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☾ Angela Burdett Coutts

Hey everyone and Welcome back to Women Empowerment week! So another one of our iconic women we want to share is Angela Burdett Coutts! This woman inspired us as she was born in 1814 and quickly became one of the most outspoken and dedicated philanthropists of her day. Whilst born and inherited her wealth, she defied all social conventions of her day, turning away suitors, living with her best friend and using her wealth towards amazing causes! What a woman! She also co-founded the NSPCC, became present of the RSPCA and worked with Charles Dickens supporting deprived and fallen women rebuild their lives.

Throwing herself into the causes she valued the most, her charity work became renowned, earning her recognition from none other than Queen Victoria herself and soon became known as “Queen of the Poor”, a mantle given to her as a result of her devoted commitment to good causes, earning respect from other social campaigners, such as the successful author and social commentator, Charles Dickens.

Angela was born into a banking dynasty, she was the youngest of six children; her father Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet MP was known for his radical ideas and her mother, Sophia Coutts, was the daughter of a well-known banker.

Through these prominent social and political family connections she was able to meet a range of important people including the Prime Ministers Disraeli and Gladstone.

When her grandfather died in 1822, his estate was left to his second wife, who died 14 years later, unbeknownst to Angela, leaving his fortune to her.

Angela became a wealthy woman, inheriting many properties including a mansion in Highgate where she hosted many a notable visitors. Both Queen Victoria and Mary, the future Queen visited her at Holly Lodge.

One specific location that became a focus of Burdett-Coutt’s work was East London, particularly Bethnal Green which was a deprived area in need of regeneration. Through her work she helped to build homes and also provided the necessary infrastructure for the area’s redevelopment, including such essentials as a fresh water supply.

In 1869 she founded Columbia Market and her project in Columbia Square was a first step in creating the necessary provision of social housing for the most vulnerable in the city.

In Victoria Park, Hackney, she paid a large sum of money to bring about an installation of a drinking fountain providing clean drinking water to some of the poorest in society.

She was also in frequent contact with the outspoken social commentator of the day, Charles Dickens. Together they co-founded a refuge for ‘fallen’ women, such as prostitutes and thieves, who were hoping to turn their lives around. The home was called Urania Cottage but Dickens preferred to refer to it simply as The Home, in order to encourage more women to stay.

Finding the ideal location near Shepherd’s Bush, Dickens wanted the place to be as homely as possible. The garden attached to the property was an added bonus as the women were able to cultivate their own gardens.

Angela had witnessed the growing issue of prostitution which was reaching high levels in the Piccadilly area where she had her own residence. However close friends in her social circle, including the Duke of Wellington, warned her against getting involved in such a scandalous issue. They found it difficult to comprehend her strong sense of social responsibility.

The causes she felt most strongly about were varied and covered a whole host of social and economic issues. In order to address the problem of child labour, she provided classes for those working class children who would not normally have access to education. Through these classes the children learnt valuable skills which they could apply to a trade or craft in order to help them earn a living.

Her dedication to her work with children was such that in 1884 she co-founded the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This would later become known as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, shortened today to the NSPCC. And so Angela’s legacy for helping the most vulnerable children in society is continued today.

She also felt passionately about supporting hospitals, as well as funding vital medical research for illnesses such as cancer. She gave an interest free loan in order to build Royal Marsden Hospital and continued through financial donations to support the hospital once it was up and running.

It was not only the physical structures and equipment which would benefit from her philanthropy. Missionaries, soldier’s wives and nurses working on the frontline would receive donations from Burdett-Coutts.

One of these recipients was Florence Nightingale, who whilst working in the poor and unsanitary conditions of the Crimean War begged for assistance in improving hygiene standards. Her demands were met by Burdett-Coutts who also helped fund army hospitals based in South Africa.

Angela was also involved in a religious capacity, offering donations for church schools as well as founding and funding bishoprics across the globe in Cape Town, British Columbia and Adelaide. She was a valued and much appreciated benefactor of the Church of England.

Humanitarian causes were felt very keenly by Burdett-Coutts and where she could provide assistance she would. This included providing large amounts of money in order to assist in dealing with the devastation caused by the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.

The famine resulted in destitution, hunger and abject poverty. Her funds helped set up relief centres where basics such as flour, sugar and corn were provided. Her projects for helping the most vulnerable also extended further afield, including Jerusalem where she provided the funds for Charles William Wilson to conduct an ordnance survey in search of a new and vital water supply.

Like her father, she was keen to champion the protection of animals. Her father had played an important role in this; he was the first politician to sponsor an act against the cruelty to animals. Burdett-Coutts subsequently followed in her father’s footsteps when in 1870 she became the President of the Ladies’ Committee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Her close involvement in this project helped provide the foundations for another organisation which continues to exist today with the same goal of providing care and protection for innocent animals, the RSPCA.

Moved by the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier who reportedly spent 14 years guarding his master’s grave until his own death, in 1873 Angela commissioned a commemorative statue and fountain to be erected at the southern end of the George IV Bridge in Edinburgh.

There appeared to be no end to her work and philanthropy, whether she was helping to fund the construction of new primary schools, supporting pioneers in their respective fields or simply providing the basic infrastructure needed so desperately in an area. Her projects were far-reaching and tackled some of the most burning social injustices of her time.

Her work did not go unnoticed and in 1871 she became a Baroness, a title awarded by Queen Victoria in recognition of her philanthropy. Whilst it was not known exactly how much was donated over the years, her vast contributions have been estimated at around £350 million in today’s money.

Angela Burdett-Coutts was a wealthy woman who used her money, class and prestige to make a tangible difference for those less fortunate.

At the age of ninety-two she passed away and was buried at Westminster Abbey in a service attended by royalty as well as those who were recipients of her money from the East End.

Aptly described by King Edward VII: “after my mother, she is the most remarkable woman in the kingdom”.

So, if you have made it through all that, I bet you’ve taken something away, feeling inspired and astounded at the impact this incredible woman made for other women, children, animals and countries across the world.

Love & Light

☾ The Spiritual Mamas x

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