Women and Power and Hardy's Cottage

A black and white portrait of Jemima Hardy, mother of author Thomas Hardy

Hardy’s mother, Jemima, was a headstrong woman with ambitions for herself and her children. She went into domestic service at just 13 years old and quickly progressed to a household cook at the Maiden Newton vicarage.

Jemima’s dream was to work as a cook in a London gentleman’s club, but this never came to fruition because in 1839 she fell pregnant following a romance with a Dorset musician. Jemima married, became Mrs Hardy, and gave birth to her first son, Thomas.

Jemima was content in her marriage but she ordered her children never to marry, never to have children and to focus on their dreams. Three of her four children obeyed, with the exception of Thomas, who married but didn't have children.

Jemima loved literature and taught Thomas to read before he went to school. She made sure her children were educated even if it meant bartering over tuition fees or supplementing payment with pots of her honey. 

The Hardy sisters, Mary and Kate, both attended higher education to qualify as teachers, with Mary eventually becoming a headmistress. This was a high achievement for a country girl at this time. Teaching college was a tough experience for the girls. The tutors were strict and disciplined the students severely. Food was limited and students were treated as servants, being required to do as much housework as learning.

Hardy’s grandmother, Mary, was another dynamic woman, managing the family building firm after she was widowed. She inspired Thomas with stories of the Napoleonic War and the hardship of her childhood as an orphan. Mary also fell pregnant outside of wedlock, which seems to have been a trend in the women connected to Hardy, breaking the social and religious code of how women should behave at the time.

In his writing, Hardy sympathises with his female characters and highlights how Victorian men and the gentry often betrayed women and left them to suffer. 
Hardy’s sister Kate is the heroine of the story of Hardy’s Cottage.

A portrait of Kate Hardy, whose gift enabled the National Trust to buy the cottage
An old photographic portrait of Kate Hardy, sister to author Thomas Hardy
A portrait of Kate Hardy, whose gift enabled the National Trust to buy the cottage

She left money in her will to purchase their childhood home for the National Trust, and in 1948 the Trust was able to acquire the cottage and preserve it for generations to come.