Student of Thesophy, the occult and mysticism, doctor, author, women’s activist and vegetarian, Anna (Annie) Bonus Kingsford was born on 16th September, 1846, at Maryland Point, Stratford, Essex. She was the youngest of twelve children. Her father, John Bonus was a wealthy London shipbroker of Italian origin and her mother, Elizabeth Ann Schroder, was of Irish / German descent. When Anna was still a young girl the family moved south of the Thames to Blackheath, then still a village, near Greenwich.
Although plagued by illness from an early age Anna was an imaginative and creative child. She had mystical visions and seems to have possessed some psychic ability, often predicting impending deaths. She was an avid reader, in part due to access to her father’s library, and would write plays for her dolls to perform from the stories she read. She wrote a novel Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians which was published when she was just thirteen, and later had some of her poems published as River Reeds in 1866. The death of her father in 1865 left the family with a large fortune from which Anna received a trust fund giving her £700 a year, enough to make her financially independent.
In November of 1867 whilst Anna was petitioning on the subject of married women’s property, she called at the house of a Miss Florence J. Theobold in Hastings. It was Miss Theobold that introduced Anna to spiritualism and she often visited the house and took part in séances there. On 31st December of the same year, Anna married her cousin Algernon Kingsford, an Anglican curate. Unusually for the time, she put her own conditions on the marriage, stating that she wanted to be free to follow her own career and independent beliefs.
The couple had a daughter, Eadith, born on 24 September 1868 at St Leonards. Eadith’s conception on their wedding night brought on a severe asthma attack, after which Anna would remain celibate for the rest of her life. The couple eventually settled in Atcham, near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, where Algernon became vicar.
Following the example of her brother John, Anna became a vegetarian in 1870, and later that year joined the Catholic Church, taking the name Anna Mary Magdalen Maria Johanna. Though she was certainly drawn by the mystical and ritual aspects of the Catholic church, this adoption of Catholicism also meant that she would avoid the responsibilities of an Anglican clergyman’s wife.
Anna continued to write short stories, and produced a pamphlet An Essay on the Admission of Women to the Parliamentary Franchise in 1868, which gained her some attention. Her concern over women’s rights was such that she became an eloquent public speaker on the subject, promoting equal education for girls and boys, and the training and recognition of female doctors. In 1872 she bought and edited the Lady’s Own Paper, which protested against vivisection and fought for women’s rights. However, as Anna refused to accept advertising that went against her principles, the paper ran into debt and closed after two years.
Nevertheless, her publishing venture had made her known in London and provided an introduction to a variety of like-minded progressive women, including Florence Miller, who described Mrs. Kingsford as ‘the most faultlessly beautiful woman I ever beheld’.
To help in her fight for the causes in which she believed, and to make changes from within the profession, Anna decided to become a medical doctor.At the time women were not allowed to qualify as doctors in Britain, but she was allowed to begin her studies there, which she did in 1873. The following year she went to Paris for the main part of the course and despite enormous opposition from both men and women, received her M.D in 1880, and thus became one of the first female British doctors, after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (who had received her M.D from Paris in 1870). The Perfect Way in Diet, based on Anna Kingsford’s doctoral thesis on vegetarianism, was published in 1881 and soon became the standard text on the subject.
In 1873, after reading a novel called By and By: An Historical Romance of the Future, Anna began corresponding with its author Edward Maitland (1824-1897). As well as a novelist and spiritual writer, Maitland had been a Forty-niner in the California gold rush and a land commissioner in Australia. After finding they had much in common on mysticism and spiritual matters the two arranged to meet in a London art gallery in 1874.
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