Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy

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Elizabeth Wolstenholme

Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy (1833–1918) was an English suffragist, essayist and poet, who also wrote under the pseudonyms E and Ignota.


Elizabeth Wolstenholme was born in Cheetham Hill, Manchester and baptised on 15 December 1833 in Eccles, Lancashire where her father was a Methodist minister.[1] She was the daughter of Revd Joseph Wolstenholme who died around 1843. Her mother Elizabeth had died when she was very young and she was brought up by her stepmother Mary (née Lord).[2] She attended Fulneck Moravian School for two years but was not permitted to study further. Her brother Joseph Wolstenholme (1829–1891) became a professor of mathematics. She opened a private girls' boarding school in Boothstown near Worsley and stayed there until 1865 when she moved her establishment to Congleton in Cheshire. In 1865 she founded the Manchester Schoolmistresses Association.[1]

In the 1870s Wolstenholme joined the National Secular Society and began a relationship with one of its vice presidents, Ben Elmy, whom she married shortly before the birth of their son Frank in 1874. Elmy had also been a school teacher but subsequently ran a mill producing silk cloth.[2] In the UK census she is listed as "Elizabeth Woolstencroft" living with Benjamin Elmy.


Wolstenholme became an ardent feminist and vigorous campaigner for women's suffrage. She, along with fellow suffragist Josephine Butler, became secretary to the Married Women's Property Committee from 1867 until 1882, when the organisation was disbanded following their successful campaign to introduce the Married Women's Property Act 1882. Wolstenholme was also honorary secretary of the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage in 1865, a founding member (with Harriet McIlquham and Alice Cliff Scatcherd) of the Women's Franchise League in 1889[3] and the founder of the Women's Emancipation Union in 1891.


A prolific writer Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy wrote papers for the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, articles for the Westminster Review and national papers. Pamphlets concerning her campaigns were also publishes by organisations like the Women's Emancipation Union.[4] The most significant of her writing are the 'Report of the Married Women's Property Committee: Presented at the Final Meeting of their Friends and Subscribers' Manchester 1882. 'The Infants' Act 1886: The record of three years' effort for Legislative Reform, with its results published by the Women's Printing Society 1888. 'The Enfranchisement of Women' published by the Women's Emancipation Union 1892.

The British Library hold Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy's papers and those of the Guardianship of Infants Act and the Women's Emancipation Union[4]

Also a writer of poetry Elizabeth Wolstenholme wrote 'The Song of the Insurgent Women' on 14 November 1906 and as Ignota 'War Against War in South Africa' 29 December 1899.[4]



  1. ^ a b Crawford (2003), p. 225
  2. ^ a b Stanley Holton, Sandra (2004), "Elmy, Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme (1833–1918), campaigner for women's rights", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 26 February 2015  (subscription required)
  3. ^ Holton (2002), p. 76
  4. ^ a b c Wright (2011), p. 251


  • Crawford, Elizabeth (2003), The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928, Routledge, ISBN 1-135-43402-6 
  • Holton, Stanley (2002), Suffrage Days: Stories from the Women's Suffrage Movement, Routledge, ISBN 9781134837878 
  • Wright, Maureen (2011), Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and the Victorian Feminist Movement the Biography of an Insurgent Woman, Manchester University Press, ISBN 9780719081095 

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