Ellen Terry, independence and suffrage at Smallhythe Place

Ellen Terry in her role as Queen Katherine

One of the greatest celebrities and highest earning women of the 19th Century, Ellen Terry was an independent figure who achieved success at a time when women were usually dependent on men for respectability and income.

Born into a struggling theatrical family in the 1840s, Ellen had a most unconventional upbringing. She grew up in theatres and theatrical digs surrounded by the unorthodox and the unusual.

Her mother gave up her own theatrical career to devote herself to the care of her children. Ellen followed suit, twice abandoning her profession - once when she married G.F.Watts who wished to save her from “the abomination of the stage”, and once to elope with Edward Godwin with whom she had two children whilst still legally married to Watts.

"he that is less than a man, I am not for him" - Beatrice, Act II scene I
Ellen Terry as Beatrice in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing'
"he that is less than a man, I am not for him" - Beatrice, Act II scene I

Upon the failure of each of these relationships she returned to the stage. As an actress her occupation gave her the tools to survive independently and earn her own income. By 1881 she was separated from her second husband, an actor Charles Kelly, and was earning a sufficiently large salary from the Lyceum to support a household of ten people in West London.  Her career continued to thrive and she became one of the highest earning women in the country controlling both her career and personal life.