Constance Caroline Woodhill Naden (24 January 1858 – 23 December 1889) was an English writer, poet and philosopher. She studied, wrote and lectured on philosophy and science, alongside publishing two volumes of poetry. Several collected works were published following her death at the young age of 31. In her honour, Robert Lewins established the Constance Naden Medal and had a bust of her installed at Mason Science College (now the University of Birmingham). William Ewart Gladstone considered her one of the 19th century's foremost female poets.
Born 24 January 1858 at 15 Francis Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England to Thomas Naden, an architect, later president of the Birmingham Architectural Association, and Caroline Ann Woodhill Naden who died within two weeks of giving birth. She was brought up by her mother's parents, Caroline and Josiah Woodhill, from 12 days old until her grandparent's deaths. Naden's well read and devout baptist grandparents lived at Pakenham House, Edgbaston. Her father also lived with the Woodhills for many years. At age 8 Naden was sent to a local Unitarian day school, where she developed a talent for painting.She submitted some paintings to the Birmingham Society of Artists, one of which (titled ‘Bird’s Nest and Wild Roses’) was accepted for display at the Society's Spring Exhibition in 1878.
She became interested in philosophy, languages and the sciences. In 1879, Naden attended the Birmingham and Midland Institute to study botany and French, and from 1881 to 1887 attended Mason Science College to study physics, geology, chemistry, physiology, and zoology,; she also become a member of the Birmingham Natural History Society. Naden also edited the Mason College magazine.
From the late 1870s ownwards Naden developed a philosophy called Hylo-Idealism in collaboration with Robert Lewins, MD, who she first met in 1876 and corresponded with for the rest of her life. The key principle of this philosophy is that "Man is the maker of his own Cosmos, and all his perceptions - even those which seem to represent solid, extended and external objects - have a merely subjective existence, bounded by the limits moulded by the character and conditions of his sentient being." She was interested in Herbert Spencer's concept of a unifying philosophy that sought to explain the universe through the principles of evolution. In his work The Social Organism (1860), Spencer compares society to a living organism and argues that, just as biological organisms evolve through natural selection, society evolves and increases in complexity through analogous processes. Naden agreed with this, since the theme of unity is central to Hylo-Idealism, which seeks to reconcile materialism and idealism, poetry and science, the self and other.
In 1881, Naden published her first volume of poetry Songs and Sonnets of Springtime. This is a diverse collection, and her sonnet sequence that describes the changing of the seasons is particularly notable. In 1885 she won the "Paxton prize" for an essay upon the geology of the district. She published a second volume of poetry A Modern Apostle, the Elixir of Life, the Story of Clarice, and other Poems in 1887. In this volume appear her best known poems, the 'Evolutional Erotics', which are written from a comic anthropological perspective about human relationships, using Darwin's theory of sexual selection as a basis. She also wrote in the Journal of Science, Knowledge, The Agnostic Annual and other periodicals. She authored many of her scientific and philosophical essays under the signatures of CN, CA and Constance Arden.
Also in 1887, she won the "Heslop" gold medal for her essay, Induction and Deduction. Her Grandmother Woodhill died on 21 June 1887 and she inherited a considerable fortune, which allowed her to travel to Constantinople (Istanbul), Palestine, India, and Egypt with her friend, Madeline Daniell. While in India she became interested in its society, particularly regarding equality and the position of women.
She returned to England in June 1888 and bought a house on Park Street, Grosvenor Square, which she shared with Daniell. She raised funding to allow Indian women to study medicine and became a member of the National Indian Association. She joined the Aristotelian Society, endeavoured to form a Spencer society, and belonged to various societies of benevolent aims. On 22 Oct. 1889 she delivered an address upon Mr. Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology to the sociological section at Mason College. She also spoke about the need for women's suffrage at public events, as recorded by reports in the Women's Penny Paper.
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