Jeanie, an 'Army of One': Mrs Nassau Senior, 1828-1877, the First Woman in Whitehall

Overview

This first full biography of Mrs. Nassau Senior, 1822–1877, tells how an extraordinary woman escaped from the constraints of Victorian domesticity to become the first woman in Whitehall and one of Britain’s great social reformers. An ardent Christian Socialist radical, like her brother Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays), Jeanie Senior pioneered social work with Octavia Hill, co-founded the British Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian war and battled as ‘Government Inspector’ on behalf of exploited ...

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Overview

This first full biography of Mrs. Nassau Senior, 1822–1877, tells how an extraordinary woman escaped from the constraints of Victorian domesticity to become the first woman in Whitehall and one of Britain’s great social reformers. An ardent Christian Socialist radical, like her brother Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays), Jeanie Senior pioneered social work with Octavia Hill, co-founded the British Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian war and battled as ‘Government Inspector’ on behalf of exploited Workhouse girls. She was ferociously attacked for advocating the fostering of all pauper orphans rather than their incarceration and for indicting Workhouse ‘Barrack’ schools for producing prostitution fodder. Her fight to defend her findings against male hostility politicized her and she became an icon for the late 19th century women’s movement. … Jeanie Senior was also a significant figure in the worlds of art, music and literature, even being, it is argued here, the vital inspiration for her friend George Eliot in creating Dorothea, heroine of Middlemarch. Her life was a great ‘human story’ as she struggled in the teeth of multiple bereavement, an unhappy marriage and cancer in order to rescue others more desperate and vulnerable still. Florence Nightingale told her she had been ‘a noble Army of one’ and later grieved that her ‘premature death was a national and irreparable loss’.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This absorbing book is the first full-length biography of Mrs. Nassau Senior, as she was commonly known, the first woman to be appointed a civil servant in Britain. Her name is rarely remembered these days, often merely footnoted in biographies of Victorian male contemporaries, including her famous brother Thomas Hughes, the author of the popular novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857). But drawing upon previously untapped sources – especially letters written between Jeanie Nassau Senior and her only child Walter, and a network of friends, including George Eliot, Octavia Hill, Jenny Lind, Julia Margaret Cameron, and George Frederick Watts – Sybil Oldfield presents a poignant picture of the private and public struggles of a woman deserving attention. … The story is sympathetically told, with a wealth of fascinating historical detail. It adds considerably to our knowledge about the struggles that women faced in the past, not only when entering the public sphere of employment but also when trapped in unhappy marriages.”  —Victorian Studies

“This wise, tender and engaging portrait of Jeanie Senior, champion of the workhouse girl, reveals not just that she was admired by the great and good of Victorian Britain, but that now we must count her as one of them. A wonderful book.”  —Seth Koven, Rutgers University, author, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London

“The fascinating biography of a Victorian who should never have been forgotten. Both the poignant private life and the heroic public life of ‘Mrs Nassau Senior’ here find an ebullient, witty and passionate chronicler.”  —Barbara Hardy, Professor Emeritus, University of London, author, Forms of Feeling in Victorian Fiction and George Eliot, A Critic’s Biography

“The best outcome of gender studies has been the uncovering of neglected woman pioneers of the past ... [In] this meticulously researched and beautifully written book, Oldfield has brought one of these stalwarts back to life ... Anyone interested in the Victorian period will find this account of Jeanie Senior’s struggles informative, absorbing - and intensely moving.”  —Jacqueline Bannerjee, Contributing Editor, Victorian Web

“Biographies post-Lytton Strachey that continue to insist on the essential goodness of their Victorian main subject are hard to find.... [Hence] to read about someone so intelligently humane who was also possessed with an unstoppable drive to do the right thing, even when she was dying, is like taking a mental holiday.”  —Nicholas Tucker, The Tablet

“The best outcome of gender studies has been the uncovering of neglected women pioneers of the past... [In] this meticulously researched and beautifully written book, Oldfield has brought one of these stalwarts back to life.... Any one interested in the Victorian period will find this account of [Jeanie Senior's] struggles informative, absorbing and intensely moving.”  —Jacquline Banerjee, The Victorian Web

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781845192549
  • Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2008
  • Pages: 348
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sybil Oldfield is Research Reader in English, University of Sussex. Her books include Spinsters of this Parish – F. M. Mayor and Mary Sheepshanks (1984); Women Against the Iron Fist – Anti-militarist thinking 1900–1989 (1989); Doers of the Word: British Women Humanitarians, 1900–1950: a Biographical Dictionary (2001 and 2007); and, with Gwenyth Shaw, ed., The Old Familiar Faces, Poems on the Experience of Ageing (2007).

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