Royal rebel: Queen Victoria’s daughter, the suffragist princess

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848 – 1939), pictured above, was the sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their fourth daughter. She was born in Buckingham Palace on 18th March 1848.

From an early age, Princess Louise was artistically talented, and Queen Victoria allowed her to go to art school under the tutelage of the sculptor Mary Thornycroft. The princess later attended the National Art Training School and became one of the first members of the royal family to practise as an artist. She went on to create a statue of her mother.

The statue, made of marble on a Portland stone base, showed Queen Victoria in her coronation robes. It was erected in the gardens of Kensington Palace to commemorate the Golden Jubilee, and on 28 June 1893, Queen Victoria unveiled the statue herself.

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As well as supporting the arts, Princess Louise was an advocate of women’s rights and higher education for women.

In 1864, the Schools Enquiry Commission was set up to survey male and female secondary schools in the UK. The commission found a deficiency in secondary education for girls, and from 1871 Princess Louise became the President of the Women’s Education Union.

The aim of the Union was to form a network of girls’ secondary schools across the country. In the first three years, ten girls’ schools were opened. In 1872, Princess Louise became patron of the Girls’ Day School Trust, established to provide affordable day schooling for girls.

The princess was a supporter of women’s suffrage and was known to have written to social reformer Josephine Butler in praise of her International Women’s Review. Josephine Butler campaigned for women’s suffrage, better education for women, the end of coverture (the legal status of a married woman considered to be under her husband's authority), the abolition of child prostitution and an end to human trafficking.

Princess Louise also made private visits to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a physician and surgeon and co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women.

Throughout her life, Princess Louise used her position to support women’s rights, improve female education and help get women into work. She died at Kensington Palace on 3rd December 1939 at the age of 91.

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