Near the Fothergill home in Littleborough.
These tragic events in the Fothergill household certainly provided background for Caroline's first full length novel, 'Put to the Proof'. Attitudes towards the rights of women in the male dominated Victorian society also seemed to be universally held by all four sisters as none of them ever married. This attitude is highlighted in a conversation in that first novel. The main character is Margaret who through her father marrying 'beneath his station' and her being orphaned very young, becomes an independent and resourceful woman. However she is befriended by a colourful woman named Angel, who is courted by Margaret's ex-tutor. During a scene when Angela is made to consider a marriage proposal, the conversation comes to a simple, stark declaration, as follows:
"But do you suppose," he urged, "that I should treat you in any way but as my equal?"
“Do you suppose," she made answer, promptly, "that I should be satisfied with the appearance of equality if the reality were not there?"
"Do you mean," he cried, somewhat excitedly, "that you will not marry until women are legally declared to have equal rights with men?"
Caroline Fothergill 1858 - 1937
Governess and Author
Whilst Jessie Fothergill is the better known of the sisters, Caroline’s life is by far the more intriguing. Although her father left the Society of Friends (Quakers) when marrying Ann Coultate, the sister of my great, great grandfather, the principles of that religious movement certainly influenced her path in life.
She was born in the village of Bowdon, Cheshire along with Jessie, the eldest, Alexander, who died in 1870 age 17, Charles who died very soon after birth on 30 January 1860, Reginald, Sophia and Elizabeth. Her father Thomas was a merchant dealing in cotton yarn and they were comfortably well off until tragically he died in 1866. In 1871, herself, her mother, Jessie, Reginald and Elizabeth were lodgers with farm labourer George Lord and his family in Littleborough near Rochdale. Sophia was living in Sandwell Hall Training home in West Bromwich
Women’s Suffrage and Liberal Politics
Quakers and my Burnley ancestors were politically aligned to the Liberals supporting William Gladstone and ‘Home Rule’ for the Irish. A prominent Quaker and liberal Politician who was nickname 'Apostle to Women' because of his support for women's suffrage, was one Jacob Bright, brother of industrialist John Bright. He was also brother of Thomas Bright who was married to her mother's sister Caroline Coultate, so he was Jessie and Caroline's uncle-in-law. This relationship and the Quakers belief in the same voting rights for women may have influenced the next chapter in Caroline’s life. On 23rd December 1889 she was appointed organizing agent for the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage, London. This was after a split in the Women’s Suffrage movement in 1888. A Parliamentary report records:
‘Politics has complicated the suffrage campaign. There is dissension as to whether its rules should be changed to allow other political organisations to affiliate. The concern is that the suffrage society would be swamped by members of the Women’s Liberal Federation, which supports Gladstone and Home Rule. The Home Rulers are defeated and break away to form the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage. Liberal Unionists, led by Millicent Fawcett, who are anti-Home Rule and anti-Gladstone, remain as a reconstituted Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage.’
It would appear that if Caroline was now employed by this latter committee that she did not align her views with the home rule Liberals. It is hoped that more information will be forthcoming regarding her role in this committee.