‘A Faithful Verity’ – Emily Faithfull: a Steampunk Feminist’s Persective

“….True marriage is the crown and glory of a woman’s life; but it must be founded on love, and not on the desire of a home or of support, while nothing can be more deplorable, debasing, and corrupting than the loveless marriages brought about in our upper society by a craving ambition and a longing for a good settlement.  Loveless marriages and a different standard of morality for men and women are the curses of modern society….”  – Emily Faithfull

Emily Faithfull was English women’s rights activist, but she was not associated with the suffragists or suffragettes. From a feminist writer’s viewpoint, her importance to history is as a publisher who employed women, the founder of the all female Victoria Press, and a writer and lecturer campaigning for women’s rights issues. However, Miss Faithfull was plagued by more than the intense opposition to a woman attempting to enter the boys’ club of publishing; she also had a part to play in one of the a major divorce scandals of the Victorian era.

Emily the Publisher:

Emily Faithfull’s was concerned by the lack of opportunity for women to acquire a trade or profession.  Her involvement in women’s employment grew out of her membership of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and her membership of the committee of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. She could see the need for women to have a voice in society.

She was inspired by one of her friends to gain instruction in composing, with the aim of investigating this as a career for women. A compositor is a person who sets and corrects type, and generally assembles text and illustrations for printing. She obviously found a passion for the field of printing, because she set up in London a printing establishment in 1860.The Victoria Press was run and printed by women. From 1860 until 1866, the Victoria Press published the feminist English Woman’s Journal. Both Faithfull and her press obtained a reputation for excellent work, and Faithfull was appointed ‘printer and publisher in ordinary’ to Queen Victoria. Alas, Faithfull had to abandon printing the Journal when she became embroiled in the Codringon Divorce, as she wanted the reputation of the journal left untouched by the taint of scandal. However, she remained involved in the Press, which had a solid reputation for its working conditions.

There was plenty of light and air, a staff kitchen and lunch breaks, some profit sharing and even housing assistance. There were high stools provided for the compositors, so that they didn’t have to stand for their entire twelve hour work day. Women were paid the same wages as men doing the same job in other presses. Faithfull took on at least 16 female apprentices when the press first opened. However, the London Printer’s Union refused to accept the membership of these women, claiming that women lacked the intelligence and physical skill to be compositors, even when the women were actually doing the job.

In 1863, she began the publication of a monthly organ, The Victoria Magazine, in which Faithfull continuously and earnestly advocated the claims of women to gain paid employment. Her press published the first annual report of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society and she went on to publish other works on behalf of this society. She wrote and published a novel, Change Upon Change: a Love Story, known as A Reed Shaken with the Wind in America, and a book about her lecture tours of America called Three Visits To America.

Emily the Women’s Rights Campaigner:

Emily Faithfull on a lecture tour in America

Faithfull lectured widely and successfully both in England and the United States. Of course, she was lecturing on her favourite topic, on women being self sufficient for their own support. She also spoke on women’s suffrage, though she had no official ties to the suffragist movement. It is a indication of her reputation that even the Codrington Divorce scandal did little to effect her popularity as a speaker, in an era where even the hint of scandal could turn you into a pariah.

The Codrington Divorce Scandal:

Rear Admiral Henry Codrington – doesn’t he look kind and mild in this portrait? 

The scandal of the Codrington Divorce created a world-wide interest in the divorce proceedings. Mrs Codrington was accused of having a ‘close relationship’ with Faithfull, as well as having an affair with a Lieutenant Herbert Alexander St John Mildmay (who was out of the country at the time of divorce). However, the Rear Admirable was not the only injured party, as he had attempted to ‘press his affections’ upon Faithfull when she was caring for an ill Mrs Codrington. Faithfull refused to be questioned about this event in court; in fact, she remained reticent about the whole divorce. Since she was still in Britain, and Mildmay was not, you can’t help but wonder if she got the rough edge of the stick simply because she was available for accusation and wasn’t a conforming woman.

Codrington versus Codrington could have severely damaged Emily’s reputation, but she lived down the scandal. In 1886, Emily received a grant of £100 from the Royal Bounty fund and from then on received an annual civil-list pension of £50. This was awarded to her “in consideration of her services as a writer and worker on behalf of the emigration, education and employment of women”.

Page from 'The World of Sherlock Holmes' by Michael Harrison

The offending page from The World of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Harrison

I was inspired to write this article when reading The World of Sherlock Holmes, written by Michael Harrison. Harrison made a very sneering comment about the actions of “strident female would-be lawyers, doctors, ‘social workers’, ‘divines’ and printers, with their misdirected energy and their topsy-turvy sexuality” on behalf of Victorian-era ‘Women’s Lib (his term, not mine). He added a footnote about the printer reference, singling Faithfull out for a cruel jab at her sexual assault by Codrington. He calls her a ‘Man-hating Amazon’, and pretty much applauds Codrington for his attempt to rape Faithfull with a quip about the navy man’s virility. This curmudgeonly misogynist has passed away, or I’d be sending off a scathing letter to him, pointing out the hypocrisy of calling Faithfull a man-hater when he was so obviously a woman-hater.

Emily Faithfull

Emily Faithfull

I believe part of Emily Faithfull’s success was due to the fact she was good friends with men and women alike. She wasn’t trying to raise women up by pushing men down. Her efforts were rewarded by her government, recognising her selfless ambition to make paid employment available to women.


Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes

6 responses to “‘A Faithful Verity’ – Emily Faithfull: a Steampunk Feminist’s Persective

  1. Thanks so much for writing about this incredibly brave pioneer. I’d never heard of her. We all owe her so much.

  2. Jan Shimmin

    Emily Faithfull is an ancestor of mine and I still bear that name. As a teacher I experienced men who earned more than I but in some cases were less effective. By standing up for equal pay and opportunity with no knowledge of the work of Emily, I did myself no favours. I am happy that my daughter fought on and although married her baby was labelled with her birth surname. Her position as a top flight solicitor has given her a voice. All I can hope is that my 4 granddaughters continue the fight . Jan Shimmin

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