Leslie Howsam

Published On


Page Range

pp. 81–104


  • English

Print Length

24 pages

5. Public Figure

1888 to about 1903

Continuing to trace Eliza Orme’s public life from the date of her 1888 LL.B. degree when she was forty years of age, this chapter shows how her public persona was shaped by a commitment to the Liberal Party of William Ewart Gladstone. Crucially, Gladstone and other Liberals opposed women’s suffrage, a circumstance that created difficulties not only for Orme personally, but also for the Women’s Liberal Federation of which she was a founding member. The chapter begins with a newspaper profile of Orme from 1892 that reveals how differently she was seen by allies and antagonists. For allies she was a ‘quick-witted champion, with a convenient appetite for combat’ in debate, while the antagonists saw her as an ‘arch-villain’ and ‘malignant schemer’ prepared to undermine the Federation’s objectives. The latter group, led by Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle, held views of feminist political strategy that came into conflict with Orme’s legally-inflected approaches. Leslie Howsam’s recent discovery of this and other important new evidence is woven into Orme’s story.

Sections include: ‘Public Engagement and the Campaign for Irish Home Rule’ (this included editing the a political newspaper, the Women’s Gazette & Weekly News); ‘The Women’s Liberal Federation Splits over the Question of Suffrage’ (a little-known story involving duelling strategies and dirty tricks); ‘Factory Inspection and the Royal Commission’ (Orme’s role as Senior Lady Assistant Commissioner of the Royal Commission on Labour of 1892-3, including her reports on the work of women as barmaids and in the iron industry); and ‘Prison Committee’ (an 1894 political appointment to a government committee investigating the conditions of prisons for women). The chapter concludes by characterizing Orme as ‘An Independent Single Professional Woman in Public Life’ and speculates on the reasons for her relative historical obscurity in the light of what was clearly a period of well-publicized activity. One of these was the dispute with Lady Carlisle, which put her, apparently, on the wrong side of history. Another was the accident of Orme’s longevity. By the time she died in 1937, there was no one to write her obituary, and a new generation of independent, single, and professional women was taking advantage of opportunities that she had missed.


Leslie Howsam

Emerita Distinguished University Professor at University of Windsor
Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Digital Humanities at Toronto Metropolitan University

Leslie Howsam is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Emerita Distinguished University Professor at the University of Windsor (as well as Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Digital Humanities at Toronto Metropolitan University). Her most recent book is the Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book (2015); her best-known book is Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture (2006). For further information please see