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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

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

Artist and women’s activist; born 8 April 1827, at Whatlington, near Robertsbridge, Sussex, eldest of five children of radical MP Benjamin Smith and Anne Longden, milliner. Progressively educated and enjoyed independent income from 1848; attended Bedford Ladies’ College 1849, ambitious to be professional painter; travelled and exhibited 1850–81, while actively promoting women’s rights; published A Brief Summary of the Laws in England concerning Women: together with a few observations thereon (1854); campaigned to reform married women’s property laws; helped establish Society for Female Artists 1857; married French physician and scholar Eugène Bodichon 1857, afterwards living partly in Algiers; visited America 1857–8; petitioned Royal Academy to admit women students 1859; founder member of (women-only) Kensington Society 1865, for which wrote Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women (1866); with Emily Davies planned foundation of Girton College, Cambridge, as a women’s college – her benefactions to that institution totalled £16,000; partly disabled by stroke 1877; widowed 1885; died 11 June 1891 at Scalands Gate, Robertsbridge.

Bodichon wrote in 1857:

I am one of the cracked people of the world, and I like to herd with the cracked such as A.M.H. [Anna Mary Howitt] and B.R.P. [Bessie Raynor Parkes (Mrs Louis Belloc)], queer Americans, democrats, socialists, artists, poor devils or angels; and am never happy in an English genteel family life. I try to do it like other people but I long always to be off on some wild adventure, or long to lecture on a tub in St. Giles, or go to see the Mormons, or ride off into the interior on horseback alone and leave the world for a month … I want to see what sort of world this God’s world is. [1]

Friendship with Anna Mary Howitt led to contacts with the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1853 Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote of Bodichon to Christina Rossetti: ‘Ah! if you were only like Miss Barbara Smith, a young lady I meet at the Howitts’, blessed with large rations of tin [money], fat, enthusiasm, & golden hair, who thinks nothing of climbing up a mountain in breeches or wading through a stream in none, in the sacred name of pigment.’ [2]

William Michael Rossetti wrote:

Through the Howitts I became acquainted with Miss Barbara Leigh Smith, afterwards Mrs. Bodichon, a lady of handsome fortune for whom I entertained and have always preserved the most cordial regard. She was indeed one of the most excellent women I have ever known: lavish in beneficence, untiring in her exertions for the advancement of her sex. She was a great promoter, perhaps the foundress, of Girton College. […] Her manner was replete with energy and heartiness: no woman could be freer from those small femininities which make for affectation. To be frank, straightforward, unprejudiced, generous minded, was a passport to her esteem; there was none other. [3]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from Barbara Smith to Dorothy Longden, 1857, Bonham-Carter family Papers, Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, cited Herstein 1985, p.21.
2) Letter from D.G. Rossetti to C. Rossetti, [8 Nov. 1853], Fredeman 2002–10, vol.1, 2002, letter 53:57, p.294.
3) Rossetti 1906, pp.171–2.

Referencesback to top

Ashton 1996
Ashton, R., George Eliot: A Life, London, 1996.

Bennett 1990
Bennett, D., Emily Davies and the Liberation of Women 1830–1921, London, 1990.

Birkett 2004
Birkett, D., Off the Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers, London, 2004 (to accompany exh., NPG, London, 2004).

Blackburn 1902
Blackburn, H., Women’s Suffrage: A Record of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the British Isles, London and Oxford, 1902.

Blackburn 1884
Blackburn, H.G., ed., Grosvenor Notes 1884: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Summer Exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1884.

Blackburn 1885
Blackburn, H.G., English Art in 1884, New York, 1885.

Burton 1949
Burton, H., Barbara Bodichon 1827–1891, London, 1949.

Cherry 1987
Cherry, D., Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists, touring exh. cat., Rochdale Art Gallery, 1987.

Cherry 1993
Cherry, D., Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists, London and New York, 1993.

Cherry 1995
Cherry, D., ‘Women Artists and the Politics of Feminism 1850–1900’, in C.C. Orr, ed., Women in the Victorian Art World, Manchester and New York, 1995, pp.49–69.

Cherry 2000
Cherry, D., Beyond the Frame: Feminism and Visual Culture, Britain 1850–1900, London and New York, 2000.

Crabbe 1981
Crabbe, J., ‘An Artist Divided: The Forgotten Talent of Barbara Bodichon, a Very Remarkable Victorian’, Apollo, May 1981, pp.311–13.

Crabbe 1988
Crabbe, J., ‘Feminist with a Paintbrush: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon 1827–91’, Women Artists’ Slide Library Journal, no.22, April–May 1988, pp.8–9.

Crabbe 1992
Crabbe, J., Barbara Bodichon (1827–1891): Victorian Painter & Feminist,, University of Hull, 1992.

Crawford 1999
Crawford, E., The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928, London, 1999.

Festing 1991
Festing, S., Gertrude Jekyll, London, 1991.

Fredeman 2002–10
Fredeman, W.E., ed., The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 9 vols, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2002–10.

Gillett 1990
Gillett, P., The Victorian Painter’s World, Stroud, Glos., 1990.

Girton College 1991
Barbara Bodichon 1827–1891 Centenary Exhibition, exh. cat., Girton College, Cambridge, 1991.

Haight 1954–78
Haight, G.S., The George Eliot Letters, 9 vols, Oxford, 1954–78.

Haight 1968
Haight, G.S., George Eliot: A Biography, Oxford, 1968.

Herstein 1985
Herstein, S.R., A Mid-Victorian Feminist: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, New Haven and London, 1985.

Hirsch 1995
Hirsch, P., ‘Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Artist and Activist’, in C.C. Orr, ed., Women in the Victorian Art World, Manchester and New York, 1995, pp.167–86.

Hirsch 1998
Hirsch, P., Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon 1827–1891: Feminist, Artist and Rebel, London, 1998.

Hirsch 2004
Hirsch, P., ‘Bodichon, Barbara Leigh Smith (1827–1891)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; online ed., May 2007.

Malleson 1926
Malleson, H., ed., Elizabeth Malleson, 1828–1916: Autobiographical Notes and Letters, with a memoir by Hope Malleson, privately printed, 1926.

Marsh & Nunn 1997
Marsh, J., and P. Gerrish Nunn, Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, exh. cat., Manchester City Art Galleries, 1997.

Moore 2010
Moore, C., Hancox, London, 2010.

Moore 1901
Moore, N., ‘Bodichon, Barbara Leigh Smith (1827–1891)’, DNB, London, 1901.

Piper 1906
Piper, J.J., History of Robertsbridge: Salehurst Parish & Neighbourhood, St Leonards-on-Sea, 1906.

Reed 1972
Reed, J.W., ed., Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: An American Diary 1857–8, London, 1972.

Rossetti 1906
Rossetti, W.M., Some Reminiscences and Other Writings, 2 vols, London, 1906.

Stephen 1927
Stephen, B., Emily Davies and Girton College, London, 1927.

Strachey 1927
Strachey, R., Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Service, the History of the London and National Society of Women’s Service, London, 1927.