Victorian Literature Frances Power Cobbe
Susan Hamilton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0166


Frances Power Cobbe (b. 1822–d. 1904) was an Anglo-Irish journalist, religious writer, feminist activist, and leading antivivisectionist. She was among the best-known feminist writers and thinkers of her day. She was a prominent spokeswoman for the improvement of Victorian women’s educational and employment opportunities; a witty defender of so-called redundant women; an incisive critic of the Victorian idea of marriage; and a passionate advocate for women’s suffrage and right to bodily integrity. She published essays on these topics in prestigious periodicals and wrote over twenty books on Victorian women, science and medicine, and religious duty, as well as innumerable essays, pamphlets, and tracts for the antivivisection movement. She was a pioneering journalist who wrote the second-leader for the London Echo on the same wide variety of social and cultural topics that animated her highly regarded signed work in the periodical press. She founded two antivivisection societies, the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (known as the Victoria Street Society) in 1875, and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in 1898. Both societies comprised nationally organized branches that undertook campaigning, demonstrated against institutions that licensed vivisection, and produced and distributed mass publications, many of them by Cobbe herself. She brought her considerable journalistic know-how to her extensive work as leader of these organizations, evident especially in the productivity she was able to sustain over decades of activism and her success at placing essays in leading periodicals. She was instrumental in the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act (1876), which created a regulatory framework for the use of live animals in scientific research, which she came to see as facilitating abuse rather than protecting animals. She advocated for improved legal protections for laboratory animals until her death. She also wrote carefully to advance the Matrimonial Causes Act (1878), which created new mechanisms for granting child custody and maintenance orders to wives separated from violent husbands, and continued to advocate for women’s autonomy in marriage and as mothers. Based in London for much of her career, Cobbe moved to Wales with her life companion, Mary Lloyd, in 1884 after receiving a substantial legacy from an antivivisectionist supporter. There she continued to write and publish, primarily on her antivivisection causes. She is buried with Lloyd in a double grave at Llanelltydd, Wales, in Lloyd’s family churchyard. Cobbe’s journalism, particularly on domestic violence, was at the center of the scholarship that first brought her writing to the forefront of feminist knowledge in the 1990s. More recently, scholarly frameworks that have reshaped feminist history-making, a revitalized interest in the Victorian Woman Question, and compelling new explorations of LGBTQ identities and life experiences, as well as new approaches to the Victorian periodical and newspaper press, have reframed our understanding of her spirited style and compelling ideas. Scholarship on Cobbe in sexuality studies remains limited, perhaps owing to the scant archival sources. New explorations of LGBTQ2S identities and life experiences may well spur new research into Cobbe’s life and relationships. She is increasingly an integral part of informed understanding of 19th-century feminism, journalism, and reform. Vitally, too, Cobbe’s central role in the antivivisection movement, which had long given her a global popular prominence in animal welfare and rights history, has made her writing and activities of growing academic interest in the field of critical animal studies.

General Overview

There are no general introductions or companion volumes dedicated to Cobbe. A valuable introduction to her feminist writing remains Caine 1992.

  • Caine, Barbara. Victorian Feminists. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    Examination of the feminist thinking and commitments of four Victorian feminists, Emily Davies, Frances Power Cobbe, Josephine Butler, and Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Combines a biography overview for each figure with a careful examination of feminist activism and core philosophical commitments. Print only.

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