Isabella Gilmore

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Isabella Gilmore
Isabella Gilmore (1842–1923).jpg
Gilmore in the 1880s
London, England
Died1923 (aged 80–81)
Venerated inAnglican Communion
Major shrineSouth transept of Southwark Cathedral
Feast16 April

Isabella Gilmore (née Morris; 1842–1923) was an English churchwoman who oversaw the revival of the Deaconess Order in the Anglican Communion. Isabella served actively in the poorest parishes in South London for almost two decades and she is remembered with a commemoration in the Calendar of saints in some parts of the Anglican Communion on 16 April. She was the sister of William Morris.


Isabella Gilmore was born in London in 1842. Her mother was Emma Morris née Shelton, daughter of Joseph Shelton, a teacher of music in Worcester. Her father was William Morris, a partner in the firm of Sanderson & Co., bill brokers in the City of London; he died when she was 5 years old. She did have five brothers to whom she was close; one of the older ones was William Morris.[1] In adulthood, she had a happy marriage to a naval officer, Arthur Gilmore. Her middle class life took a turn when she was widowed at the age of 40. Childless, she began training as a nurse at Guy's Hospital in London. Two years later in 1884, she took on as her own eight orphaned nieces and nephews from her late brother Rendall.[2]

Female diaconate[edit]

In 1886, she was recruited by Anthony Thorold, the Bishop of Rochester, to revive the female diaconate in his diocese. Her initial reluctance, based on her lack of theological training and her lack of knowledge of the Deaconess Order, was worn down by the bishop. At the end of October 1886, she felt she received a calling during Morning Prayer. She later wrote, "it was just as if God’s voice had called me, and the intense rest and joy were beyond words."[3] Gilmore and the Bishop of Rochester proceeded to plan for an Order of Deaconesses for the Church of England where the women were to be “a curiously effective combination of nurse, social worker and amateur policemen”.[4] In 1887, she was ordained a deaconess and a training house for other woman was put in place, later to be named Gilmore House in her honor. Isabella served actively in the poorest parishes in South London until her retirement in 1906.[5]

Gilmore, aged 64, from a portrait by C. B. Leighton.


In her nearly 20 years of service, she reestablished the female diaconate in the Anglican Communion.[6] She had personally trained at least seven other head deaconesses for other dioceses before she died in 1923. At her memorial service, Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, foretold, "Some day, those who know best will be able to trace much of the origin and root of the revival of the Deaconess Order to the life, work, example and words of Isabella Gilmore. For this let us give thanks: I feel sure it is most meet and right so to do."[6] Isabella Gilmore is remembered with a commemoration in the Calendar of saints in some parts of the Anglican Communion on 16 April.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, 1901, "William Morris".
  2. ^ Leak, Adrian (13 April 2007). "Seeing Christ in the poor". Church Times. GJ Palmer & Sons Ltd (7, 518).
  3. ^ Vout, Janet. "Isabella Gilmore" (PDF). Celebrated Women. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 March 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  4. ^ Leeper, Josephine (September 2002). "The Red and the Black". Kipling Journal. The Kipling Society. 76 (303): 58.
  5. ^ Grierson, Janet (1962). Isabella Gilmore: sister to William Morris. London: S.P.C.K. p. 185.
  6. ^ a b Robinson, Elizabeth (1924). Deaconess Gilmore. London: S.P.C.K. p. 53.
  7. ^ "Holy Days". Common Worship. Church House Publishing. June 2000. Retrieved 10 March 2009.