Lessons from the Medieval Convent: Adelaide Procter’s “A Legend of Provence”

  • Christine A. Colón

Abstract

In 1855, the poet Adelaide Procter joined Barbara Bodichon, Bessie Rayner Parkes, and other women to gather signatures and lobby Parliament to support the Married Women’s Property Act. Even though this petition eventually failed, the process of collecting the signatures proved to have long-term benefits, for, as Bessie Rayner Parkes acknowledges in “A Review of the Last Six Years,” “people interested in the question were brought into communication in all parts of the kingdom, and … the germs of an effective movement were scattered far and wide.”1 The core group of these women became known as the Langham Place Circle, which has been called “the first organized feminist group” in Britain.2 Together, these women (who would also come to include Jessie Boucherette and Emily Faithfull) founded the English Woman’s Journal and the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW). Procter eagerly embraced the activism of the Langham Place Circle. Not only was she a member from its inception, but she also became an important force behind SPEW. According to Jessie Boucherette, “In almost every committee there is a leading person, an animating spirit, some one, in fact, who does more than a fair share of work and does it well, and thus gains influence over the rest; this was the part taken by Miss Procter.”3 As secretary of SPEW, Procter would have become very familiar with the desperate plight of many middle-class women in her society, for the number of women seeking employment quickly overwhelmed their resources.

Keywords

Europe Amid Lution Candida Ghost 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Bessie Rayner Parkes [Belloc], “A Review of the Last Six Years,” in Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and the Langham Place Group, ed. Candida Ann Lacey (New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), 217.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Sheila Herstein, A Mid-Victorian Feminist, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 78.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jessie Boucherette, “Adelaide Anne Procter,” The English Woman’s Journal 13 (1864): 19.Google Scholar
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    Through reforms in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, convents gradually lost their independence as they were controlled more directly by male supervisors. Rather than concentrating on the tensions that could arise as nuns tried to accomplish their goals under the strict control of male leadership, Procter represents a world in which male authority is absent and seems to focus on a particular time when abbesses and nuns had the freedom to use their talents to the fullest. See Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, vol. 1 (New York: Harper, 1988) for a discussion of the developments affecting medieval convent life.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine A. Colón

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