As Sally Mitchell points out in her biography, Frances Power Cobbe's class attitude and assumptions of entitlement trouble modern readers, but they played a crucial role in her political effectiveness.

Some scholars are disturbed by her apparently elitist assumption of natural supe- riority. To an extent, however, her political success rested on her sense of entitlement. One of her cousins was married to a member of Parliament; another cousin was head of police for the Midlands; several more were highranking military men. Cobbe had longstanding connections with bishops and minor aristocrats. Gladstone invited her to breakfast. An 1886 letter to Millicent Garrett Fawcett mentions which titled ladies she could ask to help if a suffrage bill should reach the House of Lords. I am often struck by her ability to get country gentlemen and radical MPs, Tories and Liberals, evan- gelical Protestants, high church Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and an assort- itariannow commonplace in social causes, but it was not easy in the nineteenth century. In March 1876 Cobbe urged the home secretary to introduce an anrivivisection bill by organizing a delegation that included Lord Shaftesbury. Cardinal Manning, James Anthony Froude, and Leslie Stephen. Thomas Carlyle supported the cause but would not take part because he refused to be in the company of a detestable Roman Catholic like Manning. [5]

Precisely the kind of assumptions that today seem so troubling — say, that on the basis of her position in society she could write to the Prime Minister and expect a response — gave her the confidence to advocate unpopular causes.


Mitchell, Sally Francis Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2004.

Last modified 7 July 2014