In this lecture, Dr Simon Morgan explores the life of Ellen Heaton of Leeds, pioneering art collector, philanthropist and campaigner for women’s rights. He juxtaposes Ellen’s fascination with the rich and famous, including John Ruskin and Elizabeth and Robert Browning, with her efforts to improve the lives of ordinary men and women in her native town. Arguably, both were part of her attempts to carve out a wider sphere for herself at a time when the horizons of women from the provincial middle class were heavily circumscribed. However, Ellen’s refusal to adhere strictly to the codes of Victorian femininity frequently exasperated those around her, who too often viewed her simply as a troublesome eccentric.
Dr Simon Morgan is Head of History at Leeds Beckett University. He is the author of A Victorian Woman’s Place: Public Culture in the Nineteenth Century, and co-editor of the Letters of Richard Cobden.