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Lidgett, Elizabeth Sedman (1843–1919), poor-law guardian and suffragist, was born on 26 August 1843 at 20 Arbour Terrace, Mile End, London, the daughter of John Lidgett of Hull, a London shipowner, and his wife, Ann Jacob, née Hyett. Her elder sister was the women's activist Mary Hyett, who in 1869 married Percy William Bunting (editor of the Contemporary Review); John Scott Lidgett (warden of the Bermondsey settlement and nonconformist member of the London school board) was her nephew. However, nothing further is known of her early life and career.

In April 1881 Elizabeth was elected a poor-law guardian in St Pancras, where she served alongside Sarah Ward Andrews, who helped form the Society for Promoting the Return of Women as Poor Law Guardians in February that same year. Both women belonged to the Charity Organization Society, which organization was the formative influence in Lidgett's ideas of morally inspiring philanthropy: in 1909 she declared ‘We may devise schemes, we may appoint officials, but it is only the living human soul that can save a soul alive’ (Hollis, 27–8). In 1883 they were joined by Florence Davenport Hill, who later served on the central committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage. Overall, women were represented on committees dealing with the workhouse, visiting boarded-out children, and poor-law schools, and they were clearly encouraged to deal only with matters relating to female and child inmates. As a member of the Ladies' Reference Committee, Elizabeth was able to support the work of her sister on the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants, and the minutes for 19 April 1894 record that the male guardians welcomed women's contribution in finding employment for many female paupers. They also supported her active involvement in the emigration of pauper children to Canada in her capacity as member, and subsequently chair, of the boarding-out committee in 1894–1906, 1913, and 1916. On many occasions she was asked to represent the board on a variety of bodies, including the National Poor Law Conference in 1896 and the Distress Committee for St Pancras with Hilda Miall-Smith (a former member of the London school board) in 1905. She also spoke of her work as a female guardian at the annual conferences of the National Union of Women Workers.

Both Elizabeth Lidgett and her sister were prominent in the National Vigilance Association, and the first meeting ‘to promote the return of Women as County Councillors’ was held in the house of Mr and Mrs Percy Bunting on 17 November 1888. Although Elizabeth declined an invitation to stand for election to the London county council Mary Bunting was placed on the first general committee of the Women's Local Government Society (1893), and in the words of her obituarist ‘ever continued a steadfast friend to the cause’ (Women's Local Government Society Report, 29), as did Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Lidgett also took a keen interest in the work of the London school board. For instance, in 1889 she became a manager of the Gray's Inn Road group of schools, serving alongside Margaret Eve, who went on to represent Finsbury on the school board. In 1894 she campaigned on behalf of two Progressive candidates in Greenwich—Henry Gover and a nonconformist minister, Mr Wilson (school board for London; Blackheath Gazette). Finally, in 1912 she gave evidence to the royal commission on divorce.

Then living at 40 Gordon Square, Elizabeth Sedman Lidgett died at home of a pulmonary malignant disease and secondary abdominal growths on 8 April 1919. Aged seventy-five, she had been a member of the St Pancras board of guardians for nearly forty years. It is impossible to judge whether she was missed by the local poor, but in the opinion of the Women's Local Government Society ‘Miss Lidgett was an ideal Guardian, and spared no effort to help young and old’ (Women's Local Government Society Report, 29).

Jane Martin


St Pancras guardians' minutes, 1881–1919, LMA · Women's Local Government Society Report (1919–20) · The Times (9 April 1919) · The Times (9 Oct 1919) · Englishwoman's Review (15 April 1885) · school board for London, annual return of the managers of day schools, Sept 1889, LMA · Blackheath Gazette (9 Nov 1894) · P. Hollis, Ladies elect: women in English local government, 1865–1914 (1987); pbk edn (1989) · J. Lewis, Women in England, 1870–1950 (1984) · d. cert. · b. cert. · IGI


LMA, minutes of St Pancras guardians · LMA, Women's Local Government Society papers

Wealth at death  

£14,300 7s. 1d.: probate, 3 July 1919, CGPLA Eng. & Wales