Papers of Lydia Becker

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of 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

Lydia Becker (1827-1890) was born in the Manchester area in Feb 1827 the eldest of 15 children the surviving siblings being Mary, Esther, Edward, Wilfred, Arthur, John and Charles. Her father, 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. Hannibal 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. Her early life was conventional her main interests were in astronomy and botany, and she wrote one book on each subject. 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 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 Feb 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 Manchester School Board, she was also the founder-editor of the 'Woman's Suffrage Journal' in 1870. In the 1870s 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. She organised a significant repeal meeting in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 1870 with JB, Elizabeth Wolstenholme and James Stuart. She also served on the LNA Executive Committee between 1872-1873. She introduced the first motion against Bruce's Bill at the Conference of Repeal Organisations, 29 Feb 1872. However, 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. In the later part of that decade she was 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, her health began to deteriorate and she withdrew from active work in 1889 and travelled to Aix-les-Bains to recuperate. On the 21 Jul 1890 she died in Geneva, Switzerland having contracted diphtheria.

Arrangement

7LEB consists of notebooks and publications; and genealogical material.

At some point during the 1970s a large number of letters were removed from the collection and are now in The Women's Library, Autograph Letter Collection volume 28. Volume 28 part A (ref 9/28/A) contains letters to and from Lydia Becker; part B (ref 9/28/B) contains family letters.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. 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 WTL Becker, with the papers passing to the Library as a bequest upon his death.

Other Finding Aids

Fawcett Library Catalogue.

Custodial History

The papers on Lydia E Becker and the Becker Family were donated to the Fawcett Library in 1969 by Miss Becker's nephew Mr WTL Becker of Jersey. At some point during the 1970s a large number of letters were removed from the Becker collection (ref. 7LEB) and placed in the Autograph Letter Collection, volume 28 (ref. 9/28) which are available on microfiche.

Related Material

At some point during the 1970s a large number of letters were removed from the collection and are now in The Women's Library, Autograph Letter Collection volume 28. Volume 28 part A (ref 9/28/A) contains letters to and from Lydia Becker; part B (ref 9/28/B) contains family letters.

Also held at The Women's Library is the volume of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage (ref. 2MNS).

Manchester Archives and Local Studies holds Lydia Becker's correspondence as secretary of Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage (1867-1890), reference M50/1.

Geographical Names