Barbara Bodichon

Biography of Barbara Bodichon

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (8 April 1827 – 11 June 1891) was an English educationalist, artist, and a leading early nineteenth century feminist and activist for women's rights.

She was the extramarital child of Anne Longden, a milliner from Alfreton, and Benjamin (Ben) Leigh Smith (1783–1860), an MP's only son, who was himself a Radical MP for Norwich. Benjamin had four sisters. One, Frances (Fanny) Smith, married into the Nightingale family and produced a daughter, Florence Nightingale, the nurse and statistician; another married into the Bonham Carter family. Ben's father wanted him to marry Mary Shore, the sister of William Nightingale, now a relative by marriage.

Ben Smith's home was in Marylebone, London, but from 1816 he inherited and purchased property near Hastings: Brown's Farm near Robertsbridge, with a house built around 1700 (extant), and Crowham Manor, Westfield, which included 200 acres (0.81 km2). Although a member of the landed gentry, Smith held radical views. He was a Dissenter, a Unitarian, a supporter of free trade, and a benefactor to the poor. In 1826 he bore the cost of building a school for the inner city poor at Vincent Square, Westminster, and paid a penny a week towards the fees for each child, the same amount as paid by their parents.

On a visit to his sister in Derbyshire in 1826, Smith met Anne Longden. She became pregnant by Smith and he took her to a rented lodge at Whatlington, a small village near Battle, East Sussex. There she lived as 'Mrs Leigh', the surname of Ben Smith's relations on the nearby Isle of Wight. Barbara's birth created a scandal because the couple did not marry. Smith rode from Brown's Farm to visit them daily, and within eight weeks Anne was pregnant again. When their son Ben was born. the four of them went to America for two years, during which time another child was conceived. On their return to Sussex they lived openly together at Brown's and had two more children. After their last child was born in 1833, Anne became ill with tuberculosis and Smith leased 9 Pelham Crescent, which faced the sea at Hastings; the healthy properties of sea air were highly regarded at the time. A local woman, Hannah Walker, was employed to look after the children. Anne did not recover so Smith took her to Ryde, Isle of Wight, where she died in 1834 when Barbara was only seven years old.

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