Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury is typically identified as the wife of Quaker chocolate manufacturer George Cadbury (1839-1922), described by the News Review in 1948 as ‘the Queen-Mother of British Chocolate’. However, beyond her popular identification with British confectionary, Taylor Cadbury deserves recognition in her own right for her lifelong philanthropic work supporting social welfare and education and promoting improved international relations. Indeed, on her death in December 1951 Taylor Cadbury was described by the News Chronicle as one of Birmingham’s most ‘grand and outstanding’ women. Taylor Cadbury’s public philanthropic work is well documented in her personal archive which contains hundreds of letters, diaries and typescripts of speeches written by Taylor Cadbury chronicling her involvement in schemes to reform housing, industrial working conditions and school medical services. However, despite this wealth of material, Taylor Cadbury’s life and work have been largely overlooked in recent scholarship. Since the publication of Richenda Scott’s commemorative biography Elizabeth Cadbury in 1955, Taylor Cadbury has featured only briefly in histories of Bournville and is notably absent from studies examining women’s public lives during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Born in Peckham Rye, London, in June 1858, Elizabeth Taylor was the second daughter of Quaker philanthropists John and Mary Taylor. The Taylors were widely involved in public philanthropic work and from an early age Elizabeth Taylor and her siblings accompanied their mother on visits to workhouses, volunteered at children’s hospitals and supported initiatives promoting temperance. Both the Taylors and the Cadbury family which Elizabeth Taylor married into identified their philanthropic ‘good works’ as constituting ‘service to Christ’. Sharing an active and practical Quaker faith, they believed that their endeavours supporting those less fortunate formed a practical manifestation of their religious faith. Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury publicly acknowledged that this religious outlook informed her approach to philanthropic work and social questions throughout her life. Speaking to the National Union of Women Workers in 1906 Taylor Cadbury celebrated early Quakers who had made ‘practical use’ of the ‘living God’ within them, identifying contemporary philanthropic work towards social reform as directly motivated by religious faith. Beyond her family home, Taylor Cadbury’s schooling during the 1870s also had an important influence on her future life, particularly the education she received at the North London Collegiate School under the leadership of Frances Buss. Speaking in the 1930s Taylor Cadbury publicly recognised the significance of Buss who ‘upheld ideals of service’ to her pupils ‘for which their higher education was fitting them’. Reflecting Buss’s ideals, Taylor Cadbury herself suggested that the purpose of education was teaching people the knowledge and wisdom ‘to be of service to the world’.
Reflecting her Quaker upbringing and the lessons of her schooling, Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury devoted her long and active life to philanthropic work supporting social welfare. In 1888 she married the widowed Quaker businessman and housing reformer George Cadbury, moving to Birmingham where she became mother to eleven children including five step-children. Taylor Cadbury’s marriage provided her with opportunities to participate in the reform of industrial working and living conditions through work supporting the welfare, health and education of women and children in Bournville. Amongst the original Trustees of the Bournville Village Trust, she succeeded her husband George Cadbury as Chairman in 1922 and supported the development of housing schemes and community life in Bournville village for over fifty years.
During the 1890s Taylor Cadbury became closely involved with initiatives promoting the education and welfare of women and children in Birmingham and beyond, actively participating in the work of the Young Women’s Christian Association and the National Council of Women. In 1911 Taylor Cadbury was appointed Chairman of Birmingham City Education Committee’s Hygiene Sub-Committee, leading the development of a school medical service which was recognised as a progressive exemplar to other cities. In addition, Taylor Cadbury served as a governor of the University of Birmingham and as President of the Birmingham branches of the Parents National Education Union and the Child Study Association. She was awarded an honorary MA by the University of Birmingham in 1919 for her services to education and school welfare in the city. During this period Taylor Cadbury also engaged in local and national politics, elected Birmingham City Councillor for Kings Norton in 1919 before standing unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate for this ward at the 1923 General Election.
During and immediately following the First World War, Taylor Cadbury led local efforts to provide housing and schooling for young refugees from Serbia and Austria who came to Birmingham to escape conflict and poverty in their home countries. Taylor Cadbury received international honours for this work and was awarded an OBE for her public service in 1918. Throughout her life Taylor Cadbury campaigned for improved international relations, appointed Convenor of the International Council of Women’s Peace and Arbitration Committee in 1914. In 1936, aged seventy-eight, she represented Britain at the World Congress of the International Council of Women, delivering a wireless broadcast promoting Anglo-Indian relations.
Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury’s highest formal public recognition came in 1934 when she was created Dame Elizabeth Cadbury. However, despite receiving international honours for her diverse philanthropic achievements, memoirs written by Taylor Cadbury and published following her death emphasised that her work in Bournville and Birmingham remained the closest to her heart throughout her life.
MS 466/1/1 Papers relating to Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury (1858-1951), Cadbury Family Papers, Birmingham Archives & Heritage Service, Birmingham.
Sara Delamont, ‘Cadbury, Dame Elizabeth Mary (1858-1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, [article online], Internet; http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/45784 (accessed October 27 2008).
Richenda Scott, Elizabeth Cadbury: 1858-1955 (London: Harrap, 1955).
Helen Smith, ‘Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury’, in The Historical Dictionary of Friends, edited by
Margery Post Abbott, Mary Ellen Chijioke, Pink Dandelion, and John Oliver, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, forthcoming).
Helen Smith is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Student working with the Centre for Postgraduate Quaker Studies at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Archives & Heritage Service.