Helen Blackburn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Helen Blackburn
Helen Blackburn died 1903.jpg
Born25 May, 1842
Died11 January 1903
NationalityUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Helen Blackburn (25 May 1842 – 11 January 1903) was a feminist and campaigner for women's rights, especially in the field of employment. Blackburn was also an editor of the Englishwoman's Review.


Blackburn was born in Knightstown, co. Kerry, Ireland, the daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, a civil engineer, of co. Kerry and Isabella Lamb of co. Durham. When her family moved to London in 1859,[1] she soon came into contact with the women of the Langham Place Group, especially Jessie Boucherett and Emily Faithfull.

Over the years Blackburn and Boucherett worked together in a number of endeavours. Both were editors of the Englishwoman's Review (Blackburn, editor, 1880–90; joint editor, 1890–95).[1] Together they established the Women's Employment Defence League in 1891, to defend women's working rights against restrictive employment legislation.[2] They also together edited The Condition of Working Women and the Factory Acts, 1896.

Blackburn joined the National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1872 and was secretary of the executive committee of the society from 1874 to 1880. She subsequently held similar positions in a number of related organisations.[3] She also took opportunities to study, first in 1875, taking a class in Roman Law at University College London, and later (1886–88) classes at University College, Bristol.[4] In the early 1890s, she assisted Charlotte Carmichael Stopes in her writing of British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege by supplying her own notes on the subject, then by purchasing the whole of the first edition in 1894.[5] She retired in 1895 to care for her aged father, though later returned to take up her work.[4]

Portrait of Caroline Ashurst Biggs by Elizabeth Sarah Guinness associated with the bookcases now at Girton College

Blackburn inspired and funded two collections. The first was an art collection in 1885 that included pictures and work done by professional women to show the result of women's industry. She was insistent that this would not include voluntary or amateurish work but it work show the products of female professionals. This loan exhibition included portraits of leading women like Florence Nightingale and Mary Carpenter. This was donated to Bristol University, but recent enquiries indicate that this work is now lost.[6] Her second collection was focussed on a book collection by women. The books were from her collection, friends and from second hand sources. Bookplates were commissioned and two bookcases. The bookcases were decorated with paintings of Lydia Becker and Caroline Ashurst Biggs who had been the previous chairs of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. These bookcases were given to Girton College and are extant.[6] In 1880 Blackburn was secretary of the and West of England Suffrage Society in Bristol and was the main organizer of a large demonstration.[7]

Her long term connection with the women's movement allowed her to write her history of the Victorian women's suffrage campaign, Women's suffrage: a record of the women's suffrage movement in the British Isles, with biographical sketches of Miss Becker, finished in 1902, shortly before her death the following year, at Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, on 11 January 1903, aged 60, and was buried at Brompton cemetery.[1] She left her archives, and the decorated book collection, to Girton College, Cambridge.[8] Her will also made provisions for establishing a loan fund for training young women.[1]

Posthumous recognition[edit]

Her name and picture (and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.[9][10][11]


Blackburn's books include:

  • A Handbook for Women Engaged in Social and Political Work, 1881.
  • The Condition of Working Women and the Factory Acts, editor with Jessie Boucherett, 1896.
  • Women under the Factory Act, written with Nora Vynne, 1903.
  • Women's suffrage: a record of the women's suffrage movement in the British Isles, with biographical sketches of Miss Becker, 1902.


  1. ^ a b c d Smith 1912.
  2. ^ Gerry Holloway (2005). Women And Work in Britain Since 1840. London: Routledge. p. 98. ISBN 0415259118.
  3. ^ Walker, Linda. "Blackburn, Helen". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31905.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ a b Elizabeth Crawford (2001). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866–1928. London: Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 0415239265.
  5. ^ Stephanie Green (2013). The Public Lives of Charlotte and Marie Stopes. London: Pickering & Chatto. p. 89. ISBN 9781848932388.
  6. ^ a b Elizabeth Crawford (2 September 2003). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928. Routledge. pp. 194–. ISBN 1-135-43401-8.
  7. ^ Helen Blackburn
  8. ^ Elizabeth Crawford (2001). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866–1928. London: Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 0415239265.
  9. ^ "Historic statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett unveiled in Parliament Square". Gov.uk. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  10. ^ Topping, Alexandra (24 April 2018). "First statue of a woman in Parliament Square unveiled". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Millicent Fawcett statue unveiling: the women and men whose names will be on the plinth". iNews. Retrieved 25 April 2018.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, Charlotte Fell (1912). "Blackburn, Helen". Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.

External links[edit]