Eliza Wigham

ARTICLE SOURCE: >> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliza_Wigham

Elizabeth (Eliza) Wigham (23 February 1820 – 3 November 1899) was a leading suffragist and abolitionist in 19th-century Edinburgh, Scotland. She was involved in several major campaigns to improve women’s rights in 19th-century Britain, and has been noted as one of the leading citizens of Edinburgh. Her stepmother, Jane Smeal, was a leading activist in Glasgow, and her brother John Richardson Wigham was a prominent lighthouse engineer.

Photo: Public Domain – http://www.nls.uk/collections/topics/slavery


Eliza Wigham was born on 23 February 1820 in Edinburgh to John Tertius Wigham, a cotton and shawl manufacturer, and Jane (née Richardson). The family grew to include six children, residing at 5 South Gray Street in Edinburgh. The Wighams were a part of a network of leading Quaker anti-slavery families of the period operating in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Dublin. Eliza’s mother, older sister, and younger brother died when she was around ten years old. In 1840 her father remarried to Jane Smeal.

Campaign work

Wigham was the treasurer of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society. Unlike other suffragist organisations which splintered, the Edinburgh organisation was still running in 1870. Credit for this is given to Wigham and her stepmother Jane Smeal.

In 1840, Wigham and her friend Elizabeth Pease Nichol travelled to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention, which began on 12 June. Also in attendance at this event were British activists like Lucy Townsend and Mary Anne Rawson and also American activists including Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The female delegates were obliged to sit separately.

Wigham, her stepmother, and some of their friends set up the Edinburgh chapter of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage. Eliza and her friend Agnes McLaren became the secretaries,[8] Priscilla Bright McLaren was the president, and Elizabeth Pease was the treasurer.

In 1863 Wigham served on the committee of Clementia Taylor’s Ladies’ London Emancipation Society with Mary Estlin. In the same year, she wrote The Anti-Slavery Cause in America and its Martyrs, a short book intended to influence the British government. At the time it was feared that Britain might side with the Confederates in the American Civil War and thus would be supporting slavery.

Wigham was also involved with the campaign to repeal acts of Parliament which aimed to contain prostitution. The Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts was formed in response to these acts, and was successful in its aims.

Life as a carer

Wigham’s father died in 1864, after which Eliza continued to live at her stepmother Jane’s house on South Gray Street in Edinburgh. She cared for Jane until the latter died in November 1888 following months of ill health. After her brother’s death in 1897, Eliza sold the property to enable her to move to Dublin, where she could in turn be cared for by her relatives.

Wigham died in Foxrock near Dublin in 1899.


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