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Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

(1827-1891), Artist and women's rights activist; benefactor of Girton College, Cambridge

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue Entry

Sitter in 3 portraits
Artist and women’s activist Barbara Bodichon was the illegitimate daughter of radical Liberal MP Benjamin Smith. A private income gave her independence and enabled her to train as a professional artist. As the leader of the progressive Langham Place group, Bodichon led women’s rights campaigns to receive legal recognition. Her efforts contributed to the passing of the Married Women's Property Act of 1870, finally allowing married women to become the legal owners of any money they earned and to inherit property. This was extended to owning, buying and selling property with a second Act passed in 1882. In London she had many creative friends, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Mary Ann Evans ('George Eliot'). She played a major role in founding Girton College, Cambridge. Her paintings were frequently exhibited and admired.

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Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, by Disdéri, copied by  Emery Walker Ltd - NPG x200062

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

by Disdéri, copied by Emery Walker Ltd
copy glass plate negative of an albumen carte-de-visite, circa 1860
NPG x200062

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, after Samuel Laurence - NPG D31926

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon

after Samuel Laurence
collotype, (1861)
NPG D31926

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Lizzie Broadbent

10 July 2020, 14:02

Barbara set up the Society for Female Artists in 1855 so women could display their work and was one of the petitioners in 1859 for women to be able to enter the Royal Academy Schools.

She was also a good friend of Gertrude Jekyll. Barbara married a French physician, Eugene Bodichon, who was a resident of Algeria, in 1857 and from then on spent winters in Algeria with him and the rest of the year in the UK, usually without him. In late 1873, Gertrude Jekyll joined her for the winter trip, painting and learning about the local plants; Barbara visited her at Munstead Wood. Gertrude later designed both interiors and the garden for Barbara's house, Scalands, in Hastings, where signatures on the fireplace bricks recorded the visits of other pioneering women including Millicent Fawcett, Elizabeth Blackwell and Octavia Hill alongside artists, writers, local friends and family.

One of Barbara's cousins was Florence Nightingale.

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