Frances Power Cobbe

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Brief Biography

            Frances Power Cobbe is a Victorian writer, journalist and social activist.  Cobbe is best known for her contributions to Feminism and her political and social activism on behalf of women, the poor, and animals.  She advocated for women’s education and suffrage, spoke out about wife beating and women as property, sought reform for poor relief, and was a leading figure in the Antivivisection movement just to name a few of her causes.  In her lifetime, Cobbe wrote numerous essays, books, and articles on the political and social issues she was concerned with.

            Frances Power Cobbe was born December 4th, 1822 to a wealthy, Anglo-Irish family.  Her father, Charles Cobbe, was a strict Evangelical man who remained remote from Frances, the only daughter and youngest of five children.  Cobbe was closest to her mother, Frances Conway Cobbe who became ill and died when Cobbe was twenty-five.  After her mother’s death, Cobbe revealed doubts about her father’s religion and even began to refuse attending church with the family.  This enraged Charles Cobbe who threatened Frances with disinheritance and then booted her out of the family house.  This is a testament to Frances’ strength of character and beliefs -- that she would risk loosing what little was provided for Victorian women for the sake of having her own opinion.  Frances lived for a short time on her brother’s farmstead before being recalled by her father to perform the duty of housekeeper.

            In 1855, Frances Power Cobbe published the first volume of her book, An Essay on Intuitive Morals, Being an Attempt to Popularise Ethical Science.  The volume had to be published anonymously because Charles Cobbe was afraid of public rejection of the family. During this time, Cobbe was always trying to strike a balance between her duties as a daughter, in respect of her father, and her desire for challenging, intellectual discussion and writing.

            In 1857, Charles Cobbe died leaving Frances with a small per annum.  She was now financially independent and free to fully pursue her own interests.  Cobbe began by taking a lengthy trip through Europe and the East.  In Italy, she met a group of independent, artistic women who were living the emancipated life she was longing for.  The group contained actress Charlotte Cushman, sculptor Mary Lloyd, and painter Rosa Bonheur, to name a few, and provided Cobbe with a community model as a base for future experiences.  It is also in Italy, where Cobbe’s long-term relationship with Mary Lloyd begins.

            In 1858, Frances Power Cobbe journeys to England to live and assist with Mary Carpenter’s Red Lodge Reformatory for delinquent girls. While working with Carpenter, Cobbe becomes more exposed to the social crisis of the lower class. Consequently, Cobbe’s growing political consciousness seeds her first periodical article “Workhouse Sketches” along with many other writings on the topic.

            By the 1860’s, Cobbe was an established front-page writer for the London newspaper Echo.  She was earning a larger per annum than what was allotted to her through inheritance. Her editorials were unsigned and dealt with current public issues by combining opinion with information.  Her position at the paper allowed her to bring a wide attention to women’s issues while maintaining an authorative position with her audience simply because her writing was unnamed and thereby 'un'gendered.  Also, around this time Cobbe begins living with Mary Lloyd in a domestic relationship.

             Also in the 1860’s, Frances Power Cobbe became involved with the growing Feminist movement.  In 1862, she presented a paper at the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science Congress, on women’s education.  Cobbe also joined the Kensington Discussion Society, a group dedicated to the discussion of women’s issues.  She became a member of the Married Women’s Property Committee as well as shortly serving in the executive committee of the London National Society for Woman’s Suffrage.

            From the early 1870’s until her death, Cobbe became involved in the Antivivisection movement, which campaigned against the use of animals for scientific experimentation. As a leader of the movement Cobbe was instrumental in the passing of the 1876 Vivisection act and in establishing one of the first antivivisection societies, the Victoria Street Society.

            In 1884, Cobbe and Lloyd retire to Lloyd’s family estate.  Cobbe continued to write for both the Women’s movement and the Antivivisection movement, including her own biography, Life of Frances Power Cobbe, by Herself published in 1894.  Frances Power Cobbe died April 1904, eight years after her partner Mary Lloyd.  Cobbe’s will was a testament to what she valued in life, leaving provisions for various nieces and single women as well as the antivivisection movement.

Primary Sources


An Essay of Intuitive Morals, Being an Attempt to Popularise Ethical Science.  2 vols. Part I: Theory of Morals.  London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1855; Part II: Practice of Morals.   London:            Chapman, 1857.

Friendless Girls , and How to Help Them: Being an Account of the Preventative Mission at Bristol.  London: Emily Faithfull, 1861.

The Sick in Workhouses: Who They Are and How They Should Be Treated.   London: J.Nisbet, 1861.

 Female Education, and How It Would Be Affected by University Examinations: A Paper Read at the Social Science Congress, London, 1862.  London:  Emily Faithfull, 1862.

 Essays on the Pursuits of Women.  London: Emily Faithfull, 1863.

 The Red Flag in John Bull’s Eyes.  London: Emily Faithfull, 1863.

 Rejoinder to Mrs. Stowe’s Reply to the Address of Women of England.  London: Emily Faithfull, 1863.

 The Religious Demands of the Age: A Reprint of the Preface to the London Edition of the Collected Works of Theodore Parker.  Boston: Walker, Wise, 1863.

 Thanksgiving: A Chapter of Religious Duty.  London: Trübner, 1863.

 Broken Lights: An Inquiry into the Present Condition and Future Prospects of Religious Faith.  London: Trübner, 1864.

The Cities of the Past.  London: Trübner, 1864.

Italics: Brief Notes of Politics, People, and Places in Italy, in 1864.  London: Trübner, 1864.

Religious Duty.  London: Trübner, 1864.

Studies New and Old of Ethical and Social Subjects.  London: Trübner, 1865.

The Confessions of a Lost Dog: Reported by Her Mistress F. P. Cobbe.  London: Griffith & Farran, 1867.

Hours of Work and Play.  London: Trübner, 1867.

Dawning Lights: An Inquiry Concerning the Secular Results of the New Reformation.  London: Whitfield, 1868.

Why Women Desire the Franchise.  London: London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, 1869.

Our Policy: An Address to Women Concerning the Suffrage.  London: London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, 1870.

Darwinism in Morals, and Other Essays.  London: Williams & Norgate, 1872.

Doomed To Be Saved. London: Williams & Norgate, 1874.

The Hopes of the Human Race, Hereafter and Here.  London: Williams & Norgate, 1874.

 False Beasts and True: Essays on Natural and Unnatural History.  London: Ward Lock, & Tyler, 1876.

Re-Echoes.  London: Williams & Norgate, 1876.

The Age of Science: A Newspaper of the Twentieth Century.  London: Ward Lock, & Tyler, 1877.

The Duties of Women: A Course of Lectures.  London: Williams & Norgate, 1881.

The Janus of Science.  London: Victoria Street Society, 1882.

The Peak of Darien, with Some Other Inquiries Touching Concerns of the Soul and the Body.  London:  Williams & Norgate, 1882.

Agnostic Morality.  London & New York, 1883.

Light in Dark Places.  London: Victoria Street Society, 1883.

The Study of Physiology as a Branch of Education.  London: Victoria Street Society, 1883.

A Faithless World.  London: Williams & Norgate, 1885.

Rest in the Lord, and Other Small Pieces.  London: Pewtress, 1887.

Concerning Immortality.  Chicago, 1888.

The Scientific Spirit of the Age, and Other Pleas and DiscussionsLondon: Smith, Elder, 1888.

The Friend of Man: and His Friends, -- the PoetsLondon: G. Bell, 1889.

The Modern Rack: Papers on Vivisection.  London: Sonnenschien, 1889.

The Oubliettes of Science.  Westminster: Victoria Street Society, 1890.

Health and Holiness.  London: G. Bell, 1891.

Public Money: An Enquiry Concerning an Item of Its ExpenditureLondon: Victoria Street Society, 1892.

Life of Frances Power Cobbe, by Herself2 vols.  London: Richard Bentley, 1894.

The Divine Law of Love, in Its Application to the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals.  London: National Antivivisection Society, 1895.

On Jesuit Doctrines Concerning the Rights of AnimalsLondon, 1895.


Periodical Publications:

“ The Rights of Man, Claims of Brutes.”  Fraser’s, 68 (November 1863): 586-602.

“The Nineteenth-Century.”  Fraser’s, 69 (April 1864): 481-484.

“The Morals of Literature.”  Fraser’s, 70 (July 1864): 124-133.

“Philosophy of the Poor-Laws.”  Fraser’s, 70 (September 1864): 373-394.

“Indigent Classes – Their Schools, and Dwellings.”  Fraser’s, 73 (February 1866): 143-160.

“Conventional Laws of Society.”  Fraser’s, 74 (November 1866): 667-673.

“Household Service.”  Fraser’s, 77 (January 1868): 121-134.

“Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors: Is the Classification Sound?”  Fraser’s, 78 (December 1868): 777-794.

“The Defects of Women, and How to Remedy Them.”  Putnam’s, 4 (1869): 226-233.

“Consciousness of Dogs.”  Quarterly Review, 133 (October 1872): 419-451.

“Dogs Whom I Have Met.”  Cornhill, 26 (December 1872): 662- 678.

“The Moral Aspects of Vivisection.”  New Quarterly, 4 (April 1875): 222-237.

“Sacrificial Medicine.”  Cornhill, 32 (October 1875): 427-438.

“Mr. Lowe and the Vivisection Act.”  Contemporary Review, 29 (February 1877): 335-347.

“ The Little Health of Ladies.”  Contemporary Review, 31 (January 1878): 276-296.

“Wife-Torture in England.”  Contemporary Review, 32 (April 1878): 55-87.

“Vivisection: Four Replies.”  Fortnightly Review, new series 31 (January 1882): 88-104.

“Zoöphily.”  Cornhill, 45 (March 1882): 279-288.

“The Education of the Emotions.”  Fortnightly Review, new series 43 (February 1888): 223- 236.

“ The Scientific Spirit of the Age.”  Contemporary Review, 54 (July 1888): 126-139.

“The Ethics of Zoöphily.”  Contemporary Review, 68 (October 1895): 497-508.

“Lord Lister and Painless Vivisection.”  Manchester Guardian, 14 October 1898.


Secondary Sources


Coan, T.M.  Questions of Belief.  New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1883.

Cullen, Mary, and Maria Luddy.  Women, Power and Consciousness in 19th Century Ireland: Eight Biographical Studies.  Dublin: Attic, 1995.

Mitchell, Sally.  Frances Power Cobbe:  Victorian Feminist, Journalist, Reformer. Charlottesville:  Virginia UP, 2004.

Peacock, Sandra J.  The Theological and Ethical Writings of Frances Power Cobbe, 1822- 1904.  New York: E. Mellen, 2002.

Sanders, Valerie. Records of Girlhood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Women’s Childhoods.  Burlington: Ashgate, Aldershot, Hampshire, 2000.

Somerville, Rose.  Brief Epitomes of the Lives of Eminent Women.  London: Women’s Print Society, 1886. 

Journal Articles: 

Hamilton, Susan.  “Making History with Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Feminism, Domestic Violence, and the Language of Imperialism.”  Victorian Studies, 43.3 (Spring 2001): 437-461.

Mitchell, Sally.  “From Winter into Summer: the Italian Evolution of Frances Power Cobbe.”  Women’s Writing, 10.2 (June 2003): 343-353.

Peacock, Sandra.  “Frances Power Cobbe, Race, and Religion in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Egypt.”  Journal of African Travel Writing, 5 (1998): 70-78.

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Prepared by Joanne Bent (2004)

Nipissing University
Contact:  Professor Ann-Barbara Graff
Department of English Studies
Last modified: October 12, 2004