[Faithfull, Emily] Faithfull, Edward Williams

Occasional Thoughts

  • First edition, first printing of this uncommon volume of poetry published by the early women's rights campaigner Emily Faithfull (1835-1895).

    The modern movement for women's rights in Britain began in the 1850s with the Langham Place Circle, a group of upper-middle class women and men led by Barbara Leigh Smith. "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...

    Early on members of the group began to explore new openings for respectable employment for all classes of women, and in 1859 they formed the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women. One possibility considered was that of compositor, a skilled trade almost wholly confined to men, already effectively unionized and jealously guarded against both unskilled machine operators and any incursions by women. Bessie Parkes bought a small printing press, and she and Emily Faithfull employed a compositor, Austin Holyoake (brother of George Jacob Holyoake), to give instruction in composing. On the basis of this experience they concluded that composing could be a suitable occupation for women. To this end, on 25 March 1860, Emily Faithfull opened 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, G. W. Hastings.

    The press employed at the outset some semi-experienced female compositors, who existed despite the trade restrictions practised by men, but the venture was to remain an irritant to many compositors and others in the printing trade. It was nevertheless a commercial success, although the women compositors only composed and proof-read, unlike later women printers working for the Women's Printing Society (founded in 1876 by Emma Paterson's Women's Protective and Provident League, with which Emily Faithfull was also associated), who also carried out both imposition and ‘making up’ (making up the type into pages and placing them in the iron frame or chase for printing). Initially Emily Faithfull both printed and published, one of her earliest works being The Victoria Regia (1861), edited by Adelaide Ann Procter. The work and the press attracted the approval of Queen Victoria, and in that same year Emily Faithfull was appointed by royal warrant ‘Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty’" (ODNB).

    Faithfull remained a committed activist throughout her life, and was a prolific author and public speaker on both sides of the Atlantic."Her contributions were both practical and exhortatory, and she succeeded in carrying out her self-appointed tasks at the same time as appealing to popular audiences and retaining the patronage of Queen Victoria, who was no general supporter of women's rights. In 1886 she received £100 from the royal bounty, in 1888 she was presented with an inscribed engraved portrait of the queen in recognition of her dedicated work over thirty years in the interests of women, and in 1889 she was awarded a civil-list pension of £50" (ODNB).

    This uncommon book of verse was most likely by Faithfull's brother. It includes 52 poems, most of a religious or patriotic nature, and testifies to the commercial aspirations of Faithfull's publishing business. A very attractive volume representing the earliest flowering of the women's movement in Britain, as well as a fascinating but little-known aspect of the history of printing and publishing.

  • London: Emily Faithfull; Winchester:  Jacob & Johnson, 1872. Octavo. Original burgundy cloth, titles to spine and rule and roundel to upper board gilt, dark green coated endpapers, all edges gilt. Just a little rubbing of the cloth, spine very slightly faded, minor toning of contents. An excellent copy. Bibliography: Reilly, Mid-Victorian Poetry 1860-1879, p. 159.

Collections: Women's History




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