Groundbreakers: Isabella Tod

Groundbreakers: Episode 4
Ulster's Forgotten Radical Isabella Tod

Sunday 27 October, 9pm
BBC Two Northern Ireland

Isabella Tod photographISABELLA TOD – A Presbyterian Pioneer of Her Day

A television documentary on the life of Isabella Tod, presented by Margaret Mountford, will  be broadcast on BBC 2 NI on Sunday 27 Oct at 9.00 pm.

Isabella (1836-96) came from a well known Irish Presbyterian family, her uncle being the Rev Hope Masterton Waddell (1804-05), one of the earliest Irish Presbyterian missionaries  who served with the Scottish Missionary Society in Jamaica and whose great grandfather was the Rev Charles Masterton, one of the most distinguished minsters of the General Synod of Ulster who ministered at Connor and Rosemary Street, Belfast.

Brought up in Edinburgh the family moved to Belfast in the 1850s after the death of her father, and mother and daughter joined Elmwood Presbyterian Church.  Isabella’s name features in the stipend books of Elmwood church which are held by the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland. Her Presbyterian background no doubt contributed to her radical views on social issues and womens’ rights.

Isabella Tod became one of the leading pioneers in the fight to improve the position of women.  She campaigned tirelessly to extend the educational provision for middle-class women.  For example, in 1878 she organised a delegation to London to put pressure on the Government to include girls in the Intermediate Education Act.  A paper written by Isabella entitled "An Advanced Education for Girls in the Upper and Middle Classes" was presented in 1867 at a meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, is among the pamphlets held in the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland library.

Isabella was also an active campaigner for women’s right to vote, a strong supporter of the temperance movement (having founded the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association) and a staunch opponent of Home Rule.  The Presbyterian Historical Society also holds another of her pamphlets ‘Women and the New Franchise Bill.’

Further details of her life and work can be found in an article by Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick in the December 2012 edition of the Presbyterian Herald (page 26).

View the BBC Groundbreakers page for this episode.