THIS DAY: Anglo-Irish writer, philosopher and activist Frances Power Cobbe was born in 1822


On this day in 1822, the Anglo-Irish writer, philosopher and social activist Frances Power Cobbe was born.

This larger-than-life unconventional Victorian lady came from a line of esteemed Irish notables, including Archbishop Charles Cobbe, Primate of Ireland from 1743 to 1765.

Cobbe’s quick wit allowed him to tackle some of the most pressing issues of his day, from religion to utilitarianism, and trade intellectual blows with some of their best supporters – usually men.

Before becoming an acclaimed pamphleteer, Cobbe worked at the Red Lodge Reformatory and moved in with its owner, Mary Carpentor, another outspoken social reformer.

Given their strong personalities, it’s no surprise that the two women clashed, which ultimately caused Cobbe to part ways with Carpentor and the school in 1859, after only staying there for a year. .

When Cobbe was traveling to Rome in 1861, she met the love of her life, a Welsh sculptor named Mary Lloyd.

Like Cobbe, Mary was a maverick and a feminist, and so there was a lot of common ground on which to sow the seeds of their budding romance.

Upon their return from Italy, the couple lived together from 1864 until Lloyds’ death in 1896.

The loss of her best friend and lover of over 30 years has been devastating for Cobbe.

Norena Shopland relayed in her book Frances and Mary that friend and fellow writer Blanche Atkinson said of Lloyd’s death: [for Cobbe]”.

Throughout his busy and active life, Cobbe wrote a series of influential brochures, the noble titles of which boast Essay on Intuitive Morality, The prosecution of women, and The hopes of the human race among their number.

She was also friends for a time with the great ancestor of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin, whom she urged to read the works of utilitarian thinker John Stuart-Mill.

The friendship was not to last, however, as Cobbe lost Darwin’s trust when she edited and published a letter he sent her.

Cobbe was not only a woman of words, but also a woman of action.

She was an activist for women’s suffrage and education, as well as a staunch anti-vivisection activist.

Vivisection was a term for the dissection of animals, usually for the purpose of medical research.

While the practice commonly used anesthesia to numb the pain, this was not always the case.

It became an increasingly bitter point of contention in British society as anti-vivisection groups campaigned for it to be abolished.

These activists were often women – even Queen Victoria opposed the practice – and therefore strongly intersected with the burgeoning feminist movement of which Cobbe was also a part.

Cobbe also fought for women to have the right to go to college and study the same subjects as men.

If there was any doubt about women’s ability to compete in this arena, Cobbe’s nimble spirit and prodigious intellectual output offered a formidable remedy.

Frances Power Cobbe died on April 5, 1904 in Hengwrt, Wales, aged 81.


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