Wolstenholme-Elmy, Elizabeth (1834–1913)

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Wolstenholme-Elmy, Elizabeth (1834–1913)

British feminist and suffragist who pioneered in women's education and the training of teachers . Name variations: Elizabeth Wolstenholme. Born in 1834 in England; died in 1913; only daughter and one of two children of a Methodist minister; had two years of formal education; married Benjamin Elmy (a poet), in 1874; children: one son.

Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy was born in England in 1834, one of two children of a Methodist minister who held traditional views on the education of women. While her brother Joseph received advanced schooling, Wolstenholme-Elmy was limited to two years of formal education and, even after the death of her parents, was forbidden by her guardians to enter the newly opened Bedford College for Women. At age 19, upon receiving her inheritance, she purchased her own boarding school in Manchester.

Concerned with the quality of teacher training, in 1865 Wolstenholme-Elmy helped form the Manchester Schoolmistresses' Association. With Josephine Butler , she later established the North of England Council for the Higher Education of Woman, which provided special lectures and examinations for women schoolteachers. Addressing the broader issue of women's education, Wolstenholme-Elmy later wrote an article on education for Butler's book Women's Work and Women's Culture, in which she set out a plan of high schools to educate girls in every town across Britain.

Wolstenholme-Elmy was also an avid suffragist, joining with Lydia Becker as early as 1865 to form the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage. She assisted Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst on several endeavors, serving as a member of the Married Women's Property Committee, which led to the Married Women's Property Act (1882), and working for the Custody of Infants Act (1886). In 1889, she joined the Pankhursts to form the Women's Franchise League and the three also became members of the Manchester branch of the Independent Labour Party.

From 1874, Elizabeth was supported in her endeavors by her husband, poet Benjamin Elmy, whom she married in a civil ceremony in 1874. True to her principles, she rejected the promise of obedience to her husband and also refused to change her surname or wear a wedding ring. Three months after the ceremony, Wolstenholme-Elmy gave birth to the couple's only child, a son.

Late in life, Wolstenholme-Elmy became critical of what she termed the "fiddle-faddling" of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and jumped ship to join the Women's Social and Political Union. Now in her 70s, however, she was severely limited in her activities and could not participate in any actions that might have landed her in prison. Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy died in 1913.

suggested reading:

Holton, Sandra. Suffrage Days. Routledge, 1996.