Lydia Becker was a remarkable lady, devoting her life
to humanitarian causes, and in particular Women' Suffrage
and feminist campaigns.
Foxdenton Hall, was the family home and Lydia (the
eldest of fifteen children), was the daughter of Hannibal
Becker and Mary (Duncroft). Her father owned a Chemical
plant in Chadderton, Lancashire, her grandfather having
founded the firm when he emigrated from Germany. As was
the custom among middle-class families Lydia and her
sisters were educated at home.
After the death of her mother in 1855, Lydia had the
responsibility of looking after her younger brothers and
sisters. She also took up interests in Botany and
Astronomy, winning an award in 1864 for her collection of
dried plants. She wrote a book 'Botany for Novices' which
was published in 1866 and also 'Elementary Astronomy'. It
was this interest which began an acquaintance with
Charles Darwin and eventually persuaded him to send one
of his papers to the Manchester Ladies' Literary
Society's, which she had founded.
THE BEGINNING OF SUFFRAGE.
1866 was a milestone in Lydia's life for as well as
having her book published in October of that year she
attended a local meeting organised by the National
Association for the promotion of Social Science, and it
was at this meeting that she found her 'purpose'. It was
here that she heard Barbara Bodichon reading a paper
'Reasons for the enfranchisement of Women'. 'There was no
reason why the single ladies and widows
heard, 'should not form as sensible opinions on the
merits of candidates' as male
voters.(1) From then on
Lydia was committed to the cause of suffrage.
She was supposedly a very forthright speaker, not
without a sense of humour, and in fact one of the most
famous anecdotes, was in reply to a heckler's plea, "Who
is going to make all the puddings and pies if girls are
going to be educated?". She replied in no uncertain
terms, "No true man should want to be the husband of a
So the scene was set, and Lydia now had a goal in
life, in a more restrained way than the radical
suffragettes who came to the notice of the public in the
early 20th Century.
Lydia's way was by persuasion, but a persistent
persuasion that could not be ignored .
One example was in 1867 the name of Lily Maxwell
appeared by accident on the electoral roll in Manchester.
Lily was a widow who ran her own small business paying
rates, and was just what Lydia was looking for for a test
case! She then accompanied her to the Polling Booth where
Lily successfully cast her vote for Jacob Bright.
In 1868 she became treasurer of the Married Women's
Also in 1868 the Manchester Suffrage Society held the
first Women's suffrage meeting at the then new Free Trade
Hall in Manchester. The Mayor of Salford took the chair
and Lydia moved the resolution. The following year,
London Society organised its first public meeting, (What
Manchester thinks today London thinks tomorrow:)(3)
A further campaign followed to persuade women to
submit claims for their inclusion on the electoral
register. She set herself a target of canvassing 7000
women in the Manchester area. As she believed in the
personal approach, this must have been an inconceivable
task, bearing in mind the difficulty of communication in
those days. Nevertheless she perservered and was
delighted that the response was well above the target she
had set herself.
Lydia went on to edit the Women's Suffrage Journal.
from 1870 till her death in 1890
If this was not enough, she was also on the Board of
Governors for several Manchester Schools. In 1877, laying
the foundation stone for the fifth school to be built by
the Manchester Board, she discovered to her dismay that
the school was to specialise in cookery. In her speech
she condemned this and to quote, 'If she had her way,
every boy in Manchester would be taught to mend his own
socks and cook his own
Lydia Becker died in Aix-les-Bains July 18th 1890
before she could realise the main objective. (The full
vote for women eventually being obtained in 1928).
Undermined by all the frustrations, hard work, and the
apparent defeat of her supporters she contracted
diphtheria and did not have the strength to fight this
1] Rise up,
Women! A. Rosen
Oldham Chronicle, 9th June
Cause, R. Stacey p118
4] Oldham Chronicle, 9th