Francis Powers Cobbe
Founder of Ragged Schools

Frances Power Cobbe was a nineteenth century feminist, philanthropist, theological and social writer, and strong supporter of women’s rights, particularly the woman’s suffrage movement. She was associated with Mary Carpenter in the founding of “Ragged Schools”, taking an active part in the movement for the restoration of neglected children. She was also well known as an anti-vivisectionist, condemning animal experimentation.

Francis was born in Newbridge, near Dublin, Ireland and was a descendant of Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin. When she was quite young, her mother died. This led Francis in search of the
meaning of life and whether or not there was an after-life. This search led her to inquire of Theodore Parker, the brilliant rationalist, social reformer, and Unitarian clergyman, concerning the future life. Parker’s thinking influenced her own beliefs from that time on and under his tutelage she became a strong Theist and a Unitarian. In fact, she was so intimate with his work that she edited 14 volumes published between 1863 and 1871.

Frances was a student of history, philosophy, and astronomy. Her feminist tendencies led her to become a champion of higher education for women. She was also an author of several books, including “Studies New and Old of Ethical and Social Subjects”, “Broken Lights”, which was a statement of the doctrines of different divisions of the English Church, “Essay on Intuitive Morals”, probably her most well written work, “The Duties of Women”, and “Darwinism in Morals”. Her first published work; “The Intuitive Theory of Morals” was published anonymously in 1855.

Frances traveled in Italy and the East and upon returning wrote “Cities of the Past” and “Italics”. Later Miss Cobbe became interested in social questions and philanthropic work and she wrote many books on similar subjects, including “Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors” in 1869 and “Scientific Spirit of the Age” in 1888. Early in her career she assisted at the Red-house Reformatory, London. She also was a strong supporter and campaigner for the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1878. Along with her rationalistic writings on religious themes, she contributed to the press and personally worked in the behalf of the poor and friendless.


This article may be re-published as long as the following resource box is included: Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and has been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. She is currently a columnist in several online publications as well as editor of two newsletters. Parents & Teens is a twice-monthly newsletter geared to help parents connect with their teens. History’s Women is weekly online magazine highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women.