Intimate Friends: Frances Martin and Jane Benson

by Kiana Wong

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography refers to Frances Martin as an educationist and author who was dedicated to improving the education of women (Curthoys), and Jane Benson, Martin’s teaching colleague at Bedford College (Young 21) as “lifelong friend[s]” (Curthoys). The pair were indeed lifelong companions, moving from place to place and living together. However, language in Dinah Craik’s letters suggests that there was something more to their friendship. Craik refers to the pair using the same language of “settling” that she uses in describing heterosexual relationships. In a letter to her brother Benjamin Mulock dated January 8, 1860, Dinah Craik refers to Frances and Jane having “taken a house on Mornington Road, and are now busy “settling” – Living – for how long? – they seem never to stay long anywhere”. Using the word “settling” hints at a possible relationship that is more romantic, as Dinah Craik often uses “settling” in reference to marriage and settling into a house to have a family when addressing her brother’s eventual marrying in the same letter: “I should like to know what are your ‘divers reasons’ for coming to England – & whether you have any new hope about ‘settling’ – which of course you won’t tell me. – but will probably rush on your settling in a blind way – & more misery will come. – Now my boy – don’t! – Just do the thing quietly deliberately & perseveringly – make sure of your ground – your love is worth having – & many a girl would get desperately fond of you”. Furthermore, as both women remained unmarried, it seems increasingly possible that their relationship was intimate, as in Martha Vicinus’s monograph Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, she writes that

“[i]ntimate friendships often terminated when one woman married, and loyalty to her husband and his wishes became paramount” (xv-xvi).

However, due to social conventions, romantic relationships between women often had to be disguised as an “extreme form of friendship” (Vicinus 6) as women’s wages had an “unsteady nature” which “made it difficult to manage a more permanent relationship” (Vicinus xvi). However, it was no longer uncommon around the time of Frances Martin and Jane Benson, as many had come to recognize “the visible sign of a successful female marriage” (Vicinus 10). This successful female marriage is indicated by two women having “made vows of celibacy & of eternal attachment to each other – they live together, dress alike…” (qtd. in Vicinus 9), all of which Frances Martin and Jane Benson appear to have exhibited as they remain unmarried and lived with one another throughout their lives. Furthermore, as Frances Martin remained “unmarried, and of independent financial means” (Curthoys), the possibility for a more permanent romantic relationship between her and Jane Benson was viable as she had the economic stability to maintain a household without needing the security of a heterosexual marriage. Perhaps most tellingly, Frances Martin was even “buried at the Hampstead cemetery at the foot of Jane Benson’s grave” (Curthoys).

Works Cited:

Curthoys, M. C. “Martin, (Mary Anne) Frances (1829–1922), educationist and author.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. May 24, 2007. Oxford University Press. Accessed 23 August 2020.

“Letter from Dinah Mulock Craik to Benjamin Mulock, 8 January 1860.” Mulock Family Papers, 846, Box 1, Folder 8, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California at Los Angeles.

Vicinus, Martha. Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928. University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Young, Ruth. The Life of an Education Worker (Henrietta Busk). Longmans, Green and Company, 1934.