This article seeks to re-evaluate the life of first-wave feminist Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy through the lens of her own autobiographical fragments and newly-discovered material concerning her genealogy and childhood familial circumstances. One of the most significant but under researched feminists of her generation, the ‘self’ constructed by Wolstenholme Elmy is one that appears to negate the influences of youthful familial circumstances on her later life and career—a career she deemed worthy of auto/biographical narration. This supports her forcefully expressed opinion that analysis of the private ‘self’ was an unsuitable subject for biographical study: an ‘impudent intrusion’ of little value when assessing a subject’s historical merit, a view this article seeks to contend. By acknowledging the complex reflexive nature of the auto/biographical process and thus the biographer’s inability to provide an ‘essence’ of the subject’s ‘self’, the article offers a construction of how the events of Wolstenholme Elmy’s childhood might have impacted on her intellectual and emotional pre-disposition to adopt the cause of feminism. The portrait of Wolstenholme Elmy as expressed by this article contrasts with the largely negative impression of her character gained from analysis of the headline accounts of the nineteenth-century women’s emancipation struggle and the ‘classic’ feminist memoirs upon which those accounts were, in part, based. As such the article builds upon recent revisionist accounts that have highlighted the importance of Wolstenholme Elmy’s life to the study of the Victorian feminist movement.