Mrs Elizabeth Lewis of Blackburn
Her first efforts at public speaking ended in tears, yet Elizabeth Lewis went on to become a dedicated campaigner for temperance. She became so confident that teetotalism offered the best solution to many social ills that she even waylaid the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, on his way home from church to press her case. Mrs Gladstone actually agreed to meet with her, although the prime minister remained unmoved.
Elizabeth lived in Blackburn and, supported by her husband, set up a mission there. She became a member of The British Women’s Temperance Association. Joseph Livesey, known as ‘the father of teetotalism’ gave her the sobriquet ‘The Drunkard’s Friend’.
But the drink trade did not appreciate her efforts. One publican (no doubt angered by the open-air services she would hold outside his premises) spread rumours about her, effectively accusing her of adultery with her young missionary. In 1889, the law did not provide redress in such cases. Casting aspersions on a woman’s morals was insufficient grounds for slander – some pecuniary loss had to be proved.
Elizabeth, through her connections in the temperance movement, was able to engage a QC, Mr Gulley. He not only secured her damages, arguing her mission was financially prejudiced; he subsequently pushed through The House of Lords an amendment to the law giving women the same rights as men when accused of adultery or unchaste behaviour.
So hats off to Elizabeth Lewis, temperance reformer. She not only helped a great many men and women improve their lives; opposition to her work brought about a small, but important step, on the long road to equality of the sexes.