Hamish Riley-Smith

Rare Books And Manuscripts

J S Mill’s step-daughter and ‘chief comfort’
HELEN TAYLOR [1831-1907] autograph letter signed to Mrs S Woolcott Browne (?) Avignon 12 March 1891
16.5 x 10.5 cm, 3 pages, autograph letter in ink, paper embossed at head HT, a few blemishes and holes to the second leaf where formerly mounted, otherwise in good condition.

Helen Taylor, feminist, was the daughter of Harriet Taylor Mill and after her death in 1858 she devoted herself entirely to Mill and became his ‘chief comfort’. She took charge of his correspondence and helped him in his work. Together they promoted women’s rights. After his death she edited Mill’s Autobiography 1873.
Helen Taylor’s letters are rarely on the market.
The letter is addressed to ‘Dear Madam’, which is probably Mrs S Woolcott Browne, Hon Secretary of the Moral Reform Union, who was retiring and to be succeeded by Helen Taylor.
Helen Taylor writes that she is unable to leave Avignon to attend ‘the conference of 18th March’ as she is recovering from ‘the effects of a carriage accident’. She sends £5 ‘my subscription which I have increased for this year as there seems need for a renewal of energy in the great work of opposition to the State regulation of vice’.
The ‘conference’ was a gathering at the offices of the Ladies National Association of the Moral Reform Union at the home of Mrs Muller at 86 Portland Place. A paper was read on the moral responsibilities of women in public life by Mrs Hugh Price-Hughes, and another by Mrs Morgan Brown on teaching moral questions to the young.
The Moral Reform Union was created in 1881 by Dr Elizabeth Blackwell and Mrs S Woolcott Browne. Its objective was the promotion of ‘pure family life’ and ‘the spread of pure literature bearing on social and political morality’. In the first year it had 68 members including Helen Taylor. By 1891 the organisation was already in decline, its finances strained and supported by Helen Taylor as its major financial backer. She resigned her membership in April 1895
“The enduring link between the MRU and the world and work of Helen’s step-father [John Stuart Mill] can be seen in that its major campaign was for the abolition of the Contagious Diseases Act...” Janet Smith, p. 228. The Acts were finally rescinded in 1886.

See: The Englishwoman's Review of Social and Industrial Questions: 1891 , Moral Reform Union. Edited by J H Murray, Myra Stark. pp.130
See also Heloise Brown: The Truest Form of Patriotism: Pacifist Feminism in Britain, 1870-1902. Manchester University Press 2013
See Janet Smith: The Feminism and Political Radicalism of Helen Taylor in Victorian Britain and Ireland. October 2014 pp.226-230 Thesis submitted for PhD awarded by London Metropolitan University.

[page 1]
12 Mch 1891

Dear Madam
Up to now I
had hoped that the affects
of a carriage accident
from which I am
suffering would have worn
off in time for me to
travel to England for the
Conference of 18th March.
Having left my room

[page 2]
for the first time since
the accident yesterday
I am sorry to find that
I have counted too much
upon my strength and
that I shall not be able
to leave the house by
the beginning of next
I regret very much
not to be able to

[page 3]
attend the Conference; but
must content myself with
sending my earnest wishes
for its success, along
with my subscription
which I have increased
for this year as there
seems need for a
revival of energy in the
great work of opposition
to the State regulation
of vice.
yours truly
Helen Taylor


Click image(s) to view full size