1858-1944

"Because I have conducted my own operas and love sheep-dogs; because I generally dress in tweeds, and sometimes, at winter afternoon concerts, have even conducted in them; because I was a militant suffragette and seized a chance of beating time to "The March of the Women" from the window of my cell in Holloway Prison with a tooth-brush; because I have written books, spoken speeches, broadcast, and don't always make sure that my hat is on straight; for these and other equally pertinent reasons, in a certain sense I am well known."

At a time when Queen Victoria didn’t believe that such a thing as lesbianism could actually exist, Ethel had it a little easier than her gay male contemporaries. She had a number of passionate affairs, nearly all of them with women. Writing to her librettist, Henry Bennet Brewster in 1892 she mused: "I wonder why it is so much easier for me to love my own sex passionately than yours. I can't make it out for I am a very healthy-minded person." She also fell in love with the married Emmeline Pankhurst. At the age of 71 she fell in love with the writer Virginia Woolf who, rather alarmed, said it was "like being caught by a giant crab". Despite that, the two became firm friends. [link]

Ethel Smyth in a tweed coat and hat, arms folded over the back of a chair.