Anna B. Kingsford, M.D.: Catholic Convert, Yea or Nay?
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Anna B. Kingsford, M.D.: Catholic Convert, Yea or Nay? Rßsemary T. VdnArsde/ At the time of Florence Fenwick Miller's death (1854-1935), she had achieved world renown as a feminist leader, and was an acclaimed London journalist and educator. She left among her papers an unpublished autobiography for the first 25 years of her life in which she included vignettes of many of the pioneer British suffrage leaders of the 1870s and 80s, all of whom she had worked with and known well. None is more touching than the 33 closely-written pages she devoted to her dear friend Dr. Anna Kingsford (1846-1888), who was in her own time a charismatic but also an enigmatic figure. Although her life was shortened by an early death from tuberculosis, Kingsford nonetheless managed to leave a lasting mark through earning an M.D. degree from the University of Paris, which only a handful of women managed to accomplish; also, through her activist role as a supporter of anti-vivisection, vegetarianism, and women's rights. As a young woman, Kingsford took the step of converting from her family's Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Later she became a strong advocate of spiritualism. At the time of her death, because she was a well-known public figure, there was considerable speculation in the press over her final beliefs, traditional or spiritualistic? It is this uncertainty which renders Fenwick Miller's intimate account of Kingsford's life so important. A key figure in the assessment of Kingsford's life was Edward Maitland (1824-1897), her self-appointed biographer, who published Anna 56volume 27 number 1 Anna B. Kingsford, M.D. Kingsford, HerUfe, Utters, Diary, and Work (1896) claiming her undiminished allegiance to spiritualism. When this book was published, Fenwick Miller took sharp exception to his views, both privately and in the press. Kingsford and Fenwick Miller had been close friends as very young women, when they had confided in each other some of the innermost secrets of their lives and thoughts. The ensuing account of Kingsford's life, as presented in the "Autobiography," offers persuasive evidence for Fenwick Miller's disagreement with Maidand. Three objectives govern her interpretation: first, to describe Kingsford's outstanding qualities of mind and spirit as a young woman; second, to dispute the facts of Maidand's posthumous biography of her; and third, to discredit her association with Maidand, who, in Fenwick Miller's opinion, misdirected her naturally mystical nature and then was responsible for a distorted account of her later life. Her contention was that Kingsford was led astray both intellectually and spiritually by Maidand. It seems clear that this recollection, although penned more than forty years after Kingsford's death, and by no means certain of publication, was intended to set the record straight about someone for whom Fenwick Miller cared deeply. Kingsford was born September 16, 1846, the last of twelve children, to a wealthy shipowner, John Bonus. As a child she was delicate, imaginative, and wrote graceful poetry and prose from an early age. While still in her teens she published Beatrice, a Tale of Early Christians (1863) and, at twenty, a volume of collected verse, River Reeds (1866). At her father's death in 1865, she inherited uncontrolled possession of an income of some eight hundred to nine hundred pounds a year (314) and was therefore free to pursue her own whims and ambitions. ] Her family hoped, and intended, that she should marry well, but instead her choice fell upon her cousin Algernon Kingsford, who had no money and no prospects. Her mother sent the girl to Switzerland to forget the romance, whereupon the couple eloped for two weeks on "a perfecdy virtuous expedition, she assured me" (315), with the result that the marriage was solemnized immediately after their return in 1867. One of the cousin's major attractions for her, apart Victorian Review57 R. VanArsdel from the fact that he loved her dearly, was that "he promised not to interfere with any career she wished to adopt, and to leave her absolute freedom" (315) to do as she chose with her life. Soon after their union, "Algie" began studies in a special program...


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