Bertha Honoré Palmer and her Board of Lady Managers set out to celebrate and honor women of the world who were dedicated to making a difference through their art, their philanthropy, and their beliefs at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.
One such woman who was invited to speak at The Woman’s Building was lady Henry Somerset, an advocate of women’s rights and the Temperance Movement.
Born to London nobility, Lady Isabella Caroline Somers-Cocks was the first born of Charles Somers-Cocks, third Earl of Somers, and his wife Virginia. Fun fact, Isabella was also the first cousin of the writer Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen. The family was deeply religious and raised as an Anglican, young Isabella had aspirations to become a nun.
But, it was not to be. In 1872, she married Lord Henry Somerset and two years later, they had a son. However, what seemed to be an idyllic marriage was doomed to failure as Lord Henry was homosexual. Because homosexuality was against the law in England at the time, Isabella, as a woman, was expected to keep her husband’s secret and remain in an unhappy marriage. But this wouldn’t do. She separated from Lord Henry and sued for custody of their son, thus exposing her husband’s infidelities.
She won custody of her son and Lord Henry moved to Italy, but because of her deep religious convictions, Lady Henry would not divorce her husband. Although she still enjoyed her life as a titled, wealthy heiress, the custody battle, the couple’s separation and her husband’s sexual orientation resulted in scandal and Lady Henry was shunned by London society. She moved to Ledbury and immersed herself in the raising of her son and charity work. When her father died in 1883 he left her vast estates in Surrey, properties in London, and the slums in the East End.
Her interest in Temperance came about when a close, personal friend committed suicide while intoxicated. She was also alarmed by the considerable occurrence of public drunkenness she witnessed in the streets of London’s East End, particularly in children. She became a member of the Order of Rechabites, an organization dedicated to the promotion of total abstinence from alcoholic beverages.
In 1890, Lady Henry was elected president of the British Women’s Temperance Association. The following year, she travelled to the United States, where she spoke at the first World’s Christian Temperance Association convention in Boston. In 1893, she would return to the United States to speak at the Woman’s Building on women’s rights and temperance at the request of the Board of Lady Managers.
In 1895, Lady Henry opened the Colony for Women Inebriates, a facility intended to rehabilitate alcoholics, in Surrey, England where she devoted the rest of her life to the women who’d come seeking help from their addictions.
Did you know that Annie Oakley believed in temperance? Raised a Quaker, she never touched alcohol. I wonder if she went to see Lady Henry speak at The Woman’s Building of the Columbian Exposition in 1893?
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Her interest in temperance was born of a personal tragedy when a close friend of hers committed suicide whilst under the influence of alcohol.
In 1890, she became the president of the British Women’s Temperance Association,