Emma Miles, 1819 – 1877

A member of the City of London Female Chartists Association, as a child Emma Miles had seen her father incarcerated in the notorious Fleet Prison. She later married a fellow Chartist activist and emigrated to the United States.

Ludgate Street. The Miles family lived at number 32. Picture: Marlow, William; View of Ludgate Street from Ludgate Hill, with the West Front of St Paul’s Cathedral, London; Bank of England.

This article forms part of a collection about the City of London Female Charter Association. See:

Emma Miles was born on 27 August 1819, and grew up at a number of addresses on the western edge of the City of London. Her father, Septimus Miles was a watchmaker, born in Kidderminster in 1767, who in 1800 had married the much younger Amelia Allen (born in Lambeth in 1780) after moving to the capital; together they would have thirteen children, of whom Emma was probably the youngest.

Septimus was already an accomplished craftsman long established in his trade by the time Emma was born, having been a freeman of the Clockmakers Company since 17971. His name appears in numerous trade directories and tax records of the time, and his clocks and watches can be found today in museums. Even so, he would spend part of her childhood in the Fleet Prison for unpaid debts, finally securing his release in January 18262. For Emma this must have been an unsettling time.

The City of London Female Charter Association, which came into existence in fits and starts over the summer of 1842, is most closely associated with its secretary, Susanna Inge, and most notorious public speaker, Mary Ann Walker; but they were not alone in scandalising a largely hostile press. By October 1842, Emma’s name had begun to appear in reports of the association’s public meetings – albeit in a rather odd format.

A reporter for the English Chronicle attributed her comments to ‘Emma Matilda Miles’, and those of Susanna Inge to ‘Clara Cleopatra Inge’ (3 November 1842). Both names are entirely fictitious (Emma’s middle name was Jeanette), but in an era when ‘scissors and paste’ journalism was common, the names stuck and were widely used in provincial newspaper reports.

Emma’s words were reported in a piecemeal and often hostile way. However, in a speech at the City of London Chartist Hall, she said that ‘she was herself a Chartist in heart; and had been ever since she had heard of the cruelty and injustice to “Frost, Williams and Jones”, and a Chartist she would continue to the end of her life’ (Evening Star, 3 November 1842).

She was scathing of the idea that women should be ‘an ornament to the domestic hearth’, and should confine themselves to the duties of the home. ‘Where, she would ask, were the comforts of the “domestic hearth?” and how could that be regarded as “home” from which every comfort had been banished, by that bad system and state of society which compelled man to a hard and unremitting toil of fourteen or fifteen hours a day for a scanty subsistence’.

The Star’s reporter was clearly taken by Emma Miles, describing her to readers as ‘a young lady of most prepossessing appearance, apparently between two or three and twenty years of age’. But he was clearly mistaken in his claim that she had been the ‘sweetheart’ of George Shell, who had been shot dead some three years earlier in the Newport Rising in South Wales.

Other papers reported that she was ‘interesting looking’, or as the English Chronicle put it, ‘a rather pretty-looking little creature’.

Emma’s name continued to appear in reports of the association’s meetings, moving votes of thanks and standing, unsuccessfully, for election as secretary when Susanna Inge stood down. And she remained an active Chartist when the City of London Female Chartist Association petered out and ceased to exist in the spring of 1843. Reporting on a concert held at the City of London Political and Scientific Institute for the benefit of the Chartist activist Dr Peter Murray McDouall, the Northern Star noted that ‘the piano was under the superintendence of Miss Miles’ (NS, 22 July 1843).

Evidently having something of a taste for public performance, she also took the part of ‘Christine’ in a performance of the two-part melodrama Ella Rosenberg staged by ‘the London Amateur Dramatic Society, composed of members of the Chartist body’, at the Standard Theatre on Shoreditch High Street; she sang a duet with Miss Dolby (on the same bill as William Cuffay); and took a prominent role in a performance of the play Venice Preserv’d (NS, 11 November 1843).

Emma’s father Septimus died towards the end of 1846; there is no sign in the records of her mother Amelia at any time after Emma’s birth, and it is likely that she too was dead. On 22 August 1847, a few days before her twenty-eighth birthday, Emma married at the church of St Giles, Cripplegate. Her husband, Joseph Dunn, was a hatmaker, the son of a barrister, and like her, a Chartist.

Joseph Dunn, three years younger than Emma, appears to have fallen out with the Chartist leadership some time in 1846, with the Northern Star curtly refusing to publish any of ‘his rubbish’ (NS, 14 August 1846). But he remained a Chartist, giving evidence for the defence in the trial of George Bridge Mullins for treason (NS, 7 October 1848).  Giving his address as 128 London Wall, he told the court that he had been a member of the National Charter Association ‘from the commencement’, acting as ‘president and treasurer’ of the City of London branch until leaving the organisation in 1846.

Emma and Joseph’s first child, a daughter named Josepha was born in London two months after the wedding, on 16 October 1847. But they would soon leave England for a new life in the United States, settling in Ohio, first in Cincinnati where they can be found in the 1850 census, then in  Dayton. Together they had at least five more children, and named their youngest son Arthur Septimus Dunn after Emma’s father.

When civil war came to America, Joseph enlisted for the Union side in the 93rd Ohio Infantry rising to be Captain of Company K of the 189th Ohio Infantry. Discharged due to a gunshot wound to the chest, he nevertheless re-enlisted and continued to serve as an infantryman. After the war, the Ohio Census of 1870 lists his occupation as ‘omnibus driver’3.

Notes and sources

Emma died on 16 September 1877 at the age of 58. She is buried in an unmarked grave at the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton, as is her husband, who lived on until 31 January 1898.

All UK birth, marriage and death details and census entries are taken from Ancestry. Newspaper reports can be found on the British Newspaper Archive.

In addition…

1. London Metropolitan Archive; Ref: COL/CHD/FR/02/1197-1202

2. UK National Archives: King’s (Queen’s) Bench, Fleet, Marshalsea and Queen’s Prisons: Miscellanea; PRIS10/055

3. US Find A Grave website for Emma Dunn and Joseph Dunn.