Farningham, Marianne (1834–1909)

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Farningham, Marianne (1834–1909)

English Victorian Baptist who was an educationalist, journalist, and lecturer at a time when women were not expected to enter public life. Name variations: Mary Ann Hearn; Marianne Farningham Hearn; (pseudonym) Eva Hope. Pronunciation: FAR-ningam. Born Mary Ann Hearn on December 17, 1834, in Farningham, Kent, England (Marianne Farningham is a pseudonym); died on March 16, 1909, in Barmouth, Wales; first child of Joseph (a merchant) and Rebecca (Bowers) Hearn (both members of Eynsford Particular Baptist Church); attended sporadically Eynsford British School between 1844 and 1850?; few weeks attendance at Home and Colonial College, London, around 1852; never married; no children.

Mother died (1846); was baptized and accepted into membership of Eynsford Particular Baptist Church (June 1848 or 1849); took first teaching post in Bristol (1852); sister Rebecca died (1853); contributed poem to the first issue of The Christian World (1857); moved to Northampton as head of the Infant Department of the British School (1859); contributed to the first issue of The Sunday School Times and Home Educator (1860); left teaching to become a salaried member of staff on The Christian World (1867); first addressed the annual meeting of the Sunday School Union (1874); gave first public lecture in Daventry, Northamptonshire (1877); became editor of The Sunday School Times (1885); became member of Northampton school board (1886); resigned post on Northampton school board (1891); received presentation by the people of Northampton "on the completion of half a century of noble work in the cause of religion and education" (1907).

Selected publications:

almost 50 books of poetry and prose, mainly collections of contributions to The Christian World and The Sunday School Times (e.g. Lays and Lyrics of the Blessed Life, 1860, Girlhood, 1869, Women and their Saviour, 1904) but also novels (e.g. A Window in Paris, 1898) and an autobiography, A Working Woman's Life, 1907. Also, under the pseudonym of Eva Hope, biographies (e.g. Grace Darling, the Heroine of the Farne Islands, 1875; New World Heroes, 1893) and some introductions to the Canterbury Poets edition of poetic works (e.g. John Green-leaf Whittier, 1885).

Though Mary Ann Hearn, who wrote under the pseudonym Marianne Farningham, was a teacher, lecturer, and journalist, her base was always clearly the family. During her long life, she managed to step firmly outside the "private sphere" allotted to Victorian women and enter the hurly-burly of the masculine "public sphere" while retaining virtually all those qualities that were required of Victorian femininity.

The town of Farningham in Kent, S.E. England, was a village of some 700 inhabitants when Mary Ann Hearn was born there on December 17, 1834. The town's importance, compared to the surrounding villages, hung on the fact that it lay halfway along the busy main road between London and Maidstone. It was a convenient stopping-place for the horse-drawn traffic of the day, and the Hearns' house was opposite one of the chief coaching inns, the Bull. Despite this, it was not until Mary Ann was about 10 or 11 that she went to London, to accompany her sick mother who needed to consult a specialist.

Farningham's early days revolved around Eynsford Calvinistic Particular Baptist Church. "The life of the chapel was their life," she said of her parents, "and it became mine." Taken to her first service at a month old, she recalled attending regularly as soon as she could walk the mile between Farningham and Eynsford. Most of Sunday was spent at chapel, both dinner and tea being eaten there between services. From an early age, she had a simple but fervent faith that never deserted her. In her autobiography, she tells how, after tearing her pinafore, she prayed to God to mend it for her. Having got out of bed several times to examine the hole in hopes of its having disappeared, she burst into tears until an aunt came into the room and mended it for her. "I have many times since imagined the smiles of the little family group downstairs," she commented, "but I think it was very sweet of them not to laugh my faith away." At about 14 or 15, Farningham became a member of Eynsford Particular Baptist Church after having been baptized. Although Calvinistic Baptists preached redemption for only particular believers and laid much stress on sin and repentance, it was their seeming joyousness that appealed to the young girl and continued to do so throughout her life.

On the evidence of her poetry alone … Marianne Farningham was a woman whose working life merits better than oblivion.

—Shirley Burgoyne Black

In her autobiography, Farningham lays stress on the paucity of her formal education yet, considering her social class, her sex and her circumstances, she seems to have fared far better than many at this time. It is probable that her parents and all four grandparents could both read and write. She was taught to read by her paternal grandmother who died when Farningham was still only five years old. She was taught to write some time later by a cousin. Although there was a local National School, Farningham was not allowed to attend. Her autobiography implies that her father was complying with the dictates of his fellow worshippers in this, rather than acting on his own conviction. National Schools were run by the Church of England and were boycotted by Nonconformist parents as all pupils were taught the Church catechism. However, when Farningham was about ten, already beyond the age when many Victorian working-class children attended school, the Nonconformist British and Foreign School Society opened a school in Eynsford. Until her mother died in 1846, Farningham attended regularly and even after that sporadically, despite the fact that she was needed at home to care for her younger siblings and keep house for her father. After she nearly set her bedroom on fire trying to learn by candlelight while the rest of the family was asleep, her father allowed her to go back to school in return for her help with his shoemaking business. She tells how she took his work to school with her to do in her dinner hour.

We do not know how long Farningham remained a pupil at Eynsford British School, but in 1852 she went to Bristol, about 160 miles away, as a teacher. Teaching was one of the few professions considered respectable for women at this time; as it also met the Christian ethic of service, it was not entirely unusual for Nonconformist working-class girls, with aspirations, to become teachers. The distance is explained by the fact that she went as assistant to Miss Barnford who had lodged at the home of her maternal grandfather while teaching at Eynsford. Her only training was a few weeks at the Home and Colonial College in London where Elizabeth Mayo (1793–1865) and her brother Dr. Charles Mayo ran a course that normally lasted six months.

A year later, Farningham was called back home to nurse her dying sister, but in 1859, after a short spell in Gravesend only 20 miles away, she went to the British School in Northampton. This was a far more decisive move, but once again she went as part of a teacher friend's team, this time as headmistress of the Infants' Department. At first, she lived in lodgings with a teacher friend and two other young women, but before long her sister Hephzibah and her family moved to Northampton; for many years, Farningham had a large room in her sister's house.

However, it was not only teaching that interested Farningham. From an early age, she composed poems. Her first attempt at rhyming, before she could write, was "an epitaph on a dead toad" found in the garden. But she seems to have begun to write poetry more seriously during the period of her sister's illness, and she occasionally sent copies to magazines, which were always accepted. Her breakthrough came in 1857. At this time, the pastor at Eynsford was the Reverend Jonathan Whittemore who combined his religious duties with his other great interest—publishing.

After editing several papers, Whittemore perceived a gap in the market catering to tolerantly minded Nonconformists; on April 9, 1857, he began to produce The Christian World. This first edition contained a poem by Marianne Farningham, and she continued to write for the paper weekly. When, at the end of 1858, American writer Fanny Fern became extremely popular in England, Farningham began to contribute short prose pieces to The Christian World in emulation of her. From Whittemore, the budding writer received much encouragement. According to her, it was he who suggested the Farningham pen-name and it was he who suggested that her contributions be brought out in book form as soon as there were enough. So, in 1860, a book of poems entitled Lays and Lyrics of the Blessed Life was published. However, this was her second book. In 1858, her father had helped to finance a book of poetry and prose published under the name, Marianne Hearn.

It was in 1860 also that Whittemore embarked on The Sunday School Times and Home Educator. He wanted to cater to the ready market for periodicals with the rapidly expanding Sunday School movement and the increased interest in the family which was evident as Victoria 's reign progressed. Marianne Farningham was closely involved from the beginning, and she continued to contribute to both papers, though by now she was living in Northampton.

In the beginning, Farningham seems to have enjoyed her new teaching post, but, after the marriage of her friend and the arrival of a new headteacher, life was harder and less congenial. She was not really sufficiently educated or experienced for such duties as training pupil teachers. So it was with a measure of relief that she retired from teaching in 1867 to become a fully salaried member of The Christian World.

Farningham probably first became a Sunday School teacher shortly after being baptized. She was certainly the Girls' Bible Class teacher at Eynsford Baptist Chapel in 1853 even though "no older than the other girls" as she says in her autobiography. So when asked to take over College Street Baptist Chapel Girls' Bible Class at Northampton in 1867 she felt well up to the task. But her first week there was a salutary one. The majority of the Northampton girls were better educated than those in Eynsford and at least "one of the girls knew far more about the lesson" than Farningham did. Yet, it was for her Bible Class that Marianne Farningham became particularly celebrated in Northampton. In its heyday, it boasted over 100 members of various denominations. They held additional weekly meetings in her own home, made weekend excursions into the surrounding countryside, and took summer holidays in various parts of Britain. Farningham notes that she remained in Northampton after she had determined to leave because "the spell which drew me into its heart, and kept me there, was its Bible Class."

She only relinquished her post with great regret in 1901 when she "began to realize, as I had never done before, that my way home was all uphill." Following her death in 1909, she would be memorialized in an article in the Northamptonshire Sunday School Union Year Book.

Marianne Farningham's involvement with the Sunday School Union was gradual. She wrote hymns for special occasions, particularly the annual anniversary service, the most famous of these being "Just as I am" which was for many years sung at every Anglican Confirmation Service. Then in 1874, she was asked to

read a paper on the future of the Sunday School (in 1871, she had published a book entitled Sunday Schools of the Future). From then on, she was in great demand as a speaker at Sunday School Union meetings both locally and nationally. In 1904, she addressed the National Autumn Sunday School Convention along with 17 others: 14 of these were men, one of the women was Jessie Ackerman of the United States.

It was this experience of public speaking which gave Farningham the confidence to enter the lecturing circuit in 1877 on the hot topic of women's rights. In 1876, the Royal Commission on Factories and Workshops had inquired into women's working conditions. In September 1877, the Trades Union Congress debated the question of women and paid labor. In the same year, Annie Besant published The Law of Population advocating birth control. Women were steadily being given the chance to take a more active part in local government and women's suffrage was on everybody's lips.

Farningham's lecture would hardly have set the Victorian feminist world aflame, but she clearly did have some leanings in their direction. According to a report in the Western Daily Press, "She did not appear as a 'women's rights' advocate, though not altogether because she had no sympathy with the matter." She considered that there were "some wrongs that needed to be righted" and advocated the parliamentary vote for women who already had a Municipal vote—that is, for those who, like herself, were householders. For the next six or seven years, she traveled about the country giving a new lecture each winter in about 100 venues annually. Partly, she lectured for charity; nevertheless, with the proceeds, she was able to buy herself a house in Northampton.

All this time, Farningham continued to write at the rate of about two books a year, contributing her poems, articles, and stories regularly to The Christian World and The Sunday School Times. Starting in 1875, she also undertook a series of biographies for another firm of publishers, under the pseudonym Eva Hope. To this, she added, during 1884 and 1885, some of the introductions to a series of books entitled The Canterbury Poets, using the same penname. In 1885, she reached the pinnacle of her journalistic career when she was made editor of The Sunday School Times. She retained this appointment for many years, sometimes writing virtually the entire periodical herself.

In January 1886, Farningham once again entered the world of education by becoming a member of the Northampton school board. The Education Act of 1870 caused school boards to be set up in areas where existing school provision was insufficient to provide for the potential number of pupils. Women were permitted to vote for school-board members and also to sit on the boards themselves. However, in practice, few seem to have done so. School-board work was time consuming: as well as the general meetings, there were also subcommittees to attend and the schools themselves to be visited. Furthermore, the work, although dealing with children and therefore ostensibly within the feminine ambit, was of a very public nature and required women to work on equal terms with men. For many Victorian women, this was asking too much. Farningham, however, served two terms of office before resigning in December 1891, pleading "the exigencies of my literary work."

Marianne Farningham suffered one serious setback in 1889 when she had a nervous breakdown. Along with her punishing workload, she was actively involved in the life of her family. In the previous two years, she had coped with the death of her brother and subsequent caring for his wife and children, the absence of her beloved sister who was in South Africa, the illness with typhoid fever of her absent sister's son, and finally the death of her father who had been living with her "more or less ill all the time." She recuperated with a trip to Italy, as traveling both in Britain and abroad had always been one of her great pleasures. She was once invited to go to America where "they assured me that I should receive a hearty welcome … and promised to pass me on from city to city and from home to home, and give me 'a real good time'" but her doctor would not let her go.

Throughout her life, Farningham championed children. From the beginning, she encouraged The Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor as it struggled to gain a foothold in England from America. She supported the Temperance Bands of Hope, the Boys' Life Saving Brigade, the Girls' Life Brigade, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. "I am thankful to have watched a wonderful growth of respect for the child," she wrote. "Children are among the chief assets of the nation."

Some time in the 1880s, Marianne Farningham rented a cottage in Barmouth, a small seaside town in North Wales. She spent an ever-increasing amount of time there and became friendly with Mrs. C.T. Talbot , a very early benefactor of the National Trust, and with Frances Power Cobbe , the famous journalist, feminist and founder of the Anti-Vivisection Society. When Cobbe died, Farningham was one of the directors entrusted with housing her library for the use of the people of Barmouth. It was here that she died in 1909.

Towards the end of her life, Marianne Farningham received several honors. In 1909, she was the first Sunday School teacher ever to be presented with a testimonial for prolonged service by the Sunday School Union. The Golden Jubilee of The Christian World was also celebrated as her Jubilee, and she received many gifts and tributes. Presentation ceremonies were held both by the people of Northampton and the people of Barmouth. When she died on March 16, her obituary notice in The Times was 30 lines long and that in the Northampton-Independent covered eight columns and was headed "Death of Northampton's Most Notable Woman."

sources and suggested reading:

Black, Shirley Burgoyne, ed. A Farningham Childhood: Chapters from the Life of Marianne Farningham. Sevenoaks: Darenth Valley Publication, 1988.

Farningham, Marianne. A Working Woman's Life. London: James Clarke, 1907.

Glandwr-Morgan, Rev. W. Marianne Farningham in her Welsh Home. Birmingham: Ellesmere Press, 1909 (reprinted 1923).

Barbara Evans , Research Associate in Women's Studies at Nene College, Northampton, England