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Solomon [née Thomson], Georgiana Margaret (1844–1933), philanthropist in South Africa and suffragette, was born at Haymount, near Kelso, Roxburghshire, on 18 August 1844, the daughter of George Thomson, an unsuccessful gentleman farmer, and Margaret Stuart Scott, of Abbotsmeadow, Melrose. She was educated in Edinburgh at Miss Deuchar's Trafalgar House School. From childhood she taught in Sunday schools. Because of her family's financial difficulties she took up paid employment, first as a teacher at Trafalgar House School and later as a governess in Liverpool.

In 1873 in Cape Town, Cape Colony, under the direction of the Revd Andrew Murray of the Dutch Reformed church, who had been active in women's education, a committee was formed to establish a school for the higher education of girls in Cape Town. Through the friendship of Georgiana Thomson's parents with Murray's uncle, Dr Charles Murray, she was invited to take up the position of lady principal of the Good Hope Seminary. After some initial hesitation she agreed to go on contract for a year.

In Cape Town, again through family connections, she met , proprietor of the Cape Argus and member of the legislative assembly for Cape Town, a noted liberal and philanthropist. They found themselves in close accord, intellectually and emotionally, and, despite the considerable difference in age, as she was twenty-nine and he fifty-six, they were married at his home, Clarensville, in Sea Point, Cape Town, on 21 March 1874. The marriage was a happy one, producing six children, four sons and two daughters—Saul, who became a judge of the supreme court of South Africa, Margaret (Maggie), George, William Ewart Gladstone, later principal of the Bombay School of Art, Daisy Dorothea, and a son who died in infancy.

Saul Solomon was one of the most noted of the Cape liberals, and the emphasis he placed on racial equality between black and white gave his views a very different slant from those of the other noted Cape liberal, John X. Merriman, whose liberalism was more constitutional and legalistic. Saul Solomon's liberalism led him to campaign for the disestablishment of the Dutch Reformed and Anglican churches, and liberalism was to draw both Merriman and Georgiana Solomon into the pro-Boer camp during the Anglo-Transvaal War.

Through her marriage into the extended Solomon family Georgiana Solomon became a member of a circle of educated, enlightened, and politically active women at the Cape. Foremost were Olive Schreiner and her close friend Mary Brown, daughter of Saul's brother Henry. Also included in this group were Saul's niece, Emilie Solomon, Betty Molteno, daughter of the first prime minister of Cape Colony, and Alice Green. Most of them, with the partial exception of Olive Schreiner, were shaped by a deep Christian faith which attracted them to the temperance movement, the movement opposing the Cape contagious diseases legislation, and similar reform activities. An abstainer, Georgiana Solomon spoke at temperance meetings and was elected president of the World's Temperance Union at the Cape. Sharing her husband's commitment to moral reform, she became first president of the Social Purity Alliance in Cape Town, and campaigned successfully against an attempt by Sir Thomas Upington, premier of Cape Colony, to reintroduce the Contagious Diseases Acts there.

In July 1888, following a breakdown in Saul Solomon's health (in which the drowning of their elder daughter in 1881 had been a contributory factor), the family left for Britain. They settled in Bedford, where the three boys attended school. Georgiana Solomon gave voice to her grief at the loss of Maggie and an infant son, born on 15 August 1883, in a volume of verses, Echoes of Two Little Voices. On 16 October 1892 Saul Solomon died, leaving her to bring up the children. From this point her younger daughter, Daisy Dorothea, born on 21 August 1881, became her closest companion during her widowhood, when she moved first to Sidcup in Kent and then to West Hampstead, London.

Although now resident in England, Solomon revisited South Africa and was involved in the women's suffrage movement which emerged there in 1902, at the end of the South African War. This movement differed from British models in being almost entirely non-militant, taking the form, rather, of ‘welfare feminism’. She gave practical expression to these affiliations through a collaboration with General Louis Botha's wife, Annie, to form the Suid-Afrikaanse Vrouefederasie (South African Women's Federation, SAVF) in the Transvaal in 1904. Unlike the Cape-based Afrikaanse Christelike Vrouefederasie (Afrikaans Christian Women's Federation, which was closely tied to the Dutch Reformed church, the SAVF embraced a wider South Africanism, derived from the desire for reconciliation between Boers and British in the wake of the South African War, with the aim of ‘safeguarding and fostering the progress of the South African people in the spiritual, moral, intellectual and material fields’ (Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, 1970–76, 10.346). The main work of the SAVF in its early days was to care for the Boer families left devastated by the war. Solomon became honorary president of the SAVF on its foundation and was its representative in England.

Georgiana Solomon (whose name was often spelt Georgina in reports of her public activities) supported the women's suffrage movement in England initially through her membership of the Women's Liberal Federation and the London Society for Women's Suffrage. With her daughter she joined the militant Women's Social and Political Union in 1908, and in March 1909 led its deputation to the House of Commons to present a resolution to the prime minister, Asquith, but was unable to meet him. Arrested during a deputation to the House of Commons in June 1909, she complained of being brutally assaulted by the police during a further deputation to the House of Commons, on ‘black Friday’, 18 November 1910, which left her invalided for a while. She described her ordeal in a letter to the press, which also referred to the sexual assaults that the deputation had endured (The Times, 3 March 1911, 10). On 4 March 1912 she was sentenced to one month's imprisonment for breaking nine small windows in the office of black rod at the House of Lords, serving her sentence in Holloway gaol. Daisy Solomon shared many of these experiences with her, including imprisonment. Georgiana Solomon broke with the Women's Social and Political Union when it split in 1913, but remained a member of the Women's Freedom League, and was vice-president of the Free Church League for Women's Suffrage. She also remained active in the purity movement through her membership of the Ladies' National Society for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice and the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene.

Despite this involvement Georgiana Solomon followed events in South Africa closely. She was appalled at the Act of Union of 1910, which failed to extend the suffrage to black men. When W. P. Schreiner, brother of Olive, led a deputation of black leaders to protest against the bill she opened her home to them, forming many friendships among this black élite. Her relationship with Solomon T. Plaatje was particularly close and M. K. Gandhi became another associate of this period. The 1913 Land Act, which deprived Africans of the right to own freehold land in South Africa, also dismayed her. As a committee member of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines' Protection Society she lobbied against this ‘un-British’ colour bar which she deplored as tending to ‘stultify and blight the finest developments of Missionary enterprise’ and increasing the ‘miseries and perils’ of black women (question submitted to Lord Buxton, 24 Oct 1916, University of Cape Town, Kathleen Murray papers). She saw England as primarily responsible for the colour bar, believing that she ‘ought to treat Africans as she is treating Indians—by removing their barriers to advancement and liberating them from oppression of every kind’ (Georgiana Solomon to Alice Greene, 28 Sept 1919, ibid.).

During her later years Georgiana Solomon was cared for by her daughter Daisy. Although no longer politically active, she maintained a wide correspondence and an active interest in the careers of her grandchildren and those of her friends. She died at Esperance, Hartington Road, Eastbourne, Sussex, on 24 June 1933, and was buried in Ocklynge cemetery on the Sussex downs.

Elizabeth van Heyningen

Sources  

W. E. G. Solomon, Saul Solomon: the member for Cape Town (1948) · The Times (3 July 1933), 16 · A. J. R., ed., The suffrage annual and women's who's who (1913) · DSAB · E. Crawford, The women's suffrage movement: a reference guide, 1866–1928 (1999) · census returns, 1891, 1901

Likenesses  

W. E. G. Solomon, oils, Suid-Afrikaanse Vroue Federasie, Pretoria · photograph, repro. in Votes for Women (9 July 1909)

Wealth at death  

£3511 3s. 4d.: probate, 19 Dec 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales