Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829-1925

Alternative names
Birth 1829-06-16
Death 1925-03-23

Biographical notes:

Bessie Rayner Parkes (later Belloc), 1829-1925, was the only daughter of Joseph Parkes, a Birmingham Unitarian, and Elizabeth Parkes, granddaughter of Joseph Priestley. She was a lifelong friend of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and with her was an active supporter of the campaigns for women's work, suffrage, legal rights and education. Bessie Parkes was born in Birmingham on 16 June 1829. Both her father and mother were from long-established Unitarian families. However, despite their radical liberal politics both Joseph and Elizabeth believed in an orthodox and conventional upbringing for their daughter. This sometimes gave rise to friction, particularly with her father. The family moved to London in 1832, to a house in Great George Street, Westminster. At the age of 11, Bessie boarded for a time at a Unitarian school for girls run by William Field at Leam, in Warwickshire. Neither Bessie nor her brother were robust and the family spent time at Hastings for the curative sea air. It was here that she first met Barbara Leigh Smith, probably in 1846. In 1850 her brother Priestley died, and Bessie, who lived at home until her marriage at the age of 38, became her parents' only surviving child. In her early twenties, she began a career in journalism, writing for local newspapers and radical journals. She went on to publish volumes of poetry, essays and memoirs. In the 1850s she contributed both as a conference speaker and writer to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science and in 1854 published 'Remarks on the Education of Girls'. In 1857, with financial backing from Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, the two women established a journal for 'working women' which Bessie Parkes edited from 1858 until 1862 as the English Woman's Journal. Key issues in the Journal were employment, the need for education and training and women's philanthropic responsibilities. The Journal offices were the headquarters of the Langham Place Group and a focus for employment and emigration issues. Among her friends at this time were George Eliot, Adelaide Procter, Anna Jameson, Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti and the Howitt family. In 1862, Bessie Parkes began to retreat from her work for the Journal. Her health was suffering and she found the frictions within the office stressful. She was also becoming increasingly attracted to the intellectual appeal of Catholicism and in 1864 she was formally converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Three years later, on a protracted visit to France, she met Louis Belloc whom she married the same year. In the following five years she lived almost entirely in France at La Celle St Cloud near Paris. In her husband's family, she found a sympathetic literary and religious circle with whom she kept in close touch, even after she was widowed in 1872. Her mother-in-law, Louise Swanton Belloc was a particular friend and mentor. BRP had a daughter, Marie, in 1868 (later Mrs Belloc Lowndes), and a son, Hilaire (the poet), in 1870. She continued to write, publishing articles and volumes of essays well into her seventies. She died at Slindon in Sussex on 23 March 1925.

From the guide to the Personal Papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes, 1812-1984, (Girton College Library, University of Cambridge)

Bessie Rayner Parkes Belloc, English poet, feminist, activist and journalist.

Belloc was a central figure in the early years of the women's rights movement in England. Parkes converted to Catholicism in 1864 and in 1867 maried Louis Belloc. The two were maried for five years and had two children, Marie Adelaide (later Mrs. Frederic Lownder) and Joseph Hilaire Pierre (known as Hilaire Belloc). Louis Belloc died in 1872 and Bessie, with her children, moved from France to London.

Jeanette Garr Washburn Kelsey, American writer.

Kelsey, born in 1850 in Wisconsin, married Albert Warren Kelsey (1840-1921), an industrialist with whom she had nine children. In 1915 she published the fictional work, Clouded Amber, under the pseudonym Patience Warren.

From the description of Bessie Rayner Belloc - Kelsey Family collection, 1895-1930, undated (bulk 1908-1919). (Boston College). WorldCat record id: 33218506


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  • Women journalists
  • Poets, English--20th century--Correspondence
  • Authors, English--20th century--Correspondence
  • Women's education
  • Women authors, English--20th century--Correspondence
  • Women's rights
  • Women's employment
  • Women's suffrage
  • Literature
  • Catholicism


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