the next two years, repeatedly implores her to marry him, but she declines him.

1887       Stays in the Grand Hotel D'Alassio in Alassio, Italy, on the Italian Riviera; then in Switzerland at Arona, Belinzona, Gersau, and Clarens, where she meets Leslie Stephen; then stays at various rooming houses in Paris. Returns to London on June 10. Seeks publisher for her collection of allegorical and visionary writings.

1888      Rents a cottage in January in Hertforshire. Sojourns in June at Riva, Lago di Garda, Italy. Stays in Alassio, Italy, for two months (October-November); then goes to Mentone, France.

1889       Lives in Paris for almost a month and leaves for London in April. Meets the decadent and symbolist poet and critic Arthur Symons. Goes on a short holiday at the seaside with the poet and novelist Amy Levy on Aug 31; the itinerary includes St. Leone, Folkestone, and St. Margaret. Sadly, on September 10, Levy, who suffers from depression, commits suicide at the age of twenty-seven by inhaling carbon monoxide from a stove. Olive returns to South Africa in October. Stays with her brother Will and sister-in-law Fan at their home in Mount Vernon, Cape Town. Travels to Grahamstown in late November to see her sick mother.

1890       Moves to Matjesfontein, on the high Karroo, Western Cape, in March, where the climate and altitude will provide relief from her asthma attacks. Begins a series of periodical essays on South Africa (collected posthumously in 1923). Meets Cecil Rhodes, the owner of De Beers Consolidated Mines and later Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, and attracted by his forceful personality, Olive invites him to visit her. Settles in Matjesfontein.

1891       Dreams published in London by T. Fisher Unwin.

1892       Breaks with Rhodes. Meets Samuel “Cron” Cronwright, an ostrich farmer and freethinker, who begins to court her. Works on further allegories, including “The Buddhist Priest's Wife.”

1893       Leaves for England in May. The Story of an African Farm is published in a Russian translation. Stays in Eastbourne with her brother Fred for a while. Goes to Millthorpe in June, to the retreat run by Edward Carpenter for himself and his friends. Dream Life and Real Life is published London by T. Fisher Unwin. Returns to South Africa in early October. She then lives in Middleburg, Eastern Cape Cape.

1894       Marries Samuel Cronwright, eight years her junior, on 24 February at the Karoo town of Middelburg. He, unusually, chooses to be called, Cronwright-Schreiner. Asthma attacks become severe during summer and force the newly-weds to leave for the better climate of Kimberley, Northern Cape, where they buy a property which becomes their permanent home until 1898.

1895       Baby daughter dies shortly after birth.

1896       The Schreiners travel to England to agitate for a peaceful solution to conflicts in South Africa. Publishes (with Cronwright-Schreiner) The Political Situation in Cape Colony.

1897       Travels to England with her husband to publish Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, a fictional attack on Cecil Rhodes' segregationist and racist policies. The Schreiners remain in London a short while before leaving for the Continent, staying at various places until they arrive at Alassio, where they sojourn for about six weeks. Then they come back to London in early June, stopping off in Paris en route. They return to their home in Kimberley in September.

1898       Another close friend of Olive Schreiner, Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, commits a suicide. The Schreiners move to Johannesburg.

1899      In August 1899, the Schreiners leave Johannesburg because of Olive’s poor health, going to Karre Kloof, a farm of Cron's cousin, near Strydenburg, Northern Cape. Outbreak of second Anglo-Boer War in early October. Olive publishes a pro-Boer anti-war tract, An English South African's View of the Situation, causing offence to her brother Will, Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. Cron leaves for England in January.

1900       Prominent in the women's protest movement in the Cape. On 31 May, Olive speaks at a Volkskongres at Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape, and on 9 July at a women's protest meeting in Cape Town. Lives under martial law in Hanover, where she is joined by Cron in May 1901.

1902       Olive visits Johannesburg and rescues fragments from what remains of her house; most of her manuscripts have been destroyed. Hanover becomes Schreiners' residence from 1902 to 1906. Works on Woman and Labour, From Man to Man, and several stories, including “Eighteen-Ninety-Nine.”

1903       Olive's mother dies in Cape Town.

1906       Publishes pamphlet, 'Letter on the Jew', in the Cape Times (2 July).

1907       In October 1907, Olive and Cron move to De Aar where they live until 1913. Olive helps found Cape Women's Enfranchisement League “to promote an intelligent interest in the question of the political enfranchisement of women in the Cape Colony, and to advocate for the granting of the vote to them on the same terms as men.”

1908       Supports South African federation. Letter on women's suffrage appears in the Cape Times.

1909       Publishes Closer Union. A Letter on the South African Union and the Principles of Government in London. Olive publicly shakes hands with Gandhi when he is about to depart Cape Town. Supports Gandhi's satyagraha movement.

1911       Olive's lifelong interests in gender and feminist issues culminate in the publication of Woman and Labour in London.

1913       Resigns from the post of Vice-President of the Women's Enfranchisement League because the League wants vote for white women only. In December, Olive leaves South Africa (without Cron) for England and the Continent, hoping to find medical relief for her deteriorating health in the spas.

1914       After the outbreak of World War One Olive stays in England until 1920. Sees Havelock at regular occasions and visits his psychotic wife Edith throughout her last illness and death. Becomes an uncompromising pacifist; her antiwar tracts and support of pacifist activities cut her off from former literary and feminist friends.

1915      Publishes “Who Knocks at the Door?”

1916      Publishes pacifist propaganda in Labour Leader.

1917       In October, Olive moves to 9 Porchester Place, Edgware Road, where she stays until she leaves for Cape Town in September 1920.

1919       Olive suffers from depression.

1920       Cronwright-Schreiner travels to England after separation of five years. An aged and crippled invalid, Schreiner returns to South Africa. Dies of heart failure on 10 December in a rooming house at Wynberg, a suburb of Cape Town, and is buried in the Schreiner family plot in Maitland cemetery. A few months later, Cron, who has returned from Europe, obtains permission to have his wife's body exhumed and buries her in a coffin on top of Buffelskop mountain, near Cradock in the Eastern Cape, together with two other coffins, containing the remains of their baby daughter and the favourite dog Nita.

1923       Stories, Dreams, and Allegories and Thoughts on South Africa are published posthumously by London: T. Fisher Unwin. The majority of the essays were written between 1890 and 1892.

1924       Samuel Cronwright-Schreiner publishes his wife's biography, The Life of Olive Schreiner, her letters, The Letters of Olive Schreiner, and edits her remaining manuscripts for publication. Drops 'Schreiner' from his surname and remarries in England.

1926       From Man to Man is published posthumously in London by T. Fisher Unwin.

1929       Undine is published posthumously in London by Ernest Benn.

1936       Samuel Cronwright dies in Rondebosch, Cape Town, and is interred beside Olive Schreiner, their baby daughter and the dog Neta on Buffelskop, on which they had stood shortly after their marriage and had decided that they should be buried together there.

1966       The Story of an African Farm is republished.

1983       Olive Schreiner: A One-Woman Play, by Stephen Gray, is published.

2004       The Story of an African Farm, a film directed by David Lister, is released in South Africa.


Burdett, Carolyn. Olive Schreiner and the Progress of Feminism: Evolution, Gender, Empire. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

Draznin, Yaffa Claire. My Other Self: The Letters of Olive Schreiner and Havelock Ellis, 1884-1920. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

Schreiner, Olive. The Story of an African Farm. Edited by Joseph Bristow. Oxford: Oxford University, 1998.

___. Dreams: Three Works by Olive Schreiner. Edited by Elisabeth Jay. Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 2003.

Introduction to the Olive Schreiner Letters Online site

Last modified 6 July 2012