Motherhood and Childhood


Photograph of Maria Giberne with her other daughter, Evelyn, and her very displeased looking son, Edgar. Maria is pictured here reading from a book open in her lap, a tribute perhaps to the excellent education all three of her surviving children received in her hands.


A devious looking Isabel Giberne. Around five years of age, the young Isabel is posed with hands demurely clasped in a domestic scene fringed with lace, while a martial toy drum lies to the side at her feet.

Born in 1857, Isabel de Giberne (later Sieveking) was raised in the Epsom countryside by her parents, George and Maria Giberne. Her mother was a staunch advocate for the importance of education, which was reflected in Isabel's own early and extensive studies. As her obituary in the Hastings and St. Leonard's Observer notes, "Though when she was a child the education of women was usually a very inadequate business, she learned...French, German, and Greek, and read and loved all the greatest English writers of the past." Maria also raised all three of her surviving children as devout Catholics, and the intertwining of religious and a feminist intellectual life during her upbringing followed Isabel throughout her life's work.

As she later turned to radically progressive politics, she used her knowledge of religious rhetoric to advocate for the rights of women which had previously been denied in religious circles. She served as the local secretary of the Parents' National Educational Union and tirelessly urged the need for better and equal access to education for girls and young women.

Education and motherhood went hand-in-hand in Isabel's philosophy. Although she employed many nannies for her own four children, she wrote passionately about the need for parents to assume personal responsibility for their children's care and instruction, arguing that mothers should be professionally trained in the skills of educators and nurses.

She herself was remembered in her obituary as "a happy and wholehearted" mother to her own children and as generally "loved by children...perpetually inventing things to delight them," even in her old age: "an upright, whitehaired lady, rather under middle height, with a beautiful and intelligent face, who had a peculiar knowledge of birds and animal lore" with a "brave" and adventurous gleam in her eye.