Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert

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Elizabeth Gilbert, from an 1887 publication.

Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert (7 August 1826 – 7 February 1885) was an English philanthropist.[1]

Early life[edit]

Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Oxford, the daughter of Ashurst Gilbert, principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, and later the Bishop of Chichester[2] and his wife, Mary Ann Wintle Gilbert. Elizabeth caught scarlet fever at the age of two, which resulted in her becoming blind. Her parents chose to educate her alongside her sisters, and she learned languages and music, and after 1851 used a "Foucault frame" writing device to write.[3] She also enjoyed tactile astronomy lessons with an orrery, according to her biographer. "The little fingers fluttered over the planets and followed their movements with great delight."[4]


In 1842 Gilbert came into a sizeable inheritance from a godmother, allowing her financial independence in adulthood. In 1854 she and William Hanks Levy (who was also blind) established a vocational training program, initially only for men, called "The Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind" (GWB). Soon, as Gilbert's fundraising efforts succeeded, a library and more classes were added, and blind women were included by 1857.[4][5]

Later years and legacy[edit]

Elizabeth Gilbert, never in robust health, became more ill in 1875, and died in 1884, aged 58 years.[6] The organization Gilbert founded continues today as CLARITY - Employment for Blind People.


  1. ^ Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890). "Gilbert, Elizabeth Margaretta Maria" . Dictionary of National Biography. 21. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. ^ "Literature" The Athenaeum (29 September 1860): 407.
  3. ^ Gordon Goodwin, "Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert" Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900, Volume 21).
  4. ^ a b Frances Martin, Elizabeth Gilbert and Her Work for the Blind (Macmillan and Company 1887): 9.
  5. ^ Martha Stoddard Holmes, "Working (with) the Rhetoric of Affliction: Autobiographical Narratives of Victorians with Physical Disabilities" in James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, eds., Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture (SIU Press 2001): 27. ISBN 9780809390106
  6. ^ Martha Stoddard Holms, Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture (University of Michigan Press 2010): 172-183. ISBN 9780472025961

External links[edit]