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The society was founded in 1955 in London to make Morris's work and life well known after his death. The society's programs include branches in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
William Morris spent the last 18 years of his life in the Coach House and basement at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith where he also conducted his work. This is where the society's offices and museum are located as an honor of his work. Formed in 1918, The Kelmscott Fellowship was the forerunner of the William Morris Society. With May Morris as the first president, Kelmscott merged with Emery Walker and AH Verstage in 1966. The fellowship aimed at keeping the legacy of William Morris alive and to showcase his work, ideas, and life for appreciation through a series of events and memberships.
The Women's Guild of Arts was formed in 1904 due to the lack of professional art organizations willing to include women. Merging of all the groups led to the William Morris Society whose major agenda was the appreciation of art through the previous work of William Morris. May Morris organized the May lectures that met a great outreach to craftswomen. The archives of the society, the Kelmscott Fellowship and the Women’s Guild of Arts are held in the Basement of the Coach House. Mrs. Marion Helena Stephenson bequeathed the Coach House as the perfect location for appreciation of Morris's work. She also has brought forth most of the society's collection.
The Work of William Morris and Inspirations
After graduating as an architect, William Morris became friends with several artists from whom came the inspiration for his work. His work was also influenced largely by traveling to Iceland with Eirikr Magnusson from which he produced a series of English-language translations of Iceland Sagas. He became a social activist in the 1880s after being influenced by anarchism. The writings of art critic John Ruskin were arguably the biggest personal inspiration of William Morris's work. He termed the chapter "On the Nature of gothic architecture" in the second volume of The Stones of Venice by John as "one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century".
How the society perpetuates Morris's work and its functions
The William Morris Society ensures that his work is made more well-known through republications of Morris's work. Throughout the year, the society publishes books and pamphlets dealing with Morris's life. Also, a quarterly members' newsletter is released and the Journal of William Morris Studies twice a year. The society also extends the effort to local artists through who the work of art is perpetuated. Besides publications, the society also conducts exhibitions in its premises which are open as a public museum on Thursday and Saturday afternoons starting 14:00 to 17:00 and other times by appointment. The society also allows school groups and private tours. Tours are free but donations to support the foundation are accepted.
The premises hold a vast collection the work of Morris and those inspired by him. The basement includes an extensive library where members get to appreciate the collection. It is where Morris's original Albion printing press used in the production of the Kelmscott Press Chaucer, his last great creation is kept. Visitors are taken through guided tours in the Coach House. In an effort to maintain the society's consistency, regular events are conducted including a wide range of talks on the work and life of Morris with those who perpetuate his work. The board offers worldwide membership offering those interested to perpetuate the memory of William Morris. Members enjoy such privileges as receiving the society’s magazine three times a year, discounted tickets for events, etc.
The society holds itself to the highest fiduciary and strategic standards as part of staying true to their vision. Through partnerships with organizations such as the Emery Walker Trust, the society is able to take a commercial attitude towards financial management and remain focused on their vision. The board is also in charge of organizing events and overseeing maximum outreach of Morris's work. Memberships are also run by the board. The entire profits from the society’s work are taken back into the charity.