Chosen by Sarah Head, current member of staff
As the daughter of the reforming and renowned Liberal MP Richard Cobden, it is not surprising that Jane Cobden was a woman of strong beliefs. However, it is perhaps surprising when you consider the era in which she grew up, a time when women do not have the right to vote or stand for political office. Born in 1851, Jane followed in her father’s footsteps, participating in political causes across a wide spectrum. Chief amongst the causes she espoused was women’s suffrage, and she would become one of two women elected to the new London County Council in 1889, as Councillor for Bromley and Bow.
Jane’s surviving papers are held at West Sussex Record Office, alongside those of her father, and they include a series of personal scrapbooks. Three of these scrapbooks contain an eclectic mix of fascinating ephemera which reflect her political, activism, career and the liberal causes she supported. They include leaflets and fliers for a variety of rallies and debates, invitations to fundraising events, souvenirs and a number of large posters advertising various events, including those led by Jane herself.
Amongst these and other items, such as political newspapers and gazettes, is this New Year card. It is a beautiful and personal example of her and her husband’s commitment to the cause of women’s emancipation and enfranchisement; proclaiming the cause of Votes for Women whilst sending best wishes for the New Year.
Despite her fervour for the cause, Jane never became a Suffragette herself; she took a less militant approach to bring about change. This card in some ways reflects that and is perhaps why she is less well-remembered than her father (although fans of the BBC’s Victorian crime drama Ripper Street, in which she features as a recurrent character, will recognise her name). We are fortunate that Jane’s papers – and especially her political scrapbooks – have survived, since they provide insight into the life of this remarkable woman and the society in which she lived and which she helped to shape.
Some of this text originally appeared in ARC Magazine (Archives and Records Association, No 319, March 2016)