Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bodichon, Barbara Leigh Smith

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BODICHON, BARBARA LEIGH SMITH (1827–1891), benefactress of Girton College, was the eldest child of Benjamin Smith [see under Smith, William, 1756–1835], and was born at Wathington, Sussex, on 8 April 1827. She early showed artistic ability and was taught water-colour drawing by William Henry Hunt [q. v.] and other artists, and was taken to visit J. M. W. Turner in his studio. Her father's political associations made her acquainted with most of the anti-corn-law politicians, and she took great interest in all questions relating to the education of women and the general improvement of their position in the state. She wrote a very brief but lucid pamphlet on the laws relating to women, which was of service in procuring the passing of the Married Woman's Property Act. She had a house in Algiers, and in 1857 married Dr. Eugene Bodichon, whom she had met there. He died in 1886, and they had no children. She built for herself a small house at Sealands Gate, in Sussex, and had also a house in London, 5 Blandford Square, and at all her residences exercised much hospitality. William Allingham, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Bell Scott, Richard Cobden, and their friends were often her guests, and she was a friend of Marian Evans, best known as George Eliot. She recognised the authorship of 'Adam Bede,' and wrote at once to the authoress, who afterwards gave her a copy of the three volumes inscribed 'To Barbara L. S. Bodichon, the friend who first recognised me in this book, I give it as a remembrance of the moment when she cheered me by that recognition and by her joy in it.—George Eliot, 7 July 1859.' The personal description of Romola was drawn from George Eliot's recollections of her. She may justly be regarded as the foundress of Girton College, the plan of which was proposed by her between 1860 and 1870, and to which, when it began at Hitchin, she gave a thousand pounds, and afterwards bequeathed more than ten thousand pounds. She worked assiduously at water-colour painting, and often exhibited pictures. Her talent lay in open-air effects of sunlight and cloud, inland and on the coast, and such great artists as Corot, Daubeny, and Henry Moore admired her work.

She had a small house at Zennor in Cornwall, and while sketching there in May 1878 had an attack of hemiplegia. She partially recovered, but had further attacks and died at Scalands Gate, Sussex, in 1891. Her portrait was more than once painted, but never well, and the best likeness of her is a drawing by Samuel Laurence. Letters and accounts of her are in Mr. Cross's 'Life of George Eliot.'

[Personal knowledge; papers and letters.]

N. M.