Julia Stephen
(1846-1895)

Died aged 49

Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; 7 February 1846 – 5 May 1895) was a celebrated Englishwoman, noted for her beauty as a Pre-Raphaelite model and philanthropist. She was the wife of the biographer Leslie Stephen and mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, members of the Bloomsbury Group. Julia Jackson was born in Calcutta to an Anglo-Indian family, and when she was two her mother and her two sisters moved back to England. She became the favourite model of her aunt, the celebrated photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who made more than 50 portraits of her. Through another maternal aunt, she became a frequent visitor at Little Holland House, then home to an important literary and artistic circle, and came to the attention of a number of Pre-Raphaelite painters who portrayed her in their work. Married to Herbert Duckworth, a barrister, in 1867 she was soon widowed with three infant children. Devastated, she turned to nursing, philanthropy and agnosticism, and found herself attracted to the writing and life of Leslie Stephen, with whom she shared a mutual friend in Anny Thackeray, his sister-in-law. After Leslie Stephen's wife died in 1875 he became close friends with Julia and they married in 1878. Julia and Leslie Stephen had four further children, living at 22 Hyde Park Gate, South Kensington, together with his seven-year-old mentally disabled daughter, Laura Makepeace Stephen. Many of her seven children and their descendants became notable. In addition to her family duties and modelling, she wrote a book based on her nursing experiences, Notes from Sick Rooms, in 1883. She also wrote children's stories for her family, eventually published posthumously as Stories for Children and became involved in social justice advocacy. Julia Stephen had firm views on the role of women, namely that their work was of equal value to that of men, but in different spheres, and she opposed the suffrage movement for votes for women. The Stephens entertained many visitors at their London home and their summer residence at St Ives, Cornwall. Eventually the demands on her both at home and outside the home started to take their toll. Julia Stephen died at her home following an episode of rheumatic fever in 1895, at the age of 49, when her youngest child was only 11. The writer, Virginia Woolf, provides a number of insights into the domestic life of the Stephens in both her autobiographical and fictional work.

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