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Goldsmid, Louisa Sophia, Lady Goldsmidlocked

(1819–1908)
  • Geoffrey Alderman

Goldsmid, Louisa Sophia, Lady Goldsmid (1819–1908), feminist and promoter of women's education, was the only daughter of Moses Asher Goldsmid (1789–1864) and his first wife, Eliza (1800–1837), daughter of Levy Salomons. On her father's side, therefore, she was the granddaughter of the bullion broker Asher Goldsmid (1751–1822) and the niece of Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, the financier and promoter of Jewish political emancipation in Britain and of Reform Judaism. Louisa was thus born into the heart of ‘the cousinhood’, the network of much-interrelated Anglo-Jewish families of great wealth whose male heads dominated the lay leadership of Anglo-Jewry throughout the nineteenth century.

Louisa Goldsmid herself added to this history of intermarriage, and underpinned the financial security afforded to her through membership of the extended Goldsmid family, by herself marrying (10 October 1839) her first cousin, Francis Henry Goldsmid (d. 1878), son of Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, first baronet, and ally in his many Jewish communal and political initiatives. The marriage was solemnized by the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Solomon Hirschell. Three years later, however, Louisa followed her husband in the religious schism which befell Anglo-Jewry and joined the West London Synagogue of British (Reform) Jews, which he had taken a prominent part in establishing. Many explanations have been advanced for the origins of this schism. One of the characteristics of Reform Judaism in nineteenth-century England was the enthusiasm of its female adherents, whose regular attendance at synagogue service contrasted strongly with that of female members of Orthodox synagogues. Louisa's attachment to Orthodoxy could not have been very strong, and it may be supposed that in becoming a Reformer she discovered a mode of Jewish worship more in tune with her own feminist inclinations.

Louisa Goldsmid's marriage to Francis (who succeeded his father as second baronet in 1859) appears to have been happy, but it was childless. Her entire life was devoted to the advancement of women's causes, chief among which was raising the professional status of Victorian women of the middle classes. As early as 1849 she was among the members of the ladies' committee of the Governesses' Benevolent Institution, founded eight years previously by clergy of the Church of England, and which in 1848 had sponsored the establishment of Queen's College, Harley Street, the first higher education institution for women in England. In her early feminist initiatives she appears to have taken her cue from her mother-in-law, Isabel Goldsmid (1788–1860), one of the first lady visitors of the Ladies' College, Bedford Square (later Bedford College). Isabel Goldsmid and her daughter Anna Maria Goldsmid were members of the Langham Place circle. Through Isabel, Louisa entered into the activities and campaigns of Langham Place, beginning a lifelong association with Emily Davies. She became honorary treasurer to the fund started in 1862, with Emily Davies as its secretary, to support the movement to obtain the admission of women to university examinations and was involved in Davies's successful efforts to persuade Cambridge University to admit girls to its local examinations (1865). The fruit of these labours was the founding of Girton College at Cambridge, to which Louisa made a number of financial gifts and of which she became an early and lifelong member.

Lady Goldsmid's preoccupation with Girton reflected her belief in the importance of education for the advancement of women in Victorian society. In 1867 she temporarily withdrew from the movement to secure the parliamentary franchise for women, having been a member of the first Women's Suffrage Committee in London, after disagreements within the movement as to whether married women should be given the vote. She wanted the suffrage petition presented by J. S. Mill to restrict the demand to unmarried women and widows, believing the demand for complete equality to be hopeless. On his refusal to insert the limitation she was instrumental in persuading Davies to withdraw from political activities and to concentrate on education for middle-class women. In 1879–80 she played a leading part in the intense lobbying of the Cambridge senate to obtain the formal admission of women to Cambridge tripos examinations, and took part in the 1887 move to admit women to Cambridge degrees. London University had agreed to admit women to its degrees in 1878, and she found time to help establish a hall for women students and to endow three scholarships for women pianists at the Royal College of Music. She was a member of the ladies' committee of the infants' school for the Jewish poor, which the Goldsmid family had founded and to which she herself bequeathed £3000 in her will. In 1887, with Millicent Fawcett, she led a deputation to the Home Office to protest against legislation excluding women from working in the chain manufacturing industry. Latterly she renewed her involvement in the suffrage movement, becoming an executive committee member of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and taking part in a pro-suffrage deputation to W. H. Smith, first lord of the Treasury, in 1891. She was a well-known London hostess, her salon attracting leading figures from the worlds of politics and the arts. Louisa Goldsmid died at her London residence, 13 Portman Square, on 7 December 1908, and was buried two days later beside her husband in the Islington cemetery of the West London Synagogue.

Sources

  • S. Wills, ‘The Anglo-Jewish contribution to the education movement for women in the nineteenth century’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 17 (1951–2), 269–81
  • C. Bermant, The cousinhood: the Anglo-Jewish gentry (1971)
  • Jewish Chronicle (11 Dec 1908), 12
  • E. Welsh, Girton Review, Lent term (1909), 16–17
  • B. Stephen, Emily Davies and Girton College (1927)
  • R. Strachey, The cause: a short history of the women’s movement in Great Britain (1928)
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • Girton Cam., archives

Wealth at Death

£204,652 3s. 11d.: probate, 14 Jan 1909, CGPLA Eng. & Wales