Emily Faithfull, the youngest of five daughters and the last of eight children of Ferdinand Faithfull, rector of Headley, and his wife, Elizabeth Mary Harrison, was born on 27th May 1835. She was educated at home and attended a school in Kensington.
In 1859 Emily Faithfull joined with, Jessie Boucherett, Bessie Rayner Parkes and Barbara Bodichon to form the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. Her biographer, Felicity Hunt claims: "The group pressed for legal reform in women's status (including suffrage), explored new areas for women's employment, and campaigned for improved educational opportunities for girls and women. Emily Faithfull was at the heart of this multi-faceted campaign and identified with all three dimensions, although she is best known for her work in women's employment. Her public support of the enfranchisement of women developed later from her investigations and practical campaigns surrounding employment, but from the beginning she was actively involved in the successful movement led by Emily Davies to have the university local examinations opened to women."
Faithfull became secretary of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and In March 1860 the women established the Victoria Press at Great Coram Street, London. At the time this was a skilled trade that was almost wholly confined to men. Bessie Rayner Parkes bought a small printing press, and she and Faithfull employed a compositor, Austin Holyoake (brother of George Jacob Holyoake), to give instruction in composing.
On 23rd July 1860 The Times published a letter from Faithfull: "I think many will be glad to hear, so great is the success of this office, that I have more work at this moment than my 12 women compositors can undertake, and I shall therefore be glad to receive six or eight girls immediately. They must be under 16 years of age, and apply personally at my office next week."
One of the first books published by the Victoria Press was The Victoria Regia (1861), edited by Adelaide Ann Procter. The work attracted the approval of Queen Victoria, and that year Emily Faithfull was appointed by royal warrant "Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty".
In 1862 the press moved to Farringdon Street, where the printing was carried out with steam presses. The following year, Faithfull established her own journal, The Victoria Magazine. She was editor except for a short period in 1864 when Emily Davies took over this role. According to Elizabeth Crawford, the author of The Suffragette Movement (1999), this "may have been during a period when Emily Faithfull was involved, tangentially and damagingly, in a divorce case."
As Felicity Hunt has pointed out: "In 1864 Emily Faithfull became caught up in a divorce case when Admiral Henry Codrington sought a divorce from his wife on grounds of adultery. Helen Codrington counter-claimed, as she was able to do under the 1857 Marriage and Divorce Act, on grounds which included the accusation that in October 1856 he had attempted to rape Emily Faithfull while she was a guest in their house. At first Emily Faithfull agreed to give evidence on behalf of Mrs Codrington but later changed her mind. The reasons for this are not clear, but her own reputation, at risk by virtue of an association with a divorce case, would have been even more vulnerable had she agreed to take the stand. There is also a suggestion that she was threatened with further counter-claims by Admiral Codrington. She exercised discretion and withdrew."
In 1865 a group of women in London formed a discussion group called the Kensington Society. It was given this name because they held their meetings at 44 Phillimore Gardens in Kensington. One of the founders of the group was Alice Westlake. On 18th March, Westlake wrote to Helen Taylor inviting her to join the group. She claimed that "none but intellectual women are admitted and therefore it is not likely to become a merely puerile and gossiping Society." Nine of the eleven women who attended the early meetings were unmarried and were attempting to pursue a career in education or medicine. The group eventually included Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Emily Davies, Francis Mary Buss, Dorothea Beale, Anne Clough, Louisa Smith, Alice Westlake, Katherine Hare, Harriet Cook, Helen Taylor, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy and Elizabeth Garrett.
In 1868 she published her only novel, Change upon Change, a tragic romance with an underlying theme about the need for women to have access to education. She became a prolific journalist, contributing articles to the Lady's Pictorial: A Newspaper for the Home and the Pall Mall Gazette, as well as The Victoria Magazine.
There is no record that Emily Faithfull actually joined this group that became involved in the struggle for the vote. However, in 1868 she gave a lecture on women's suffrage. She later claimed "no one interested in the women's movement had ventured on giving a public address until after I had broken the ice by a lecture in the Hanover Square Rooms." In 1870 Faithfull wrote to The Times supporting the idea of votes for women.
In an interview she gave near the end of her life, Faithfull said "I am strongly in favour of it (women's suffrage), but I do not give it the enormous prominence some do. I do not believe it is the end and aim of all things. In politics I am a Conservative... I am not in favour of socialists or Revolutionists, nor do I wish to see the Empire dismembered".
Emily Faithfull gave lectures in Britain and the United States. In a lecture at Steinway Hall in New York City on 4th April 1873 she argued: "True marriage is the crown and glory of a woman's life; but it must be founded on love, and not on the desire of a home or of support, while nothing can be more deplorable, debasing, and corrupting than the loveless marriages brought about in our upper society by a craving ambition and a longing for a good settlement. Loveless marriages and a different standard of morality for men and women are the curses of modern society."
In 1875 Faithfull joined the Women's Trade Union League and according to Elizabeth Crawford: "acted as treasurer to the girls' club in Lamb's Conduit Street in Bloomsbury and, after moving to Manchester, conducted the Manchester branch of Mrs Blanchard's Colonial Emigration Society."
Faithfull lived with her "beloved friend" Charlotte Robinson. In an article published in March 1894 she claimed that Robinson's "affectionate tenderness and care which made the last few years of my life the happiest I ever spent."
Emily Faithfull died aged sixty, on 31st May 1895, at 10 Plymouth Grove, Manchester.
A meeting of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, in connexion with the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, was held at 19, Langham-place on the evening of Friday, June 29. Lord Shaftesbury took the chair at 9 o'clock, by which time a numerous and influential audience had assembled. The chairman, in an opening address, explained and enforced the principles of the society, congratulated the members on the success which has attended their efforts during the first year, and enforced the necessity of still further extending their operations. Mr. Cookson urged law engrossing as a suitable occupation for women, described the office established by the society, which is already supported by several solicitors, and gave an interesting account of the work done there. Mr. Hastings spoke of printing as particularly well adapted to women, and read a paper contributed by Miss Emily Faithfull, on the introduction of women to the printing trade. Mr. Mackenzie read a paper by Miss J. Boucherett on bookkeeping, stating that a want of knowledge of accounts was one great reason of the disinclination to employ women in shops, showing how they might be better fitted for the offices of cashiers and bookkeepers, and announcing that a school to supply these deficiencies had been opened by the society. Vice-Chancellor Wood spoke of the other occupations for women, and recommended that they should be employed as clerks in post-offices, and as managers in hotels, as hairdressers, &c. He read a paper by Miss Parkes on the same subject, and concluded with an eloquent appeal for further subscriptions. The audience were then introduced into a lower room, where the interesting collection of women's work in law engrossing, printing, designing, &c., was exhibited, and excited much admiration.
The assistance the movement "for promoting the employment of women" has received from you induces me to ask you to insert this letter in The Times, as I think many will be glad to hear, so great is the success of this office, that I have more work at this moment than my 12 women compositors can undertake, and I shall therefore be glad to receive six or eight girls immediately. They must be under 16 years of age, and apply personally at my office next week.
True marriage is the crown and glory of a woman's life; but it must be founded on love, and not on the desire of a home or of support, while nothing can be more deplorable, debasing, and corrupting than the loveless marriages brought about in our upper society by a craving ambition and a longing for a good settlement. Loveless marriages and a different standard of morality for men and women are the curses of modern society.
I am strongly infavour of it (women's suffrage), but I do not give it the enormous prominence some do. I do not believe it is the end and aim of all things. In politics I am a Conservative... I am not in favour of socialists or Revolutionists, nor do I wish to see the Empire dismembered.