Biographical notesLydia Ernestine Becker is now better known for her pioneering work in the field of women's suffrage than as a natural scientist. She was very clearly a remarkable and practical woman, traits perhaps fostered in part by her position as the eldest of the 15 children of an industrial chemist. In her lifetime she upset influential figures of the establishment but, no doubt, much of her notoriety stemmed from strongly held beliefs that women were intellectually equal to men and as such deserved the same opportunities. This was a deeply unpopular idea at the time and her campagning for women's enfranchisement had to wait half a century before fruition.
|1827||Cooper Street, Manchester|
|1834||(by) Altham, Accrington|
|1837||(approx) Reddish, Lancs.|
|1865||10 Grove Street, Ardwick, Manchester|
|1877||155 Shrewsbury Street, Manchester|
|Annotated family tree of the Beckers of Altham and Foxdenton.|
|She has a reasonably comprehensive entry in Wikipedia.|
|Several specimens in MANC, mainly sheets from the 1864 RHS Botanical Competition, have been scanned and documented by the Herbaria at Home project. They bear the stamp J. Lydia Becker - is this one of her brother Wilfred's grand-children?|
Blackburn, H. 1902. Women's suffrage: a record of the women's suffrage movement in the British Isles with biographical sketches of Miss Becker. Williams & Norgate, London.
(Internet Archive - full text)
|The linked transcript of a verse by the satirist William Gaspey, written in 1868, is a clear demonstration of the way in which her opinions were viewed (and feared?) by many at the time.|
|1827 February 24 : Birth||
1827 November 20: St James', Altham, Lancs., register
Records the baptism of Lydia Ernestine, daughter of Hannibal Leigh and Mary Becker, merchant, of Foxdenton Hall. It adds that she was born on February 24 of that year.
|1843 : Father bankrupt||
11843 June 24: Perry's Bankrupt Gazette
... Hannibal Leigh Becker and John Leigh Becker, Manchester, co. Lancaster, and of Reddish-mills, same co. calico printers, dlrs. ch. and copartners, trading under the firm of Becker, Brothers, and Compant; surren. 4th July, 2d Aug. one pr. Court, Manchester - Official assignee, Hobson - Sols. Messrs. Baxter, Lincoln's inn-fields, and Sale and Warrington, Manchester
|1844 : Germany||Lydia spent an extended period of time at the hydropathic clinic in Elgersburg run by her father's cousin, Dr Hermann Piutti. She returned late the following year. The trip was intended to improve her general health, which was regarded as poor, and it is clear that during this time she became proficient in the German language.|
|1863 : Charles Darwin||
Lydia exchanged several letters with Charles Darwin regarding a bi-sexual form of Silene dioica that she had found at Altham. She sent him seed.
(Darwin Correspondence Project)
|1864 : BAAS||The records of the British Association for the Advancement of Science show that Lydia was elected a member in 1864. At this time it was one of the few scientific societies which admitted women to membership. She attended all subsequent meetings of this society up to 1889 (Parker, J. E. 2001. Lydia Becker's 'school for science': a challenge to domesticity, Women's History Review, 10:4, 629-650.)|
|1864 January : Publication||
Botany for Novices
This slim, and financially unsuccessful publication was intended to have a companion volume on astronomy but it never progressed beyond a manuscript. She sent a copy to Darwin (see above link).
|1865 : RHS Botanical Competition||A Silver Medal for best collection of plants from Lancashire and a Gold Medal for one of the best collections overall, was awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society to "Miss Lydia E. Becker, Altham, Accrington."|
|1867 January 30 : Manchester Ladies' Literary Society||
11867 February 1: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser.
MANCHESTER LADIES' LITERARY SOCIETY. - The first monthly meeting of this society was held on Wednesday afternoon, at the Royal Institution, Mosley-street. After a short address from the President, a paper was read on the "Movements and habits of climbing plants," communicated by Charles Darwin, Esq., F.R.S., &c., which excited much interest. A note was also read from Professor Babington, of Cambridge, expressing satisfaction at the establishment of the society, and wishing it success.
Lydia Becker was the founder and first President of this organisation.
|1874 : BAAS - Belfast||
11874 August 25: London Daily News
THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION AT BELFAST ... In Belfast, where educational provisions are known to be numerous and of the highest quality, and where the education of women is elevated into a prominent position, nothing could have been more attractive than the questions discussed, and the authors were no others than Miss Lydia Becker and Miss Beedy, prominent advocates of the Women's Suffrage Movement, and Mrs Gray, whose name is known in connection with educational movements in London. ...
Miss Becker, whos reception indicated how much the curiosity of the audience was centered in her, was, as she invariably is, practical, athough there was a marked contrast between Mrs Grey's rhetorical address and Miss Becker's description of the practical difficulties in enforcing the Elementary Education Act, even though it occupied but a few minutes of time, it was loudly applauded. Miss Becker, in fact, from her labours on the Manchester School Board, was able to speak with authority; and nothing is truer than such authority everywhere commands respect.
|1884 : BAAS - Montreal||
Lydia Becker attended the BAAS meeting in Montreal, sailing from Liverpool on the "Vancouver" on August 9.
11884 September 11: Glasgow Herald
THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION IN CANADA ... Mrs E.M. King arrived some time ago, and signified her willingness to enlighten the people of Montreal on the subject of dress reform; but the ladies of Montreal have not shown much enthusiasm to have their minds improved and their skirts divided, and King has been allowed to languish in obscurity. Miss Lydia Becker is somewhere in the ?? but she has not yet discovered herself to the general public. When the meetings begin her voice will doubtless be heard in Section 7.
This patronising attitude is rather alarming considering Lydia had been an active member of the BAAS for 20 years.
1884 September 16: Glasgow Herald
1THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION IN CANADA ... The geologists were chiefly engaged with that fruitful topic of dissention - ice. But before the serious work of quarrelling began, a diversion was caused by Miss Lydia Becker's anxiety to know if the proposed gold medal in McGill University was to be competed for by male students only, a point on which she was much exercised. ...
|1889 : BAAS - Newcastle||
11889 September 14: Freeman's Journal
THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION AT NEWCASTLE
...Mr F. Galton followed with some remarks on the palaeontological evidence for the transmission of acquired characters. He considered that the argument for the transmission of mutilations is hardly tenable.
Professor Flower, Professor Vines, Professor Ray Lankester, Mr G J Romanes, Professor Marshall Ward, Professor Herdman, and Miss Lydia Becker continued the discussion for and against these theories.
|1890 July 18 : Death in Geneva||
11890 July 19: Lancashire Evening Post
DEATH OF MISS LYDIA BECKER. A telegram was received in Manchester, today, announcing the death of Miss Lydia Becker at Geneva, last evening, from diphtheria.
1 Transcription reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive
Managed by Richard Middleton : last updated 2016 February 18