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17 April 1855
Highfield, Lancaster, England
|Died||12 January 1936(aged 80)|
|Known for||Royal Society for the Protection of Birds|
Emily Williamson, née Bateson (17 April 1855 – 12 January 1936), was an English philanthropist. She was co-founder of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) with Eliza Phillips in 1891. The society started as the Plumage League; it became the Society for the Protection of Birds, and was granted 'Royal' status in 1904. In 1891 she also established the Gentlewomen's Employment Association in Manchester.
Emily Bateson was born at Highfield, Lancaster, in April 1855. She was the daughter of Frederick Septimus Bateson and Eliza Frost. She settled in Didsbury after her marriage on 8 June 1882 to Robert Wood Williamson, remaining there until her relocation to Brook, Surrey, in 1912. In 1931, she moved to London for the rest of her life. She died at home in Kensington on 12 January 1936, at age 80. She and her husband, who had predeceased her, left no issue. The home in which she lived in Didsbury and from which she established her organisation bears a plaque placed in 1989 to honour her work on the centenary of her organisation.
Williamson disapproved of the use of bird feathers in fashion, both due to the reduction of bird population and the cruelty of plume hunting. In February 1889 she founded the Society for the Protection of Birds, a group of women who pledged not to wear feathers from most birds. Explicit exceptions included birds killed for food and the ostrich, because the harvesting of its tail feathers was not painful.
The early efforts of the Society were lauded in the press, including an endorsement in Punch in October 1889, although Punch questioned the degree of restriction imposed by the group: "Not a very severe self-denying ordinance that, Ladies?" In 1891 Williamson's group merged with a similar organisation in Croydon, organised by Eliza Phillips and focused on both "fur and feather". The headquarters of the merged Society for the Protection of Birds was moved to London. Hannah Poland took over from Williamson as secretary, and Winifred, the Duchess of Portland became president. Williamson took a vice-presidency which she would retain until her death. She also continued to serve as secretary in various branches through most of the rest of her life, according to where she lived: in Didsbury (1891-1911), Brook, Surrey (1912-1931), and London (1931-ca. 1934).
In the period from 1891 to 1899, membership expanded from 1,200 to over 20,000. Among the membership, once men were included, was William Henry Hudson. In 1904, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was incorporated by Royal Charter, and the group began charging membership fees. That year was the only one in which Williamson spoke at an annual meeting, reflecting on the growth of the organization from "when it was a very small fledgling, and had no dreams of soaring to the heights which it had reached".
In 1891, she had founded the Gentlewomen's Employment Association in Manchester, and she also initiated two influential programmes from within this group: the Princess Christian Training College for Nurses and, in 1898, the Loan Training Fund, which helped to subsidise the costs of further education for young women. Although no records of these organisations exist, the Loan Training Fund was said to have been the first of its kind in the country.