Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and the Victorian feminist movement: the biography of an insurgent woman

M. Wright

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Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy (1833-1918) was one of the most significant pioneers of the British women’s emancipation movement; though her importance is little recognised. Wolstenholme Elmy referred to herself as an ‘initiator’ of movements, and she was at the heart of every campaign Victorian feminists conducted – her most well-known position that of secretary of the Married Women’s Property Committee from 1867-1882. A fierce advocate of human rights, as the secretary of the Vigilance Association for the Defence of Personal Rights she earned the nickname of the ‘parliamentary watch-dog’ from Members of Parliament anxious to escape her persistent lobbying. Also a feminist theorist, she believed wholeheartedly in the rights of women to freedom of their person, and was the first woman ever to speak from a British stage on the sensitive topic of conjugal rape. She engaged theoretically with the rights of the disenfranchised to exert force in pursuit of the vote and Emmeline Pankhurst lauded her as ‘first’ among the infamous suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union. As a lifelong pacifist, however, she resigned from the WSPU Executive in the wake of increasingly violent activity from 1912. A prolific correspondent, journalist, speaker and political critic Wolstenholme Elmy left significant resources; believing they ‘might be of value’ to historians. Maureen Wright draws on a great deal of this valuable documentation to produce an enduring portrait that does justice to Wolstenholme Elmy’s momentous achievements as a lifelong ‘Insurgent woman’.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester & New York
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages288
ISBN (Print)0719081092
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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