|Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, painted by Mary Osborne|
|Pelham Crescent in the 1830s|
In 1866 Barbara formed the first ever Women's Suffrage Committee, and their suffrage petition was presented to the House of Commons on the women's behalf by John Stuart Mill in 1866. The motion to amend the Reform Act to include votes for women was defeated by 196 votes to 73.
|Mill accepts the first suffrage petition, 1866|
Barbara was also passionate about improving women's education, and in particular, opportunities for university education. With Emily Davies, Barbara raised funds for, and founded, the first women's college in Cambridge. Girton College was opened in 1873 but no women students were admitted to full membership of the University of Cambridge until April 1948.
As well as being a strong-minded and charismatic political activist, Barbara was a gifted artist. She studied with the painters William Henry Hunt who lived during the winter in a small house at the foot of the East Cliff, and William Collingwood Smith. Barbara's work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and examples can be seen in Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
In 1855 Barbara stayed at Clive Vale Farm with her friend, fellow painter Anna Mary Howitt. The two women clearly found the place to be of particular interest because three years earlier, the great Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt had lodged and painted at the farm, producing, amongst other works, 'Our English Coasts'. Sheep in the farmyard served as models for the 'strayed' sheep in that painting.
Battleaxe also finds this of particular interest. Our house is built on the site of Clive Vale Farm. The extract below is from a book of reminiscences by another of Barbara's friends, Bessie Rayner Parkes, 'In a Walled Garden' (1895). Sitting at her computer writing this blog post, Battleaxe shares the same view. The sun is indeed streaming in, and the sea is just as vast, but of course the 'undulating green hills' are now partly covered in housing.
Barbara's paintings from Clive Vale Farm were widely exhibited, and her picture of the cornfield 'with all the shocks tossed over by a gale' was singled out for particular praise by Ruskin. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of these paintings are now unknown.
|Barbara Bodichon, Ventnor, 1856|
She was buried in Brightling Churchyard. Yesterday I persuaded Philosopher to come on an expedition to find her grave.
Dating from Norman times, Brightling Church is very old, and very beautiful. It has an impressive history. William of Wykeham, eventual founder of Winchester College and New College Oxford, was Rector in 1362.
The peaceful churchyard, overgrown, muddy and full of mole-hills, is dominated by a large pyramid, the grave of 'Mad Jack' Fuller (1757 - 1834), who lived next door. Fuller, a larger-than-life figure who derived his money from Wealden iron-works, could be the subject of a blog post all his own. He was an MP, a philanthropist, a builder of follies, a patron of the arts and sciences, a notorious drunkard - and a supporter of slavery.
Helena Wojtczak, who was responsible for getting a blue plaque put on 9 Pelham Crescent in 2000, has written a good account of Barbara's life, and Battleaxe would recommend this biography: Hirsch, Pamela (1998). Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist and Rebel.