Constance Naden

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Miss Constance Naden
Naden's grandparent's home, Pakenham House, 20 Charlotte Road, Edgbaston

Constance Caroline Woodhill Naden (24 January 1858 – 23 December 1889) was an English writer, poet and philosopher. She studied, wrote and lectured on philosophy and science. Naden also wrote books of poetry. Several works were published following her death at the young age of 31. In her honour, Robert Lewins established the Constance Naden Medal and had a bust of her installed at Mason Science College (now the University of Birmingham). William Ewart Gladstone considered her one of the 19th century's top poets.

Early life[edit]

Born 24 January 1858[1] at 15 Francis Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England to Thomas Naden, an architect, later president of the Birmingham Architectural Association, and Caroline Ann Woodhill Naden who died within two weeks of giving birth.[2] She was brought up by her mother's parents, Caroline and Josiah Woodhill,[3] from 12 days old until her grandparent's deaths.[1] Naden's well read and devout baptist grandparents lived at Pakenham House, Edgbaston.[2][4] Her father also lived with the Woodhills for many years.[1] At age 8 Naden was sent to a local Unitarian day school, where she developed a talent for painting.[2][4] She submitted some paintings to the Birmingham Society of Artists but they were rejected.[2]


She became interested in philosophy, languages and the sciences. In 1879, Naden attended the Birmingham and Midland Institute,[2][4] and in 1881 and attended Mason Science College,[2][4] also becoming a member of the Birmingham Natural History Society.[2] She became interested in hylo-idealism through Robert Lewins, MD, one of her educators.[5] Hylo-idealism "says we are something more than our own states of consciousness; we are our past and present states of material phenomena also."[6] She was interested in Herbert Spencer's concept of social Darwinism.[7] In his work The Social Organism (1860), Spencer compares society to a living organism and argues that, just as biological organisms evolve through natural selection, society evolves and increases in complexity through analogous processes.[8]

Writing career and adult life[edit]

In 1881, Naden published her first volume of poetry Songs and Sonnets of Springtime.[2][4] In 1885 she won the "Paxton prize" for an essay upon the geology of the district.[2] She published a second volume of poetry A Modern Apostle, the Elixir of Life, the Story of Clarice, and other Poems in 1887. She also wrote in the Journal of Science, Knowledge, and other periodicals.[2][4] She authored scientific essays under the signatures of CN, CA and Constance Arden.[5]

Also in 1887, she won the "Heslop" gold medal for her essay, Induction and Deduction. Her Grandmother Woodhill died on 21 June 1887[nb 1] and she inherited a considerable fortune, which allowed her to travel to Constantinople (Istanbul), Palestine, India, and Egypt[2][4] with her friend, Madeline Daniell. While in India she became interested in its society. She contracted an illness from which she never recovered.[3]

She returned to England in June 1888 and bought a house on Park Street, Grosvenor Square,[2] which she shared with Daniell.[3] She raised funding to allow Indian women to study medicine and became a member of the National Indian Association.[3] She joined the Aristotelian Society, endeavoured to form a Spencer society, and belonged to various societies of benevolent aims. On 22 Oct. 1889 she delivered an address upon Mr. Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology to the sociological section at Mason College.[2] Naden also edited the Mason College magazine.[5]

Naden was described as:

slight and tall, with a delicate face and ‘clear blue-grey eyes.’ She was regular and active in her habits. She had a penetrating voice, and was thoroughly self-possessed in public speaking. She appears to have been rather aggressive and sarcastic in discussion, but had very warm friendships, and was always fond of fun and harmless frolics.[2]

Illness and death[edit]

She underwent an operation on 5 December 1889[2][5] to remove ovarian cysts.[3] At the age of 31 she died 23 December 1889[2][4] from gangrene and exhaustion, possibly partially due to the illness she suffered in India.[3] She was buried beside her mother in the old cemetery, Warstone Lane, Birmingham.[2][5]


She was lauded after her death for both her philosophical writings, by Robert Lewins, M.D.[9] and for her "Pantheistic view of immortality" by William Ewart Gladstone,[5] in which he ranked her among the 19th century's top poets.[10] Lewins founded the Constance Naden Medal at Mason College in her honour,[5] which is awarded each year, first for the "best competitive philosophical essay" and now for the best Faculty of Arts Master's degree thesis.[11] Lewins also commissioned a bust of Constance which he presented to Mason's College.[5] It is inscribed "Songs and Sonnets of Springtime, A Modern Apostle, The Elixir of Life, etc." on the front and "Induction and Deduction and Hylo-Idealism." on the back.[11] It was placed in the college's library;[5] The school is now the University of Birmingham.[11]

On 14 December 2009, the Birmingham Civic Society provided a commemorative blue plaque which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor. It is located at her childhood home, Pakenham House 20 Charlotte Road. The inscription reads "Constance C.W. Naden 1858-1889 Poet, Scientist and Philosopher lived here for most of her life."[12]

Posthumous publications[edit]

Two books were published posthumously, Induction and deduction, and other essays (1890), and The Complete Poetical Works of Constance Naden (1894).[2][13] Herbert Spencer, the inspiration for much of her writing remarked: "I can think of no woman, save 'George Eliot,' in whom there has been this union of high philosophical capacity with extensive acquisition. Unquestionably her subtle intelligence would have done much in furtherance of rational thought; and her death has entailed a serious loss."[14]


  1. ^ Naden's Grandfather Woodhill died previously on 27 December 1881.[2]


  1. ^ a b c William Richard Hughes; Charles Lapworth; Sir William Augustus Tilden; Robert Lewins (1890). Constance Naden: A Memoir. Bickers & Son. p. 6. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1894). "Naden, Constance Caroline Woodhill". Dictionary of National Biography 40. London: Smith, Elder & Co.  Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Featured New Women: Constance Naden (1858-1889)". The Latchkey - Journal of New Women Studies. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Christine L. Krueger (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of British Writers, 19th and 20th Centuries. Infobase Publishing. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-4381-0870-4. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Frederic Boase (1897). Modern English Biography: I-Q. Netherton and Worth. pp. Section 1, 1810. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  6. ^ The Agnostic Journal and Eclectic Review. W. Stewart. 1886. p. 156. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "Constance Naden". University of Guelph. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Herbert Spencer (1860). "The Social Organism". The Westminster Review.  reprinted in Herbert Spencer (1892), Essays: Scientific, Political and Speculative, London and New York 
  9. ^ "Foreword". The Complete Poetical Works of Contance Naden. London: Bickers & Son. 1894. p. viii. 
  10. ^ Patricia Murphy (1 January 2006). In Science's Shadow: Literary Constructions of Late Victorian Women. University of Missouri Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-8262-6557-9. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c "Constance Naden (1858-1889)". National Recording Project. Public Monuments & Sculpture Association (PMSA). Retrieved July 2013. 
  12. ^ "Blue Plaque for Birmingham's Constance Naden". Birmingham Perspectives (Birmingham Civic Society newsletter): 12. Spring and Summer, 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ "The Complete Poetical Works of Constance Naden". The Victorian Women Writers Project (online version). 1894. 
  14. ^ William Richard Hughes; Charles Lapworth; Sir William Augustus Tilden; Robert Lewins (1890). Constance Naden: A Memoir. Bickers & Son. pp. 89–90. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Virginia Blain (15 September 2009). Victorian women poets: a new annotated anthology. Pearson Longman. pp. 235–236. ISBN 978-1-4082-0498-6. 
  • E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. (1891), Constance Naden and Hylo-Idealism, London: Bickers & Son 
  • Julie S. Gilbert (1994), "Women Students and Student Life at England’s Civic Universities Before the First World War", History of Education: 405–422 
  • William Ewart Gladstone (1890), "British Poetry of the Nineteenth Century", The Speaker (1): 34–35 
  • William R. Hughes, ed. (1890), Constance Naden: A Memoir, London: Bickers & Son 
  • George M. McCrie (27 June 2012), Further Reliques of Constance Naden: Being Essays and Tracts for Our Times (reprint), Forgotten Books, ASIN B008N5H048 
  • A.H. Miles (1893), Poets of the century viii, pp. 571–578 
  • J. Jakub Pitha (1999), "Constance Naden", Dictionary of Literary Biography 199: Victorian Women Poets, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, pp. 211–215 
  • R.K.R. Thornton, Marion Thain, ed. (1997), Poetry of the 1890s, London: Penguin 

External links[edit]