Bodichon, Barbara (1827–1891)

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Bodichon, Barbara (1827–1891)

English feminist and educator who founded Portman Hall. Name variations: Barbara Leigh-Smith or Barbara Leigh Smith. Born Barbara Leigh-Smith at Watlington, Norfolk, England, on April 8, 1827; died at Robertsbridge, Sussex, on June 11, 1891; illegitimate daughter of Benjamin Leigh Smith (1783–1860; long an M.P. for Norwich) and Ann Longden (a milliner's apprentice); sister ofAnne Leigh Smith ; first cousin ofFlorence Nightingale ; attended Bedford College for Women, London, enrolling in 1849; married Dr. Eugéne Bodichon (an eminent French physician), in 1857.

Born in 1827 into a radical 19th-century family that believed in women's equality, Barbara Bodichon early showed a strength of character and benevolence that would later win her a prominent place among philanthropists and social workers. Her mother Anne Longden was a 17-year-old milliner; her father was Benjamin Leigh Smith, a 40-year-old MP. The couple did not marry, and the illegitimate birth caused a scandal. Even so, Anne remained Benjamin's common-law wife until she died of tuberculosis when Barbara was seven years old.

In 1852, after matriculating at Bedford College for women, she opened Portman Hall School in Paddington, with her friend Elizabeth Whitehead . In 1857, she married an eminent French physician, Eugene Bodichon. Although she wintered for many years in Algiers, Bodichon continued to lead movements she had initiated on behalf of Englishwomen. In 1869, she published a Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Laws of England Concerning Women, which helped advance the passage of the Married Women's Property Act. In 1866, with Emily Davies , Bodichon promoted the extension of university education to women; the first small experiment at Benslow House, Hitchen, developed into Girton College, to which Bodichon gave liberally of her time and money.

In addition to her public interests, she found time for friends and painting, studying under William H. Hunt. Her watercolors, exhibited at the Salon and elsewhere, showed originality and talent, and were admired by the French landscape painters Corot and Charles Daubigny. Bodichon's London salon included many of the literary and artistic celebrities of her day; she was a close friend of Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot), and, according to Bodichon, the first to recognize the authorship of Adam Bede. The title character in Eliot's 1863 novel Romola is said to be based on Bodichon. She also helped finance the Englishwomen's Journal and wrote Women and Work (1857), Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women (1866), and Objections to the Enfranchisement of Women Considered (1866). At the time of her death, Bodichon left £10,000 to Girton College.

suggested reading:

Burton, H. Barbara Bodichon.

Herstein, S.R. A Mid-Victorian Feminist: Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon.