Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

On this date in 1827, Barbara Leigh Smith (later Bodichon) was born in England. Her father Benjamin Leigh Smith was a dissenter, Universalist and benefactor to the poor. Smith had five children with a young milliner whom he never married, possibly out of principle. Barbara's working class mother died young. The children grew up in an egalitarian home, and Barbara received an inheritance at 21, just like her brothers. No college admitted women at the time, but she and a female friend took an unprecedented walking tour of Europe unchaperoned. Barbara was a lifelong friend of novelist and freethinker George Eliot, who modeled "Romola" after her, and associated with many artists and intellectuals, including freethinker G.J. Holyoake. (Barbara's cousin Florence Nightingale snubbed her, evidently because of her "illegitimate" status.) In 1854, Barbara wrote a summary of laws concerning women, which became a major catalyst of the British feminist movement, and resulted in the adoption of the Married Women's Property Bill in 1857. Barbara, who had met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, also petitioned Parliament for suffrage. She founded Girton College, which admitted women. D. 1891.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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