English Woman's Journal

In March 1858 members of the Langham Place Group were involved in the publication of The English Woman's Journal. The journal was published by a limited company. The main shareholders were Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and Emily Faithfull. The wealthy industrialist, Samuel Courtauld, who like Leigh Smith, was a Unitarian, also invested in the venture. The editor was Bessie Rayner Parkes. (1)

The journal was published monthly and cost 1 shilling. It was used to discuss female employment and equality issues concerning, in particular, manual or intellectual industrial employment, expansion of employment opportunities, and the reform of laws pertaining to the sexes. The offices in Langham Place became a centre for a wide variety of feminist enterprises. These included a women's reading-room and dining club, and offices for the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. (2)

English Woman's Journal (1st March, 1858)
English Woman's Journal (1st March, 1858)

After her marriage to Eugène Bodichon, a French physician and ethnographer, they went on honeymoon to America so that they could get obtain information on the subject of slavery and during their visit they had a meeting with Lucretia Mott. She wrote about the subject in the English Women's Journal. (3)

On 25th March 1860, Emily Faithfull established the Victoria Press at Great Coram Street, London. She invested her own capital in the press and had the financial backing of another committee member of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. The Victoria Press printed the English Women's Journal. The press employed at the outset women compositors, despite the trade restrictions practised by men, but the venture was to remain an irritant to many compositors and others in the printing trade. (4) Elizabeth Rayner Parkes wrote in her diary: "They will employ at least 6 girls; so here are women in the trade at last! One dream of my life!" (5)

Emily Davies became editor of the English Women's Journal, but it ceased publication in August 1864.

Primary Sources

(1) Pam Hirsch, Barbara Bodichon : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

Barbara had a sophisticated grasp of the importance of the press in influencing public opinion; her uncle, Octavius Smith, was a major shareholder in the Westminster Review. Subsequently she became the major shareholder in the English Woman's Journal (1858–64), founded primarily by herself and Bessie Rayner Parkes, for which she wrote many articles, continuing Smith family tradition by writing a series of abolitionist articles protesting against slavery in the southern states of North America, which she had visited in 1857–8. In an article published in a feminist journal called the Waverley, and subsequently reprinted as a pamphlet entitled Women and Work (1857), Barbara argued that middle-class women must not be denied meaningful work. The offices of the English Woman's Journal in Langham Place became a centre for a wide variety of feminist enterprises. These included a women's reading-room and dining club, offices for the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, and offices for training law copiers. In conjunction with these activities Emily Faithfull set up the Victoria Press, which trained and employed female compositors. Barbara also helped Maria Rye set up the Female Emigration Society to help women (especially governesses) who could not find work in England to emigrate to the colonies. In 1863 Barbara appointed Emily Davies as temporary editor of the English Woman's Journal when Bessie needed a break. This was the start of an important partnership which continued after the close of the journal in 1864.

(3) Jane Rendall, Langham Place Group (22nd September 2005)

By 1854 Parkes had published Remarks on the Education of Girls and Leigh Smith A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws of England Concerning Women. In the following year they formed a committee to organize a petition to the House of Commons to reform the laws relating to married women's property. In Edinburgh in 1856, Parkes met Isa Craig [see Knox, Isabella], also a journalist and poet, and with her contributed to a Glasgow women's periodical, the Waverley Journal. In April 1857 Parkes became editor, advertising the paper as ‘a working woman's journal’, and established an office in Princes Street, London. Craig came to London to assist her, but by January 1858 the paper had failed. A month later, the English Woman's Journal was founded by forming a limited liability company, in which Leigh Smith, now married to Eugène Bodichon, was the major shareholder, through her sister Anne's holding (since married women could not own shares). Male shareholders and sympathizers included Samuel Courtauld and Peter Alfred Taylor.

Parkes and Bodichon gathered around them committed and active women, mainly single. Matilda Hays, novelist, translator of George Sand, and companion of the American actress Charlotte Cushman, was a close friend of Parkes, and an original shareholder and co-editor of the journal. In November 1858 Emily Faithfull, a Surrey rector's daughter, described by Parkes as 'a most hearty young worker … who has brought us a host of subscriptions', came to work on the journal before she founded the Victoria Press (Parkes to Bodichon, 5 Jan 1859, Parkes papers, 5.86). Maria Rye, also an original shareholder and briefly the secretary of the committee to reform the law on married women's property, was especially interested in finding work for educated middle-class women. So too were Jessie Boucherett, a strong Conservative from a Lincolnshire landed family, who came to join the group in 1859, and the poet Adelaide Procter, who together founded the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women (SPEW) in 1859. Emily Davies, daughter of a Gateshead rector, and sister of the Christian socialist Llewelyn Davies, first encountered the group in late 1859 and for a time worked for the cause in Gateshead; after moving to London in 1862 she acted as editor of the English Woman's Journal in 1863, and worked continuously to improve the status of middle-class women. Sarah Lewin was employed as secretary and bookkeeper. Also very important were the group's wealthy patrons. Helena, comtesse de Noailles (1824?–1908), who had substantially helped Elizabeth Blackwell's medical career, became a major shareholder in February 1859. In December 1859 Theodosia Monson, Lady Monson, a friend of Hays, took for them new and more spacious premises at 19 Langham Place, where a reading room and coffee shop could be provided, associated societies could meet, and initiatives could be developed.

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(1) Pam Hirsch, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Feminist, Artist and Rebel (1998) page 32

(2) Pam Hirsch, Barbara Bodichon : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(3) Elizabeth Crawford, The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (2000) page 67

(4) Felicity Hunt, Emily Faithfull (21st May 2009)

(5) Elizabeth Rayner Parkes, diary entry (7th March 1860)