Records of the Becker Family including papers of Lydia Becker

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Lydia Becker's notebooks, articles by and concerning her, book manuscripts, copies of her letters written out by her sister, lock of hair, notebook of obituaries, biography; two folders of genealogical materials on the Becker family, Becker family diary, notebooks on Leigh family pedigree and German relatives, invoices, receipts and bills, folder of family papers, copies of family tomb inscriptions, wallet containing property administration papers, photographs, probate documents; letters to and from Lydia Becker; LEB's draft will, death certificate, receipt for burial, family suffrage organisation papers concerning her death; Becker family letters.

Administrative / Biographical History

Hannibal Leigh Becker (1803-1877) was the son of Ernest Hannibal Becker (1771-1852) a German immigrant who had settled in England and become a naturalised citizen. He married Mary Duncroft and became the proprietor of first a calico-printing works at Reddish and then a chemical works at Altham in Lancashire. The couple had fifteen children. The eldest, Lydia Becker was born in the Manchester area in 1827 and was soon joined by the surviving siblings Mary, Esther, Edward, Wilfred, Arthur, John and Charles.

Her early life was conventional and her main interests were in astronomy and botany. In 1865, the family moved to central Manchester where Becker founded the Manchester Ladies' Literary Society, which was a centre for scientific interests and at the first meeting she a paper written by Darwin for the event was read. The previous year she had attended a Social Science Association meeting and heard Barbara Bodichon lecture on women's emancipation. Bodichon encouraged her to contact Emily Davis. Through these individuals, Becker became involved with local suffrage groups. In February 1867, she was named honorary secretary of the Manchester Committee for Women's Suffrage and was instrumental in rewriting its constitution as the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage. In 1868 she became treasurer of the Married Women's Property Committee. She travelled about the country organising meetings and support for the issue throughout the 1860s and was involved in the campaign to have women ratepayers included on the electoral register. She worked alongside Jacob Bright as the parliamentary agent of the National Society for Women's Suffrage to have the amendment to the Municipal Franchise Bill passed in 1869 so that this could be achieved at a local, if not a national, level.

However, her efforts were not restricted to suffrage. In 1870, she was the first woman to be elected to the school boards. In the 1870's she was active in the campaign to have the Contagious Diseases Acts repealed and worked beside Josephine Butler and Elizabeth Wolstenholme in the Vigilance Association for the Defence of Personal Rights. When parliamentary developments in 1874 led many to believe that the vote might be granted to single though not married women, Becker pragmatically supported this as an interim measure, leading to criticism from the Pankhursts, the Brights and Wolstenholme Elmy. However, she retained a great deal of support in the movement and in the later part of that decade she became secretary to the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and remained with it when the London societies divided over opposition to the CD Acts in 1888. However, around this time her health began to deteriorate and she withdrew from active work in 1889 and travelled to Aix-les-Bains to recuperate. However, on the 21st July 1890 she died in Geneva having contracted diphtheria.

Arrangement

The Becker material falls into two main parts. The first is this archival collection. At some point during the 1970s a large number of letters were removed from the collection and placed in the Fawcett Library Autograph Collection, volume 28 (ref. GB 106 9/28) which are available on microfilm.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for consultation. Intending readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

The papers on Lydia E. Becker and the Beckers were loaned to the Fawcett Library in 1969 by the family.

Other Finding Aids

Handlist.

Related Material

See also Women's Library Autograph Letter Collection (ref. GB 106 9/28) and Lydia Becker's correspondence as secretary of Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage (1867-90) in Manchester Archives and Local Studies reference M50/1.