Helen Taylor (1831–1907) was a pioneering feminist who spent her last years in Torquay.
She was the daughter of Harriet Taylor Mill and stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill – the political economist who has been called ‘the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century’. Mill’s ideas about liberty promoted freedom of the individual in opposition to state control.
The ‘experiments in living’ that Harriet and John Stuart Mill encouraged in On Liberty began with her own daughter. Harriet wanted Helen to be free to do “what she hoped all women would one day have the liberty to do: to work at a job of her own choosing.”
After the death of her mother, Helen lived and worked with Mill.
In the years before Mill’s death, Helen was deeply involved alongside her stepfather in the women’s suffrage cause and acted as his letter writer on many issues.
They shared the belief that there should be no distinction made in suffrage eligibility between married and single women.
To this end, Helen played an important role in organising the Ladies’ Petition on suffrage which her stepfather presented to the House of Commons on 7 June 1866.
Her article ‘The claim of Englishwomen to the suffrage constitutionally considered’ appeared in the Westminster Review after the presentation of the petition. In 1867 Helen donated £20 towards the appeal of Philippine Kyllmann, a widow who unsuccessfully claimed her right to vote as a freeholder.
Along with her stepfather, Helen opposed the controversial Contagious Diseases Acts passed in the 1860s, which regulated prostitution in military areas.
After Mill’s death, she devoted her life to a wide range of political causes.
In 1876 she stood as school board candidate for the constituency of Southwark at the invitation of the local Radical Association.
She campaigned for free and universal education, for the abolition of corporal punishment, for the community’s right to the use of school facilities outside of school hours, and for the provision of free meals and clothing for poor children. Helen was also instrumental in the appointment of working-class parents as school managers.
She became a champion of Irish home rule and of land reform. She was on the first executive committee of the Marxist-inspired Democratic Federation, founded in 1881, and was a supporter of labour representation in parliament.
Along with other women activists, she condemned fox-hunting, and in 1870 published an attack on the blood sport.
In the winter of 1904–5 Helen’s health brought her to Torquay, where she was cared for by her niece, Mary Taylor.
Helen died on 29 January 1907 and is buried in Torquay Cemetery.