A new graphic novel examining the life of Edith, Lady Londonderry; socialite, suffragist and founder of the Women’s Legion.
Edith Chaplin was born into a wealthy and influential family. Her father was Sir Henry Chaplin, a Conservative MP; her mother Florence was the daughter of Lord Sutherland, Britain’s largest landowner.
Edith was just three when her mother died and most of her childhood was spent at Dunrobin, the Scottish castle where her uncle and aunt lived. The Sutherlands also had a magnificent London residence, Stafford House.
Presented as a society debutante to Queen Victoria in 1897, Edith was seen as a perfect choice of wife for Charles Vane- Tempest-Stewart, son of the 6th Marquess of Londonderry. They married in 1899 and the first of their five children was born in 1900.
The Londonderry dynasty had long been at the heart of UK politics, and their London home, Londonderry House, was a regular venue for the great and good in society. Vastly wealthy from their coal mining business in the north of England, the Londonderrys also had a beautiful residence in Northern Ireland, Mount Stewart.
Her husband became the 7th Marquess of Londonderry in 1915 on the death of his father. Now Lady Londonderry, Edith became the leading political hostess in Britain.
Unusually for her class, Edith was also a passionate feminist and campaigned ardently for women’s right to vote. She saw the outbreak of the First World War as an opportunity to demonstrate women were equal to men. In July 1915 she formed the Women’s Legion, whose purpose was to enable women to take on jobs that would normally be done by men, releasing them for military service.
Over 40,000 Women’s Legion members became trained cooks, others worked as ambulance drivers, farmers, mechanics and many other roles previously thought unsuitable for women.
Created a Dame of the British Empire in 1917 for her war work, Edith always believed the work of the Women’s Legion helped significantly in the campaign for women’s suffrage. Edith was also renowned for overseeing a social group known as the Ark, which met regularly at Londonderry House.
Lasting until the 1930s, its membership included royalty, Prime Ministers and the leading members of society. Her close friendship with Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, shocked her society friends.
In 1921, Lord Londonderry became Minister of Education in the new Northern Ireland Parliament, and the couple now made Mount Stewart their base. Here she embarked on what would become her most abiding love, designing its beautiful gardens. Now owned by the National Trust, the gardens and the adjoining house are one of Northern Ireland’s most popular attractions. Edith died in 1959, ten years after her husband.
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