1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cons, Emma

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CONS, EMMA (1838-1912), English philanthropist, was born in London March 4 1838. As a young woman she studied art, but, owing to an acquaintance with Miss Octavia Hill, became interested in social work, and in particular in questions of housing. She became best known, however, for her work in connexion with Morley College and the Royal Victoria Hall, Waterloo Road, generally known as the “Old Vic.” At one time a well-known theatre, it had degenerated into a disreputable haunt where nothing but the lowest melodramas were played. Miss Cons, whose social work in Lambeth had made her well acquainted with the difficulties of providing decent amusement at a cheap rate for the people of the neighbourhood, obtained an interest in the building about 1880. It was enlarged and improved, the sale of drink was forbidden, and miscellaneous programmes of music, drama, and lectures were embarked upon. In 1882 the wealthy manufacturer and philanthropist Samuel Morley began to take an interest in the affairs of the Hall, and in 1884 he joined the executive committee. He contributed a large amount of money to the scheme, and his unfailing sympathy and practical business advice were of the greatest value. His death in 1886 was a great blow to the work, but his name has been perpetuated in the foundation of the Morley College for working men and women, which developed from the lectures given at the “Old Vic.” Its first vice-principal was Miss Caroline Martineau, a friend and co-worker of Miss Cons, and the institution now has over a thousand members. Miss Cons's work bore fruit after some years in the excellence of the entertainment provided and the high repute which the “Old Vic” attained. In 1889 concert performances of grand opera were started, and in 1896 a chorus was formed, thus making it possible adequately to present the operas. In 1905 symphony concerts were embarked on, and continued for several seasons. Miss Cons was elected to the first London County Council (1888), and was chosen an alderman, but retired owing to difficulties raised as to the right of women to sit. She died at Hever, Kent, July 24 1912.

Her sister, Ellen Cons (1840-1920), was also closely associated with many philanthropic schemes, and was one of the governors of the “Old Vic.” She died in London June 25 1920.