Eliza Wigham

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Eliza Wigham
Eliza Wigham from Woman at Home.jpg
from an 1895 book
Elizabeth Wigham

23 February 1820
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died3 November 1899(1899-11-03) (aged 79)
Dublin, Ireland
Known forSuffragist and abolitionist
Board member ofEdinburgh Ladies Emancipation Society
Edinburgh National Society for Women's Suffrage
Parent(s)John Tertius Wigham
Jane Richardson
RelativesJane Wigham (stepmother)

Eliza Wigham (23 February 1820 – 3 November 1899), born Elizabeth Wigham, was a British campaigner for women's suffrage, anti-slavery, peace and temperance in Edinburgh, Scotland.[1] She was involved in several major campaigns to improve women's rights in 19th-century Britain, and has been noted as one of the leading citizens of Edinburgh. Her stepmother, Jane Smeal, was a leading activist in Glasgow and together they made the Edinburgh Ladies' Emancipation Society.[2][3] Her brother John Richardson Wigham was a prominent lighthouse engineer.


Elizabeth Wigham, later known as "Eliza", was born on 23 February 1820 in Edinburgh to John Tertius Wigham, a cotton and shawl manufacturer, and Jane (née Richardson).[2] The family grew to include six children, residing at 5 South Gray Street in Edinburgh.[4] The Wighams were a part of a network of leading Quaker anti-slavery families of the period operating in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Dublin.[2] Eliza's mother, older sister, and younger brother died when she was around ten years old. In 1840, her father remarried to Jane Smeal,[1] who was a leading abolitionist and suffragist.[5]

Campaign work[edit]

Wigham was the treasurer of the Edinburgh Ladies' Emancipation Society.[3] Unlike other abolitionist organisations which splintered, the Edinburgh organisation was still running in 1870. Credit for this is given to Wigham and her stepmother Jane Smeal.[6]

In 1840, Wigham and her friend Elizabeth Pease Nichol travelled to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention, which began on 12 June. Also in attendance at this event were British activists like Lucy Townsend and Mary Anne Rawson[7] and also American activists including Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.[8] The female delegates were obliged to sit separately.

Wigham, her stepmother, and some of their friends set up the Edinburgh chapter of the National Society of Women's Suffrage. Eliza and her friend Agnes McLaren became the secretaries,[9] Priscilla Bright McLaren was the president, and Elizabeth Pease was the treasurer.

In 1863 Wigham served on the committee of Clementia Taylor's Ladies' London Emancipation Society with Mary Estlin.[10] In the same year, she wrote The Anti-Slavery Cause in America and its Martyrs, a short book intended to influence the British government. At the time it was feared that Britain might side with the Confederates in the American Civil War and thus would be supporting slavery.[11]

Wigham was also involved with the campaign to repeal acts of Parliament which aimed to contain prostitution. The Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts was formed in response to these acts, and was successful in its aims.[6]

She played an active role in the British Women's Temperance Association Scottish Christian Union, becoming a national vice president.[5]

Life as a carer[edit]

Eliza Wigham and her sister Mary Edmundson

Wigham's father died in 1864, after which Eliza continued to live at her stepmother Jane's house on South Gray Street in Edinburgh. She cared for Jane until the latter died in November 1888 following months of ill health. After her brother's death in 1897, Eliza sold the property to enable her to move to Dublin, where she could in turn be cared for by her relatives.[2]

Wigham died in Foxrock near Dublin in 1899.[2]


A memorial book for Wigham was published in 1901.[12] In 2015, four of the women associated with suffragist and abolitionist campaigns in Edinburgh were the subject of a project by local historians. The group aimed to gain recognition for Eliza Wigham, Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Priscilla Bright McLaren, and Jane Smeal – the city's "forgotten heroines".[13]


  1. ^ a b Ewan, Elizabeth L.; Innes, Sue; Reynolds, Sian; et al., eds. (2006). The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women From the Earliest Times to 2004. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 376. ISBN 0748626603.
  2. ^ a b c d e Lesley M. Richmond, 'Wigham, Eliza (1820–1899)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 30 May 2015
  3. ^ a b Edinburgh Ladies Emancipation Society (15 February 1866). "Annual Report of the Ladies' Emancipation Society". Wilson Anti-Slavery Collection: 2. JSTOR 60238978.
  4. ^ S.E. Fryer, 'Wigham, John Richardson (1829–1906)', rev. R. C. Cox, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 3 June 2015
  5. ^ a b Smitley, Megan K. (2002). 'Woman's mission': the temperance and women's suffrage movements in Scotland, c.1870-1914 (PhD). Glasgow: University of Glasgow. p. 42.
  6. ^ a b Eliza Wigham Archived 31 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine, The Scottish Suffragists. Retrieved 30 May 2015
  7. ^ Women's Anti-Slavery Organisations, Spartacus Educational, Retrieved 30 July 2015
  8. ^ Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement, p. 462
  9. ^ National Society of Women's Suffrage. Examiner; 14 Jan 1871; 3285; British Periodicals pg 55
  10. ^ Crawford, Mary (2003). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928. p. 209. ISBN 1135434026.
  11. ^ Wigham, Eliza (2014) [1863]. Anti-slavery cause in America and its martyrs. Cambridge Univ Press. ISBN 978-1108075640.
  12. ^ Eliza Wigham (1901). Eliza Wigham. (A Brief Memorial. Reprinted and Revised from the "Annual Monitor".) [With a Portrait.].
  13. ^ Campaign to honour four 'forgotten' heroines of Scottish history, The Herald (Glasgow), 2 June 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2015

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