Friday, December 18, 2015

Champion of women in India

The disenfranchised women of Saudi Arabia have finally been given the right to vote and even stand for election, although only a modest few seem to have been brave enough to do so and it will be interesting to see whether this changes in the future.

One woman who devoted much of her life to helping women in a similar society where purdah was entrenched was Cornelia Sorabji. Although hallowed within academia in both India and Britain, she is little known to the general public and nor is she that easy to categorise. Due in part to her Christian heritage and her English connections, she admitted she never felt wholly Indian yet she was definitely not British either. She did a great deal to help secluded women assert their rights in regard to property, but she was not a feminist. She had little time for the politics of men like Gandhi and supported the British Raj in spite of its failings.

Cornelia's nephew, Professor Richard Sorabji, has written a book about herAnother biography is Cornelia Sorabji: India's Pioneering Woman Lawyer by Suparna Gooptu of the University of Calcutta, also see An Indian Portia by Kusoom Vadgama.

As long ago as the 1880s, Cornelia was making her mark. This article appeared in The Sydney Mail of 12 May 1888 and even allowing for the usual patronising and racially superior attitudes of the age it carries a tone of admiration:

Miss Cornelia Sorabji
Women all over the world are bestirring themselves to assert their sometimes questionable, but in many cases perfectly justifiable, claims to a status in culture, equal to that of men.Their fitness and right of doing so cannot be doubted any longer, considering the successes they have achieved at the universities of Great Britain, India, the United States and on the Continent. Miss Cornelia Sorabji is a case in point. She is the daughter of the Rev. Sorabji, a Parsee honorary missionary of the Church Missionary Society in Poona, and of Mrs. Sorabji, who visited England in 1886 to plead the case of female education in India, and was the first and only lady to enter the Deccan College at Poona in 1884. Her position, among upwards of 300 men, who, with the exception of two Englishmen and a few Parsees, were all Hindoos, was at first a most difficult one, but, with the goal of her ambition ever in view she went bravely on, winning golden opinions from principals and professors alike.Among her own sex her example has already borne fruit, two Parsee ladies and one Jewess having sought for admission into the colleges in Bombay and Poona. In Miss Sorabji’s case no concessions were made. She studied Latin in common with the men (though French has since been allowed to lady students). She was “top of her year” in the previous examination, has held a scholarship each year of her course, was “Hughlings Scholar” in 1885, having passed head of the University in English, “Havelock prizeman” the end of the same year, being top of the Deccan College in English, has taken honours each time, and in the final B.A. examination of the Bombay University, held in November, 1887, she was one of the four in the entire Presidency and the only student from her own college who succeeded in gaining first-class honours. Now that Miss Sorabji has thus succeeded, in spite of the unfriendly criticisms among her own countrymen and women upon her unprecedent career, her brave, high-souled behaviour cannot fail to raise the character and ability of women in the estimation of the Parsee and Hindoo community. 

From The Sydney Mail, 12 May 1888 (TROVE)
Here is another from a few years later that demonstrates the petty obstacles Cornelia would have faced (The Ballarat Star, 22 January 1902):

An Indian Portia
The Benchers of Lincoln’s Inn have made a notable departure in granting permission to an Indian lady, Miss Cornelia Sorabji, to frequent their library and use the books therein. The lady to whom this exceptional privilege has been extended is a very remarkable personage. She came to England from India a few years ago to study law, and resided at Somerville College, Oxford, where she passed the examination for B.C.L. [Bachelor Civil Law] and obtained a certificate equal in merit to that degree, which women cannot take in Oxford. She subsequently returned to India and in Bombay obtained the university degree of LL.B [Bachelor of Laws] and practised in the neighbouring courts and also in the High Court there as an advocate where she was admitted by order to defend prisoners in certain cases. She is now in England for the purposes of further study. 

In 1909, she was awarded the gold  Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for her work in helping widows and other women in estate matters through the Bengal Court of Wards. (She is not shown in the Wikipedia listing for medal beneficiaries, although several reports of her receiving the award can be found in the newspapers of the day.)

Aside from her involvement in the law, Cornelia wrote extensively on many subjects to do with India and its culture, including short stories and even plays. She also wrote her memoirs, but apparently they are discreet and do not go into her private life in any way.

Cornelia's style and dignity evident in this cover of The Queen publication
copyright UC Press

Photograph 1930
copyright National Portrait Gallery, London
Cornelia's bust at Lincoln's Inn
From Wikipedia.
Photo by James Frankling Gresham Lectures

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

First woman jockey to win Melbourne Cup

History made today in Australia, 3 November 2015! 

First woman jockey to win the Melbourne Cup on an outsider.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Clare Hollingworth

There is a Facebook and Twitter campaign currently afoot to draw attention to this great woman journalist, Clare Hollingworth, who has reached the amazing age of 104 and was firsthand witness to some of the great events of the 20th Century..

Although The Daily Mail is a notoriously tacky newspaper it surprisingly does often run important historical stories such as this, and is also available to read without having an online subscription.

You can also read about Clare in several other UK newspapers such as, The Daily Express,  The Telegraph and The Guardian.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Carrie Jacobs-Bond

At one time or another all of us have contributed to those popular culture compilations or lists which ask you to vote for your favourite book, performer, travel destination, food ... whatever … with songs being one of the most enduring and often most controversial.

But if you browse various lists of the best songs of past 100 years or the 20th century, they are really lop-sided and make it look as if popular music germinated in the 1950s and only really got going in the 1960s onwards. The people who create these lists totally ignore the fact that popular music goes back much further than the mid-20th Century, to long before any sorts of mass media recording devices had even been invented.

The first woman composer to sell more than a million copies of her sheet music was Carrie Jacobs-Bond.

Carrie at the piano. From GazetteXtra

Born Carrie Jacobs in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1862, Carrie’s early life was filled with music but also financial anxieties. It is said by the age of four she could already pick out tunes on the piano and was playing classic pieces by ear by the age of nine with her ambition to be a professional song writer. After her father lost all the family’s wealth, aged 18 she married an E J  Smith and her only child, son Fred Jacobs Smith, born soon afterwards. Six years later she was divorced and in 1889 married a Dr Frank Lewis Bond.

A child's verse collection
Carrie wanted to continue her music career, but traditionalist Frank believed a wife’s place was in the home. However, she did manage to get sell some children’s songs, but it was only after Frank died after a fall on ice in 1895, that Carrie came into her own, although it took a great deal of courage and determination for her to finally fulfill her dream.  Always struggling with her own poor health as well as lack of funds, she was forced to support her son on her own. Using borrowed money, she moved to Chicago. There she barely survived sub-letting rooms and selling painted china. From the biography:-
“Even during these trying times, Carrie was a generous and giving person for she would often give up one of her rooms for homeless who would come by looking for food or shelter or to shovel snow” ...“During this period she was forced to slowly sell off all of her possessions till she and her young son had virtually nothing, except for her beloved piano.”
Slowly but surely, Carrie’s songs came to the notice of friends and neighbours, among them professional singers who were to help in creating demand for her work. One singer, Jessie Bartlett Davis, helped Carrie to publish a collection of these songs in 1901 called Seven Songs as Unpretentious as the Wild Rose.

The collection included two that would become her most famous, I Love You Truly and Just a Wearying for You. By 1908, Carrie’s fame had spread and she sang for President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.

After enduring scorn from many men in the music industry, Carrie decided to set up business for herself and, in partnership with her son, established her own sheet music publishing house. She wrote not only the music, but the lyrics and designed the cover pages that usually featured wild roses. 

Carrie’s most successful song A Perfect Day [also The End of a Perfect Day] was published in 1910. She said the lyrics were inspired by a sunset seen from Mt. Rubidoux near Riverside, California, where she had moved for health reasons, and the accompanying music came to her some months later during a moonlit drive across the Mojave Desert. In the next decade, this song sold over 5 million copies in 60 different arrangements, with numerous phonograph and piano roll recordings by 1925. As the book Notable American Women notes:
“Not only did ‘A Perfect Day’ crown and epitomize [her] career as author and composer, but it appeared at the right psychological moment, combining as it did the pathos and optimism of the era that came to an end with the Great War.” 
Special edition issued at the end of WW1, with patriotic lyrics
In the decades that followed, Carrie’s sentimental style of music drifted out of favour with the decline of parlour room pianos and the rise of radio, jazz, crooners and generally more sophisticated audiences.

Tragedy was to mar Carrie’s life again in 1932 when her son Fred, who was suffering a bout of depression following an illness, went to a cabin at Lake Arrowhead and killed himself. It is said when he was found, two candles were burning and A Perfect Day was playing on the gramophone.
Carrie and Fred. GazetteXtra

One can’t begin to imagine the grief Carrie suffered, yet she managed to continue with her life and writing music and we can only echo the tribute to her at
“Carrie Jacobs-Bond is one of America’s greatest songwriters. She fought against all odds: infirmity, gender bias, poverty, and alone showed that faith and belief in yourself can overcome all.
Carrie wrote songs that came from the heart, many of them with easy melodies well within the scope of the average pianist. Sure they were sentimental, but they were in keeping with a far less cynical age than ours. She touched millions of hearts and what better epitaph can anyone have?

I Love You Truly was sung at countless weddings during the 20th Century, and one of its recent outings was in the soundtrack of the film The King’s Speech. Likewise, up-tempo versions of A Perfect Day have also been sung at weddings or other celebrations and the slower more reflective version has featured at many a funeral farewell.

One of my own father’s favourite songs was Just A Wearying for You. My romantic side likes to think that he may well have danced with my mother to this foxtrot version when they first met one another in the mid-1930s.

 A Perfect Day by Judith Durham of the Seekers and
an earlier more sombre Nelson Eddy version

The Maguire Sisters with I Love You Truly.

Carrie Jacobs-Bond. 1862-1946

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"No ordinary woman" - Lady Charlotte Murchison

A collection of posts on my companion blog Digging the Dust have been about some of the lesser-known men and women who took part in the 1860s Zambezi Expedition led by David Livingstone.

A major mover and shaker behind this Expedition was Sir Roderick Impey Murchison of the Royal Geographical Society (Livingstone dedicated his famous work Missionary Travels to Murchison) but it is interesting to discover that the major mover and shaker behind Sir Roderick was his wife.

Charlotte Hugonin was born in 1788 in Hampshire, daughter of General Francis Lewis Hugonin, just one in a long line of military men. She met and married Roderick Murchison in 1815 after he had retired from the Peninsular campaign (he was in The 95th Rifles now well-known via the “Sharpe” novels and films).

Initially her husband had no great ambition, was somewhat of a spendthrift and intent on indulging in the hunting, shooting and fishing lifestyle common to many retired army officers. Charlotte, however, had other ideas. Perhaps their lack of children meant that she could put all her energies into her passion for science, geology in particular.

The Light of Science (Mrs Murchison) dispelling the darkness which covered the world

But it took her almost ten years to curb her husband's idle ways and interest him in more intellectual pursuits. While travelling through Europe they became acquainted with Mary Somerville, the eminent science writer who remained a life-long friend. Together with another friend, chemist and inventor Humphry Davy (of Davy Lamp fame), Charlotte eventually persuaded her husband to take up studies in chemistry and geology. After that, there was no stopping him and together they became involved in fossil hunting and paleontology all around Britain and throughout Europe, in company with many of the other scientists and enthusiasts of the day. Charlotte drew the sketches to accompany her husband's written discoveries such as The Silurian System.

Corals from Geology Matters

Then in 1838, Charlotte came into a large family inheritance and their new house at fashionable 16 Belgrave Square was soon the focus of grand soirees featuring the most important politicians and scientists of the day. Charlotte was an accomplished hostess, but was often laid low with illness as a result of malaria contracted in Europe while on one of their early expeditions. She died in 1869 and was buried in the Brompton Cemetery. Her husband outlived her by another two years, by which time he had been lauded with honours and medals galore for his research and discoveries. Assorted land features around the world from Russia to Australia to Uganda carry his name and there is even a Murchison crater on the moon!

This blue plaque on Sir Roderick Murchison’s home at 21 Galgate, Barnard Castle, County Durham where he lived during his early self-indulgent fox-hunting days, shows many of the places around the world where he is celebrated. As too often was the practice in the Victorian age, the brilliant and accomplished power behind his throne, his wife Charlotte, has been side-lined and disregarded.

From the Blue Plaque trail

From the biographical entry for Charlotte in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography:
“It was she who introduced him [Sir Roderick] into the geological world, and it was her money and social position which helped him achieve such extraordinary prominence within it (he was knighted in 1846 and made baronet in 1866). She took an active part in the scientific pursuits which she had initiated, and her views are intimately connected with Roderick Murchison's work. Charlotte Murchison also played a role in making higher education accessible to women: in 1831 it was her wish to attend Lyell's [Charles Lyell] geological lectures at King's College that caused them to be opened to both sexes,”
 And here is an extract from her obituary in the Manchester Courier, 20 February, 1869
 “Lady Murchison was no ordinary woman, and the world of science owes her a deep debt of gratitude; for if her ladyship (then Mrs Murchison) had not - nearly half a century ago - weaned her husband’s powerful mind from the ordinary occupation of a retired Peninsular captain, and attracted his attention to the engaging purist of science, England might never have had occasion to be proud of the illustrious baronet, who has fought such a good for fight for geology and whose labours have caused English geological knowledge to be respected wherever civilisation and human industry have utilised the products of the quarry, the coal, or the gold field.”
There is no accessible formal portrait of Charlotte, although the National Portrait Gallery lists a photograph of her taken in 1860 but it has not been digitised.

This photograph taken in Bath in September 1864 during the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science shows the two most recognised and celebrated men of the day, both with umbrellas - David Livingstone with his familiar cap and in light-coloured clothing, Sir Roderick Murchison. Perhaps somewhere in the background or the blurred melee of top hats and bonnets at their feet is Charlotte.
From Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution publication

Visit these websites for more about Charlotte and other early female geologists:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The first woman to vote in Britain

A brick wall in family history research has often led me to look at various Maxwell families who lived in Lancashire during the mid 1860s, especially widows. And while I haven’t as yet solved that personal puzzle, I was astonished to discover that one of the women who interested me has turned out to be the first woman to cast a vote in Britain!

Lily (or Lilly) Maxwell is thought to have been born around 1800 in Greenock, Scotland, although no-one of that name appears in the birth or baptismal records of Scotland’s People around that time. Lily may not have been her Christian name, or perhaps it was a contraction of some other name like Elizabeth. Maybe she wasnt a Maxwell by birth either, so her early days remain a mystery. 

Some references state she opened a small china and tea supplies shop after her husband died around 1861 but there is no proof she was ever married - all the Census Returns described as being unmarried. How she came into enough funds to establish a shop is also unknown.

Lily (Lilly) Maxwell, c 1867, image Manchester City Council
She first appears in the 1841 Census Return for Cheetham, Manchester, as a Female Servant, born in Scotland. (Many 1851 Returns for Manchester are missing or damaged and too difficult to read). In 1861, she is shown living on her own at 17 Bridge Street, Ardwick, Manchester, aged 60, and described as a Housekeeper for Print Works”. And in the 1871 Census she describes herself as a Cook  and has several lodgers.

There’s no knowing for certain either if she was the same Lilly Maxwell mentioned in the Manchester Courier of 5th March 1836 being sent to prison for 4 months for stealing “bacon and other articles the property of Fred. Doubleday” but given what a struggle life could be for any woman on her own at that time or who found herself in difficult circumstances after a supporting partner or husband died, it may well have been her.

Lily wasn’t lily-white as a shop-owner either. On 4 April 1866, she made the newspapers again when she was fined One Pound in the Police Court for defrauding her customers with unjust weights and light measures.

However, as a shop-owner, she had to pay rates to the local council. In 1867 there was a by-election for the local Member of Parliament, one of the candidates being Jacob Bright. Although women weren’t allowed to vote at the time, all men who were ratepayers were. Somehow, Lily’s name mistakenly appeared on the registered list of voters. An early supporter of the suffragist movement, Lydia Becker, got wind of this and so she encouraged Lily to cast her vote. (Jacob Bright looks like a good man to vote for, an “advanced radical”, peace campaigner and a supporter of women’s suffrage.)

One can only imagine the scene when the two women fronted up to the poll. In those days, you had to announce out loud your choice of candidate. Of course, there was much consternation but as Lily was clearly listed, the returning officer had little choice but to accept her vote. It is said the other voters cheered when Lily did so. Several other female property owners in Manchester attempted to follow suit, but within a year the suffragist movement had been banned and any loopholes in rate books blocked by law.

This brief news item, however, appeared in The Ashton Weekly Reporter on 15 August, 1868. (It refers to the general election held a year after the by-election) Being successful once, no doubt Lily was prepared to run another test, but this time she and all the others would have been rejected.
Miss Lilly Maxwell and 1,100 other women householders in the township of Chorlton-upon-Medlock have sent in claims to be placed on the list of voters for Manchester.”
Lydia Becker went on to be celebrated for her early work in the women’s movement, but poor Lily wasn’t so lucky. Although she was still on the rates book for Chorlton-upon-Medlock until 1876, she was admitted to the Withington Workhouse on 5 April 1876 and died on 24 October that same year. Sadly, the workhouse was often where elderly people without any family to support them were forced to end their days. The workhouse records state she was buried in Bradford Cemetery, now known as Philips Park, but where exactly she lies is yet to be discovered.

The Rates Book for 1876, Lily Maxwell second name from top
Workhouse Records, Lily Maxwell first line
Lily’s experience seems to have the most coverage in histories of the women’s movement but she was far from the only one who turned up to vote at elections. Read more here at History of Women website. 

Also see Chorlton History blog here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The "Charlotte Bronte of wood and stone"

Heritage England has a current blog post on women architects. Click here

Sara Losh in particular caught my attention with her links to regions in Northern England that interest me because of my own family history, but I was also impressed with the extraordinarily beautiful arts and crafts style interior of the church associated with her, being St Mary's at Wreay, Cumbria

Jenny Uglow has written a book about her, The Pinecone, and I look forward to reading it to learn more about this woman described on the cover as "... an individual genius, a Charlotte Bronte of wood and stone"

Images from UK Telegraph Review

Heaps more images on Flickr (thanks to all photographers who have shared them!)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jessie Lennox, one of the last "Nightingales"

Concluding my blog posts about the women of the Zambezi Expedition on my companion Digging the Dust blog is this about Jessie Lennox, who lived to the great age of 102 and was a lifelong friend of Florence Nightingale. Click here to read about her.

Christina Broom, Photographer

A great exhibition currently on at the Museum of London for those lucky enough to live in London or are able to get there!

Read about Christina Broom, the UK's first female press photographer, at the London Historians blog and do watch the video on the Museum's own webpage to learn more about her work.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Elizabeth ("Emily") Mary Burrup (nee Tudway, later Levick)

Another woman who was involved in the Zambezi Expedition was Elizabeth Mary Burrup (nee Tudway, later Levick). Her interesting story can be read here on my other history blog as part of the project covering the lesser-known individuals connected with David Livingstone in his controversial and failed expedition of the Zambezi River.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Women of the Zambezi Expedition

Stories about the women who were part of David Livingstone's Zambezi Expedition have been posted to my other more general history blog, Digging the Dust.

Click here for the story of Anne Mackenzie, sister of Bishop Charles Mackenzie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Look out for the Bomb Girls!

A Canadian historical television series that deserves a wider audience is Bomb Girls. It was only by accident that I discovered a DVD of the first series in my local library because it certainly has never been shown or promoted here in Australia to my knowledge and I am sure it would find a lot of fans Down-Under.

As soon as I watched the first couple of episodes I was hooked and I'm currently watching the second series. Although the producers, Global TV have a website on which subscribers can watch episodes, it is probably not accessible to viewers in other countries. 

Set in a Canadian factory that employs many women on its production line of munitions for World War II, the series has its fair share of dramas and personal conflicts, but is never predictable and is handled beautifully by the excellent cast of actors – all of whom are most convincing in the roles they inhabit. 

What is particularly good is that the series tackles the era and the real history taking place in the background in an accurate fashion, the dialogue doesn't jar with too many modernisms and the women have real bodies under the authentic 1940s fashions. 

Apparently the series was canned in Canada and fans started a website to Save the Bomb Girls and it seems a new movie length version is in the pipeline.

Do catch it if you can!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Women at Waterloo

With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo upon us, historical novelist David Ebsworth has written an excellent blog about cantinières and vivandières, the women who supported the Napoleonic army. Click here.

It makes one wonder how many other stories are still waiting to be discovered about females on battlefields of past wars. Unfortunately, the English terminology often used for these women is "camp followers", which has gained a somewhat less attractive connotation and doesn't always acknowledge their bravery.

Here is another blog original from Military History magazine about women at Waterloo and also a story about the mystery "twins of Waterloo" can be read on my other blog here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

History written by the losers

They say that history is usually written by the winners, but if the losers become powerful there is also the good chance they can re-write it to suit themselves.

Following on from an earlier blog about what really happened during the Rape of Nanking, this article by author Isobel Wolff recently appeared in BBC magazine online about the female prisoners of war in the Far East who never get the coverage that their male counterparts do in literature.  The article also drew attention to the fact that British politician Nick Clegg's mother suffered imprisonment as a child. Daily Mail article here.

Several years ago, there was the excellent TV series Tenko and also the Australian film Paradise Road which was inspired by extraordinary women like Margaret Dryburgh and Betty Jeffrey which didn't receive the recognition it deserved, partly because distributors were cagey about offending Japan. See this 1997 article from the Los Angeles Times for comments about the film.

So, is it fine to keep alive the memories of some event like the Holocaust, but less politic to remember other outrages against humanity because of causing offence as a result of changing diplomatic alliances, trade and economics?

A Russian childhood friend of my mother, whom she last saw in Surabaya in 1941, disappeared into a Japanese POW camp somewhere in Java and was never heard of again. Maybe by some miracle she did survive the ordeal, but does what she suffer matter less than what happened to the survivors of Auschwitz or other similar camps in Europe?

There has been the occasional flurry of petitions and media reports into the "comfort women" of the Japanese, but these stories soon seem to disappear from the front pages. Why? One might go so far as to detect some sort of racism at play here because the majority of victims were Asian women and perhaps if a lot more Western women other than the Dutch had suffered, the international campaign for justice might have been more vigorously pursued. Read here about Jan Ruff O'Herne.  There are various Youtube videos available about her, such as this one.

Just yesterday, this article appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun regarding "errors" in an American history text book that "dishonor" Japan in which it is stated:
' ... References to comfort women in the textbook read: “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women age fourteen to twenty ...” and “The army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the emperor ...” These descriptions disregard historical facts.
The recruitment of comfort women took place mainly through private-sector business operators. Investigations by the Japanese government have discovered no document that proves women were forcibly taken away by the wartime army to serve as comfort women. ...'
Sadly, there is no justice forthcoming for those very elderly women, most of them in Korea, Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere, still hoping for a genuine apology and compensation from Japan. 

It seems the "historical facts" of the Japanese nation remain different from those of their victims. Once the first-hand accounts are no more, will these women then be written out of history altogether?

For anyone interested in this topic, Google searches will find many articles and some confronting images on the controversies surrounding comfort women. 

It is difficult to find a really good list of books about women who were imprisoned by the Japanese or forced into being comfort women, but here are a few:

Surviving Tenko, the Story of Margaret Turner

The Real Tenko

A Woman's War

On Radji Beach (about the massacre of Australian nurses, with only one survivor, Vivian Bullwinkel whose biography is Bullwinkel)

White Coolies

Song of Survival

The Comfort Women

Comfort Woman

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A dark and stormy marriage - legacy of a woman of courage

“It was a dark and stormy night ...” is one of the most famous parodies of opening lines in literature and was originally coined by author Edward Bulwer Lytton. He is also the author of other famous phrases such as the almighty dollarthe great unwashed and that famous one much used in recent weeks as a result of tragic events in France, “the pen is mightier than the sword”. 

Some of his phrases can be adapted when it comes to describing the sufferings endured by his wife. Their dark and stormy marriage was often at the mercy of the almighty dollar and even mightier pens - in the courts as well as generating many columns in the press.

The lively and witty Rosina Anne Doyle was born in Limerick in 1802, the younger child of an Irish Baron and his wife, Anna Wheeler , a early advocate for feminism. Anna's marriage was a disaster and she abandoned her husband to live in Guernsey where her uncle was Governor. Rosina grew up in an extraordinary society, full of free-thinkers, Bohemians and exiles from the French Revolution. She had a few years of extra education in London before falling under the spell of a dandy with golden tangled curls and the tangled full name of Edward George Earl Lytton Bulwer Lytton (no wonder he became famous for purple prose). 

But the match was not approved of by Edward's mother, as she considered Rosina to be flighty and nothing but an “Irish adventuress”. According to some references, it was a wild, unbridled on-off affair and their marriage in 1827 was of the necessary shotgun variety. Edward's mother made good her threat, cancelled his allowance thus forcing him to earn a living by his writing. As they were both passionate and extravagant individuals, it was inevitable the marriage would buckle under financial stress and Edward's infidelities, although Rosina also instigated tit-for-tat flirtations. She is reputed to have said on one occasion:
I went to my husband's rooms which he kept in order to have undisturbed communication with the Muse. I found the Muse in white satin seated on his knee.

Worse, was the domestic violence that took place in their last home together, Berrymead Priory, Acton (see below for another interesting link to this house).

Rosina - from an image at Knebworth House, home of the Lytton family

Rosina apparently received a vicious kick in the side from Edward shortly before her daughter was born and was even bitten in the cheek by him. Divorce was not easily obtained during this era, but a separation agreement was drawn up. 

One of the cruel, tragic consequences of this arrangement was that Rosina was forced to part from her children. Between 1838 and her death in 1882 she saw her son Edward briefly once or twice and she had to request special dispensation even to visit her dying daughter Emily in 1848.

Edward - also from Knebworth House collection

For a woman used to a certain status in society, the money Rosina received from Edward was a pittance and she spent her life one step ahead of creditors and living in modest circumstances around the country. A study of the Census Returns bears this out, where she is often classified as a lodger in spite of being the wife of a baronet. The only way she could supplement her income was to become a writer herself, and many of her works were a form of revenge on her husband and his family. She wrote of the plight of separated wives and the ill treatment of women generally by their husbands.

Over the years the acrimony between the pair only worsened. When her husband was canvassing for re-election to parliament, she took to the hustings to vilify him. Humiliated and furious, Edward forced Rosina to be confined in Inverness Lodge, a “hospital for mentally defectives” (lunatic asylum). Only through the efforts of her friends and members of the public concerned by her treatment, was she eventually released.

In 1880, a book that was extremely scandalous for the times appeared, entitled A Blighted Life, Rosina's autobiography of everything cruel that was done to her. Edward had passed away some years before, but Rosina's son and the Lytton family were outraged. Rosina seems to have backtracked on its publication and issued a retraction with the long-winded title of Refutation of an audacious forgery of the Dowager Lady Lytton's name to a book of the publication of which she was totally ignorant. It probably made little difference.

Meanwhile, Rosina continued to write – essays and historical novels (under a male pseudonym) - until she died in 1882, isolated, in debt and unmourned by her family and the society which she had embarrassed by her actions. She left a paltry £405.10s. – compare that to her husband's estate of between £70,000-£80,000.

Rosina's grave remained unmarked until 1995 when her great-great-grandson, 2nd Baron Cobbold of Knebworth, arranged for a tombstone to be erected. It bears the inscription she wanted. “The Lord will give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.

There is no better summary of Rosina's legacy than that written by Marie Mulvey-Roberts in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography:
Rosina had brought about her ‘hard bondage’ through her refusal to conform to the duties of a Victorian wife, which required women to ‘suffer and be silent’. By drawing attention to the plight of married women and separated wives through her novels, pamphlets, and journalism, Rosina contributed towards the mounting pressure that eventually brought about legislation designed to protect the interests of women. Rosina Bulwer Lytton represents far more than a case history of a hysteric or an unorthodox minor Victorian novelist. For her undoubted talent and extraordinary courage in speaking out against injustice she deserves a permanent place in women's history, as she has provided an often unrecognized source of inspiration to those who have followed. Her most immediate legacy was passed to her granddaughter Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer-Lytton (1869-1923), who became one of the heroines of the Edwardian women's suffrage movement.
 A large number of works by and about Rosina Bulwer Lytton can be found at Internet Archive

Text of A Blighted Life here, although there is also a recent reprinting of it available via Amazon.

Note:  Most curiously, Berrymead Priory, this house of “sad memories” for Rosina and Edward, was also the brief marital home in the ensuing decade of another “Irish adventuress”, Lola Montez, and George Trafford Heald - another couple doomed by violent passions and blighted by the unjust divorce laws of the age in which they lived. I explore this relationship in some detail in my novel Her Fatal Touch: the Life and Loves of Lola Montez, currently being revised for a new e-edition out soon.