Lady Laura Ridding (1849-1939) : the life and service of a bishop's wife
Victorian Anglican bishops' wives made a distinctive and important contribution to church and society, yet research into the subject remains fragmentary. This thesis is the first critical examination of the life and service of Lady Laura Ridding, wife of the Bishop of Southwell. It aims to show how she pioneered advances in extending the role and sphere of upper class women and forged new ground for social purity and the moral reformation of society. The study is largely based on unpublished primary material, including Laura's autobiography and her diary. Following the introduction, chapter two discusses Laura's formative years, an under-documented area of autobiography. It also illuminates her role as headmaster's wife, exploring the possibilities and restrictions attached to such a position. 'Women's mission to women' in chapter four investigates how far Laura was incorporated into her husband's public work at a time when women were lauded as 'the Angel in the House. ' It also examines Laura's social activism in the diocese and beyond, and how she conformed to certain ideological expectations, whilst transcending them in the public domain. I explore Laura's motivations in chapter five, in particular the extent to which she was driven by her faith. In chapter six, Laura's life is shattered by the unfolding events of 'God's visitation, ' referring to the First World War, and I examine her contribution to the war effort. Chapter seven summarises her impact on the world. Her commitment to the welfare of women and children in the diocese was outstanding and much of the work was sensitive in nature at a time when such work was still deemed inappropriate for a lady to undertake. Laura's example shatters the image of the frail, idle, upper class lady that so often confronts the reader of Victorian history and this study fills an important gap in Anglican ecclesiastical history.