Frances Power Cobbe

Frances Power Cobbe (4 December 1822 – 5 April 1904) was an Anglo-Irish writer, philosopher, religious thinker, social reformer, anti-vivisection activist and leading women's suffrage campaigner. She founded a number of animal advocacy groups, including the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) in 1875 and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in 1898, and was a member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage.

Frances Power Cobbe
Photograph from Life of Frances Power Cobbe, 1894
Born(1822-12-04)4 December 1822
Newbridge House, County Dublin, Ireland
Died5 April 1904(1904-04-05) (aged 81)
Hengwrt, Wales
Occupation(s)Writer, social reformer, philosopher
Known forFounder of the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (1875); British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (1898); member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage

She was the author of a large number of books and essays, including An Essay on Intuitive Morals (1855), The Pursuits of Women (1863), Cities of the Past (1864), Essays New and Old on Ethical and Social Subjects (1865), Darwinism in Morals, and other Essays (1872), The Hopes of the Human Race (1874), The Duties of Women (1881), The Peak in Darien, with some other Inquiries touching concerns of the Soul and the Body (1882), The Scientific Spirit of the Age (1888) and The Modern Rack: Papers on Vivisection (1889). She also published dozens of essays in most of the leading heavy-weight periodicals of the time, as well as an autobiography and a substantial amount of more popular journalism.


Hajjin was Frances Power Cobbe's canine companion and traveled with her and her partner, Mary Lloyd, to Wales after Cobbe and Lloyd moved there

Frances Power Cobbe was a member of the prominent Cobbe family, descended from Archbishop Charles Cobbe, Primate of Ireland. She was born in Newbridge House in the family estate in present-day Donabate, County Dublin.[1]

Cobbe worked at the Red Lodge Reformatory and lived with the owner, Mary Carpenter, from 1858 to 1859, but a turbulent relationship between the two meant that Cobbe left the school and moved out.[2]

Cobbe formed a lesbian relationship with Welsh sculptor Mary Lloyd (1819-1896),[3][4] whom she met in Rome in 1861, and with whom she lived from 1864 until Lloyd's death in 1896. The death affected Cobbe badly. Her friend, writer Blanche Atkinson, wrote, “The sorrow of Miss Lloyd’s death changed the whole aspect of existence for Miss Cobbe. The joy of life had gone. It had been such a friendship as is rarely seen – perfect in love, sympathy, and mutual understand.” [5]

Around 1891, in danger of losing their home at Hengwrt, in which Lloyd had inherited a share upon the death of her parents, the couple was relieved by a legacy of over £25,000 from the widow of Richard Vaughan Yates.[6]

They are buried together at Saint Illtyd Church Cemetery, Llanelltyd, Gwynedd, Wales.[7] In letters and published writing, Cobbe referred to Lloyd alternately as "husband," "wife," and "dear friend."[8]

Cobbe founded the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (SPALV) in 1875, the world's first organisation campaigning against animal experiments, and in 1898 the BUAV, two groups that remain active. She was a member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage and writer of editorial columns for London newspapers on suffrage, property rights for women and opposition to vivisection. Around 1880, with Louise Twining, she founded Homes for Workhouse Girls.[9]

Cobbe's name on the lower section of the Reformers memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery

Cobbe met the Darwin family in 1868. Emma Darwin liked her, "Miss Cobbe was very agreeable." Cobbe persuaded Charles Darwin to read Immanuel Kant's Metaphysics of Ethics.[10] She met him again during 1869 in Wales, and apparently interrupted him when he was quite ill,[11] and tried to persuade him to read John Stuart Mill—and indeed Darwin had read Cobbe's review of Mill's book, The Subjection of Women.[12] She then lost his trust when without permission she edited and published a letter he had written to her.[11]

Her critique of Darwin's Descent of Man, Darwinism in Morals was published in The Theological Review in April 1871.[13][14]

In philosophy, Cobbe was a proponent of intuitionism in ethics. She thought that morality and religion were inseparably connected: moral obligations depend on a moral law, which requires a divine legislator. She was an opponent of utilitarianism.[15] Her philosophical views were wide-ranging and she addressed a huge range of philosophical topics including the nature of action and moral knowledge, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, history, pessimism, the possibility of life after death, and many more.[16] Her philosophical contribution is now beginning to be rediscovered as part of the recovery of women in the history of philosophy.[17]

Cobbe's activism for women's rights included advocating for women to be allowed not only to attend university but also to take university examinations, follow the same curricula as men and held to the same academic standards, and graduate with degrees. She presented an influential paper at the Social Science Congress in 1862 to argue the case [18]


A portrait of her is included in a mural by Walter P. Starmer unveiled in 1921 in the church of St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London.[19]

Her name and picture (and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.[20][21][22]

Her name is listed on the south face of the Reformers Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

The Animal Theology professorship at the Graduate Theological Foundation is named after Cobbe.[23]

See also


  1. Cobbe, Frances Power, with Blanche Atkinson (1904). Life of Frances Power Cobbe as told by herself. London: S. Sonnenschein & co. p. 74.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Saywell, R J, Mary Carpenter of Bristol, The University of Bristol, 1964 (2001 reprint).
  3. Zimmerman, Bonnie, ed. (2013). Encyclopedia of Lesbian Histories and Cultures. Routledge. ISBN 9781136787508.
  4. Legget, Jane (1988). Local heroines: a women's history gazetteer of England, Scotland and Wales. Pandora. p. 50.
  5. Shopland, Norena 'Frances and Mary' from Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales Seren Books (2017)
  6. Mitchell, Sally (2004). Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer. University of Virginia Press. pp. 144, 335. ISBN 9780813922713.
  7. Mitchell, Sally (2004). Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer. University of Virginia Press. pp. 139–147. ISBN 9780813922713.
  8. Marcus, Sharon (10 July 2009). Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England. ISBN 978-1400830855. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  9. Yeo, Eileen Janes (1992) Social motherhood and the sexual communion of labour in British Social Science, 1850-1950, Women's History Review, 1:1, 63-87, DOI:
  10. Browne, Janet (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 296–297. ISBN 978-0-679-42932-6.
  11. Browne, Janet (2002). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-679-42932-6.
  12. Adrian Desmond and James Moore, "Introduction", in (2004). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2 ed.). London: Penguin Classics. pp. xivii. ISBN 978-0-14-043631-0.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. Cobbe, Frances Power (April 1871), "Darwinism in Morals", The Theological Review, Williams & Norgate, 8: 167–192
  14. "Darwinism in morals : and other essays. Reprinted from the Theological and Fortnightly reviews, Fraser's and Macmillan's magazines, and the Manchester friend : Cobbe, Frances Power, 1822-1904 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 1872. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  15. "Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers - History Of Women Philosophers".
  16. Team, Project Vox (15 June 2021). "Revealing Voices: Alison Stone". Project Vox.
  17. Frances Power Cobbe: Essential Writings of a Nineteenth-Century Feminist Philosopher, Oxford University Press; ISBN 9780197628232
  18. Lynn McDonald, ed. 1998 Women Theorists on Society and Politics Wilfrid Laurier university Press, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; ISBN 0-88920-290-7
  19. Walker, Alan (31 July 2015). "Campaign from on high at St Jude's". Church Times. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  20. "Historic statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett unveiled in Parliament Square". 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  21. Topping, Alexandra (24 April 2018). "First statue of a woman in Parliament Square unveiled". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  22. "Millicent Fawcett statue unveiling: the women and men whose names will be on the plinth". iNews. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  23. "Press Release: First Professor of Animal Theology in the US". Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. 10 March 2020. Retrieved 10 July 2020.

Further reading

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