Blackburn, Helen (DNB12)

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BLACKBURN, HELEN (1842–1903), pioneer of woman's suffrage, born at Knightstown, Valencia Island, co. Kerry, on 25 May 1842, was only surviving daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, civil engineer, manager of the Knight of Kerry's slate quarries on Valencia from 1837. Her mother was Isabella, youngest daughter of Humble Lamb of Ryton Hall, co. Durham.

The father (1811-1897), who left Ireland for London about 1859, was an ingenious inventor (cf. Indexes, 1854-63, Patent Office Library). The Blackburn steam car which he patented 1877 was an early anticipation of the motor-car (see Field, 23 Nov. 1878, p. 660; W. W. Beaumont's Cantor Lectures, 1896, p. 29; his Motor Vehicles, 1900, i. 41, 320; and Rhys Jenkins's Motor Cars, 1902, p. 116). Blackburn also patented improvements in velocipedes; his death at the age of eighty-five resulted from an accident while riding near Tunbridge Wells, on 13 Jan. 1897. Some relics of Charles I which he inherited were sold subsequently to King Edward VII. Miss Blackburn, who early developed literary and artistic tastes, soon interested herself in the woman's suffrage movement. From 1874 to 1895 she acted in London as secretary to the central committee of the National Society, which was founded in 1867. But she frequently visited Bristol, and from 1880 to 1895 was also secretary of the Bristol and West of England Suffrage Society. A series of historical portraits of notable women which she formed for the International Exhibition at Chicago of 1893 she presented to the women's hall of University College, Bristol. She was sole editor of the 'Englishwoman's Review' from 1881 to 1890; from that year Miss Ann Mackenzie was joint editor with her. In 1895 Miss Blackburn gave up most of her public work to look after her father. She was well versed in the history of the suffrage movement, and her 'Women's Suffrage: a Record of the Movement in the British Isles' (1902) remains the standard work.

She died at Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, on 11 Jan. 1903, and was buried at Brompton cemetery. A crayon portrait by Miss Guinness, on her retirement from the Bristol secretaryship, was presented to University College there, and hangs in the women students' room. By her will she bequeathed her excellent library of books upon women's interests to Girton College, Cambridge. A loan fund for training young women, established in her memory in 1905, is administered by the Society for Promoting the Employment of Gentlewomen.

Besides the books cited, Miss Blackburn wrote:

  1. 'A Handbook for Women engaged in Social and Political Work,' Bristol, 1881; new edit, enlarged, with two charts, 1895.
  2. 'Because: Reasons why Parliamentary Franchise should be no longer denied to Women,' 1888.
  3. (with E. J. Boucherett [q. v. Suppl. II]) 'The Condition of Working Women,' 1896.
  4. 'Words of a Leader,' 1897.
  5. (with N. Vynne) 'Women under the Factory Acts,' 1903.

[The Times, 12 Jan. 1903; Englishwoman's Review, xxxiv. 1, 73; information from Miss FitzGerald, Valencia Island; personal knowledge.]

C. F. S.