Monday, April 22, 2013

Marvellous People Monday: Angela Burdett-Coutts

Song of the day: Something Wicked - Vernian Process (uh, not meant to reflect our subject in any way.)

So, think that badass ladies are a thing of the present? Well, guess again! Today our subject is the fantastic Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Born in 1814, she became the richest woman in England in 1837 when she inherited three million pounds sterling from her grandfather (which was considerably more then then it is today.) And she did some remarkable things throughout her life, proving once again that money is probably the best superpower of all (or at least the most practical.)

Some may have read about her in Terry Pratchett's most recent novel, Dodger. At least I think it's his most recent novel. *goes to check* Yupp, told you. Still, that man is ridiculously prolific.
A trait she is most notable for in the book is that she helps people by helping them help themselves, which is something we can all respect, I think. Reinforcing the belief that 'with great power comes great responsibility' she became a dedicated philanthropist. One of her first works was establishing, with the help of her good friend Charles Dickens, the Urania Cottage, which helped women escape a life of theft and/or prostitution. A lot of her wealth (most of it, really) she spent on scholarships for other people, and established the so-called 'ragged schools' to provide education for poor children which could not afford it.

She was notable for not not taking sides politically, but, to quote wikipedia, '...she was actively interested in phases of Imperial extension which were calculated to improve the condition of the black races, as in Africa, or the education and relief of the poor or suffering in any part of the world.' I'll just leave that here, since I'm not actually sure what to make of it.

Other of her philanthropic projects included giving help to Turkish peasants and refugees in the 1877 Russo-Turkish war, which won her the Order of the Medjidie, a knightly order of the Ottoman Empire (which was also the only instance of it being presented to a woman.) She also established soup kitchens, the Temperence Society, and financed the first archaeological survey of Jerusalem to improve its sanitation. She even provided financial banking for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, the forerunner of the modern computer!

She was, as mentioned above, a good friend of Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday, and also the Duke of Wellington. She even proposed to the latter despite the forty year age difference, although the Duke rejected her on the basis that she probably oughtn't marry someone old enough to be her grandfather. She later also became a full member of the Royal Society.

Essentially I can't hope to do her life and accomplishments justice, but I respect her immensely for her seeming determination not to die rich. You can find a more complete account of her here and here. Take heart, people. If someone like Angela could be this awesome in the Victorian Era, we're probably just starting.


  1. I like the idea of a Marvelous People Monday. :) You hear so much about the bad people and the terrible things they've done that it drowns out all of the good people and the heroic deeds they've done.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thank you :) That was pretty much the basis for MPM, and this blog overall. There's an awful lot of awful people, but that doesn't mean good and amazing people (and things) don't exist even if we tend to forget them because of the bad ones.