Emily Faithfull was a publisher, women’s rights activist and writer who was born in Headley Rectory in Surrey on 27th May 1835 but spent most of her adult life in London. Her parents were the vicar Ferdinand Faithfull and his wife Elizabeth. She was educated both at home and at a school in Kensington.
She first became involved with campaigning for women’s rights in the 1850s as a member of the Langham Place Circle. This featured other women’s rights activists such as Emily Davies the founder of Girton College. Langham Place supported women’s suffrage, improvement of women’s education and furthering women’s employment. Emily’s main interest however was in improving women’s employment. Her interest in this grew out of her role as the secretary and as a committee member of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. This society was set up by the Langham Place Circle. She was introduced to the printing press by a fellow committee member Bessie Rayner Parkes. This led to Emily setting up the Victoria Press in 1860.
In the Victoria Press Emily employed women as compositors and a few men to do manual labour. She employed women as compositors because she believed that publishing was a suitable occupation for them. Emily treated her staff very well for the time period. Emily noticed that the average age printers and publishers died was at 48 partly to due to lung problems because of the lack of ventilation systems where they worked. Therefore she introduced proper ventilations systems and stools and chairs for her employees to sit on. Her workers also had a staff kitchen and worked in good lighting. Her employment of women was attacked however by the all-male Printer’s Union who even tried to sabotage the Victoria Press. For example they dirtied her employee’s stools with ink. Nonetheless her press was actually quite successful. For example Emily was awarded the position of a printer and publisher to Queen Victoria in 1862.
Emily was also a keen writer. In 1868 her only novel Change Upon Change was published. It is the tragic love story of a young man who falls in love with his coquettish cousin. It also called for improvements to women’s education.
Emily also established her own journal the Victoria Magazine which was published monthly. She continued the journal for 18 years and called for improvements in women’s employment in it.
At about same time when she was involved in the much publicised divorce case of Admiral Henry Codrington and his wife Helen. She had worked in their house as a companion to Helen but was dismissed from the position by Helen’s husband under mysterious circumstances. In Henry and Helen’s much publicised divorce case he was accused of raping Emily by Helen. Emily was however accused of being Helen’s lover. At first Emily gave evidence on behalf of Helen but later refused to. This was in order to protect her reputation as it was already at risk by being associated with a divorce case. It would have been completely ruined if she had carried on standing as a witness. These events have been written about by Emma Donoghue in her novel the Sealed Letter.
Despite this her reputation was clearly not badly affected as she toured England and the USA giving lectures in the 1870s and 1880s. In these talks she lectured about women’s rights. For example she argued in New York for marriage to be based on love and not money. She published her account of her tour in her book Three Visits to America in 1884. In this book she wrote chapters about women’s roles in America in particular she devoted a whole chapter to how Mormon Women were treated in Utah.
In the 1880s she started the organisation the International Music, Dramatic and Literary Association to help protect the rights of artists and composers. In 1888 she received a civil pension and was presented with an engraved portrait of Queen Victoria for her 30 years work for women’s rights. There was no title of Dame at the time so this was the Victorian Equivalent.
7 years later she died at the age of 61 in Plymouth Grove in Manchester of a Bronchial Disorder as she was a heavy smoker.
Emily Faithfull Obituary, (June 3rd 1865), Issue 34593, The Times, London, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Times/1895/Obituary/Emily_Faithfull
Emily Faithfull, (24 May 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Faithfull
Massey Gerald, Faithfull Emily, http://gerald-massey.org.uk/faithfull/
Simkin John(January 2015), Emily Faithfull, Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Education Publishers ltd, https://spartacus-educational.com/Wfaithfull.htm
Wojtczak Helena, (2009), Emily Faithfull and the Victoria Press, British Women’s Emancipation since the Renaissance, http://historyofwomen.org/faithfull.html