13. Elizabeth Taylor

13. Elizabeth Taylor

Update: 2023-04-035
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Lucy Worsley looks at the crimes of Victorian women from a contemporary, feminist perspective.

In this episode, Lucy is joined by Deborah Frances-White, women’s rights campaigner, comedian and host of The Guilty Feminist podcast, to explore the case of Elizabeth Taylor, a backstreet abortionist in late 19th century Melbourne, Australia who spent decades playing cat and mouse with the law. They consider Elizabeth Taylor’s story in the context of women’s rights in 19th century Australia and the subsequent campaign for legal, safe abortion around the world.

Lucy is also joined by historian Rosalind Crone, Professor of History at the Open University, who has searched immigration, court and prison records to give new insights into Elizabeth Taylor’s life.

When the Taylor family emigrates from Manchester to Melbourne, Australia in 1872, Elizabeth begins to advertise in the classified columns of the newspapers as a ‘midwife and ladies’ nurse’. These are thinly veiled adverts for her extremely profitable, and completely illegal, abortion clinic.

Many desperate women with unwanted pregnancies find their way to her door. But sadly, not all of them survive the abortions Elizabeth Taylor performs and, over three decades, she is in and out of court - twice on murder charges and facing the death penalty.

Lucy wants to know why Elizabeth Taylor worked for so many years as an illegal abortionist knowing that she was risking her own life. Was she acting out of compassion for desperate women or cashing in on their terrible situations? What light does her story shine on the abortion debate today, with the overthrow of Roe vs Wade in the USA? How much do 19th century views, and laws, about the rights of women over their bodies resonate now? What does the case of Elizabeth Taylor tell us about women’s lives in the late 19th century and women’s lives today?

Producer: Jane Greenwood
Readers: Susan Dean, Clare Corbett and Jonathan Keeble
Sound Design: Chris Maclean
Series Producer: Julia Hayball

A StoryHunter production for BBC Radio 4
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13. Elizabeth Taylor

13. Elizabeth Taylor

BBC Radio 4