By uctzcbr, on 2 February 2018
This month it’s LGBTQ History Month, a month to celebrate and remember LGBTQ icons and heroes. The month is a vital event that reminds us LGBTQ people exist, have always existed, and should be celebrated. So, for this week’s blog post (which is, fortuitously, my responsibility) I would like to talk about an important figure from the history of both UCL and the LGBTQ community.
Amelia Edwards was a novelist, a philanthropist, an adventurer and an all-round remarkable woman. She wrote her first story at just 12 and went to write ghost stories and best-selling tales of bigamy. She also wrote about her exciting travels across the world in publicly acclaimed and hand-illustrated books. It was on one of these travels that she became committed to protecting the history and ancient artefacts of Egypt.
Inspired by her trip down the Nile and appalled by the ransacking and destruction of Egyptian monuments and historical sites, Edwards founded the Egyptian Exploratory Fund in 1882. Through this organisation she funded many of Flinders Petrie’s digs and amassed a great collection of antiquities which she donated to UCL upon her death. It is thanks to her that UCL boasts such a large collection of important museum objects.
But, it is not just Edwards’ work that makes her so remarkable. She was also a lesbian at a time when it was thought that those kinds of women just did not exist. Of all the things that make Amelia Edwards so inspirational, I think the fact that she openly travelled and, then lived, with her partner Ellen Drew Braysher during the 19th century is certainly high on the list.
Edwards died in April of 1892, just a few months after her partner and they are buried side by side in St Mary’s Church, Henbury (in Bristol). Their graves are now listed sites, recognising them as important figures in this country’s LGBT history. This, perhaps, goes part way to rectify the designation of Braysher as Edwards’ “beloved friend” as stated on her gravestone.
In her lifetime, it was likely that the nature of Edwards and Braysher’s relationship was not acknowledged or accepted by many. Indeed, even now, when reading about Edwards’ life, Braysher is more frequently referred to as a companion, or friend, and not as a partner, a lover, or a girlfriend. I was excited to discover that Amelia Edwards shared her life with a woman, as I always am to find other lesbians, and so feel particularly enthused to discuss her legacy and her life with visitors of the Petrie Museum as I want her relationship to be recognised and remembered for what it actually was. You can read more about Amelia Edwards’ life here in a blog post written by Dr Alice Stevenson for International Women’s Day.