Sarah Jane Rees

Sarah Jane Rees (9 January 1839 – 27 June 1916), also known by a bardic name as "Cranogwen", was a Welsh teacher, poet, editor and temperance campaigner.[1] She had two romantic friendships with women, first with Fanny Rees, until her death from tuberculosis, then with Jane Thomas, for most of the rest of Rees's life.

Sarah Jane Rees
Sarah Jane Rees (Crangowen, 1839-1916) NLW3362516.jpg
Rees, about 1875
Born(1839-01-09)9 January 1839
Died27 June 1916(1916-06-27) (aged 77)
Cilfynydd, Wales
Burial placeSt Crannogs, Cilfynydd
  • Teacher
  • poet
  • magazine editor
  • temperance activist
EraVictorian era, Edwardian era
OrganizationSouth Wales Women's Temperance Union (UDMD)

Early lifeEdit

Sarah Jane Rees was born at Llangrannog in Cardiganshire, the daughter of mariner John Rees. She received early education at the village school.[2] A precocious child, she insisted she must accompany her father to sea rather than do sewing and cooking chores at home, which she hated.[3] However, this was not so unusual: many wives and daughters accompanied men in local ships, trading up and down the coasts on family business.[4]

Rees was initially educated locally by an old schoolmaster called Hugh Davies, who taught her Latin and astronomy.[1][2] She later attended school in Cardigan and New Quay, and for a time studied at a navigation school in London,[2] where she gained her master's certificate, a qualification allowing her to command a ship in any part of the world.[5] In 1859 Sarah Jane set up her own navigation school in her home village of Llangrannog.[6]


In 1865, competing at Aberystwyth against men such as William Thomas (Islwyn), she won her first major Eisteddfod prize, for "Y Fodrwy Briodasol (The Wedding Ring)", in the Song category.[2] A book of poems, Caniadau Cranogwen, followed this in 1870.[7] While teaching navigation and other subjects, she also became editor of the Welsh-language women's periodical Y Frythones (1878–1889), a "platform for Welsh bluestockings and proto-suffragettes".[8][9] In 1869–1870, she toured the United States, addressing mainly Welsh emigrant communities as far west as California.[10] She was one of the founders of the South Wales Women's Temperance Union (UDMD) in 1901.[11]

Personal lifeEdit

Rees had two significant same-sex relationships, previously described as romantic friendship.[12] Her first was with Fanny Rees, a milliner's daughter from Troedyraur, near Llangrannog. Fanny contracted tuberculosis and returned to Wales around 1874 to die. She moved into Rees' home rather than that of her family, and died in her arms. So affected was Rees that for 12 years she was unable to put flowers on Fanny's grave. She commemorated Fanny in one of her best-known poems, Fy Ffrynd (My Friend).[13] Her second relationship, with Jane Thomas, took up most of her life. Open about her this unconventional arrangement, Rees still remained a committed Methodist and toured giving lectures on education, temperance and other subjects.[11]

Rees died at Cilfynydd[14] and was buried in St Crannogs churchyard, where her grave was marked by a large elaborate obelisk.[15][16]


A shelter for homeless women and girls, Lletty Cranogwen, was founded in the Rhondda valley in 1922 by the South Wales Women's Temperance Union and named to mark Rees's work to improve Welsh women's lives.[1][17]

In 2019 Rees was among five women shortlisted as the subject for an artwork to be installed in Cardiff.[18]


  1. ^ a b c "Rees, Sarah Jane". Welsh Biography Online. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "Noted Welshwoman: Death of Cranogwen". The Cambrian News. 30 June 1916. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  3. ^ John (1991), p. 80.
  4. ^ Norena 'Cranogwen' Shopland, Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales Seren Books (2017).
  5. ^ Deirdre Beddoe: "Rees, Sarah Jane..." ODNB Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  6. ^ Shopland, 2017.
  7. ^ Carradice, Phil (25 April 2013). "Sarah Jane Rees, Schoolteacher and Poet". BBC Wales. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  8. ^ Jenkins, Geraint H. (2007). A Concise History of Wales. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 9780521823678.
  9. ^ "Welsh Women Writers (1700–2000), in John T. Koch, ed., Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO 2006): 1787.
  10. ^ Hughes, David (1969). Welsh People in California, 1849–1906. R & E Research Associates. p. 119.
  11. ^ a b Deirdre Beddoe, Out of the Shadows: A History of Women in Twentieth-Century Wales University of Wales Press, 2000, p. 38.
  12. ^ Davies, Russell (2005). Hope and Heartbreak: A Social History of Wales, 1776–1871. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 320. ISBN 9780708319338.
  13. ^ Norena Shopland, 2017.
  14. ^ Obituary, Cymru 1914, 30 June 1916. Accessed 16 September 2014.
  15. ^ Barnes, David (2005). The Companion Guide to Wales. Companion Guides. p. 30. ISBN 9781900639439.
  16. ^ "Image of the Cranogwen Memorial at Llangrannog churchyard". Ceredigion County Council. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  17. ^ Rhondda Cynon Taf Libraries Digital Archive, "Mrs M Griffiths JP, opening 'Lletty Cranogwen', 144 Kenry Street, Tonypandy, 21st June 1922" (photograph).
  18. ^ Hitt, Carolyn. "Hidden Heroine: Could Cranogwen win statue?". BBC. Retrieved 10 January 2019.


  • John, Angela V., ed. (1991). Our Mothers' Land, Chapters in Welsh Women's History 1830–1939. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1129-6.
  • Shopland, Norena (2017). Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales. Bridgend: Seren Books. ISBN 978-1781724101.