Jeanie, an 'army of One': Mrs. Nassau Senior, 1828-1877, the First Woman in Whitehall

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Sussex Academic Press, 2008 - Biography & Autobiography - 348 pages
This first full biography of Mrs. Nassau Senior, 1822-1877, tells how an extraordinary woman escaped from the constraints of Victorian domesticity to become the first woman in Whitehall and one of Britain's great social reformers. An ardent Christian Socialist radical, like her brother Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown's Schooldays), Jeanie Senior pioneered social work with Octavia Hill, co-founded the British Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian war and battled as 'Government Inspector' on behalf of exploited Workhouse girls. She was ferociously attacked for advocating the fostering of all pauper orphans rather than their incarceration and for indicting Workhouse 'Barrack' schools for producing prostitution fodder. Her fight to defend her findings against male hostility politicised her and she became an icon for the late 19th century women's movement. Jeanie Senior was also a significant figure in the worlds of art, music and literature, even being, it is argued here, the vital inspiration for her friend George Eliot in creating Dorothea, heroine of Middlemarch. Her life was a great 'human story' as she struggled in the teeth of multiple bereavement, an unhappy marriage and cancer in order to rescue others more desperate and vulnerable still. Florence Nightingale told her she had been 'a noble Army of one' and later grieved that her 'premature death was a national and irreparable loss'.

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About the author (2008)

Sybil Oldfield is Research Reader in English, University of Sussex. Her books include Spinsters of this Parish – F. M. Mayor and Mary Sheepshanks (1984); Women Against the Iron Fist – Anti-militarist thinking 1900–1989 (1989); Doers of the Word: British Women Humanitarians, 1900–1950: a Biographical Dictionary (2001 and 2007); and, with Gwenyth Shaw, ed., The Old Familiar Faces, Poems on the Experience of Ageing (2007).

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