Goodness! My very English Great grandmother Nancy Welding was practically Kitty's dopelganger! She was photographed in very similar clothes, was born the exact same year and died just a year earlier than Kitty - but all in Reading, Berkshire. (I have tried to attach a photo, without luck - but Nancy was in a very similar white cap and a similar patterned dress - not to mention they both wore similar "freeze for the photographer" expressions!
Kitty Wilkinson 1786
Kitty Wilkinson was born Catherine Seaward in 1786 in Derry, Ireland. As a young girl, Catherine, better known as Kitty, along with her family, took the boat to Liverpool, in search of a better life. Sadly, on the journey to Liverpool, their ship got into trouble and Kitty's father and sister were both drowned.
When she was 12 years old, Kitty got a job at a cotton mill in Caton where she worked as an apprentice. This position allowed her certain privileges, including the ability to take classes at night and further her education. She married a sailor named Emanuel Demontee with whom she had 2 children, but he suffered the same fate as Kitty's father and sister when he was lost at sea. Now a young widow, Kitty was now responsible, not only for raising her two young children, but also for the care of her mother who was now both blind and insane.
After the death of her mother, Kitty returned to Liverpool, where she made a small income by runnning a laundry from her home. She married again, a man named Tom Wilkinson. Kitty began to take in children who had lost their mothers.
1832 saw the beginning of an 8 year period of cholera outbreaks in the filthy conditions of Liverpool's poorest areas. Though the true cause of the contraction and spread of cholera was not fully understood, it was associated with a fear of dirt. Since Kitty posessed the only water boiler on her street, she began to take in the linens of her neighbours. This was done at great risk to Kitty and her family, as there was no way of knowing at the time whether or not they could contract the terrible disease from infected linens. She redesigned her basement wash-house as a place where people could come to disinfect both themselves and their belongings. Kitty was so diligent in her efforts that every one of her workers survived the epidemic without contracting the disease. The value of Kitty's work was recognised by the opening of the UK's first public wash-house on Upper Frederick Street in 1842 of which Kitty was appointed Superintendent. Her work was also recognised by Queen Victoria who gifted her a silver teapot.
Even after the cholera epidemic had passed, Kitty continued to help the people of her neighbourhood. The disease had orphaned a large amount of children. Kitty was known to take in 20 children every morning to read to them. So popular was this enterprise that Kitty had cause to open a room in her house and hire another woman for the purpose of teaching the children.
Kitty died peacefully on the 11th of November 1860. She was 73 years old, an incredible age to reach at the time. She is remembered as 'The Saint of the Slums' and is buried in St James' Cemetery in Liverpool and her tombstone reads,
Indefatigable and self-denying, She was the widow's friend; the support of the Orphan; the Fearless and Unwearied Nurse of the Sick; the Originator of Baths and Wash Houses for the Poor
Kitty is commemorated in Liverpool by a stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral, a marble statue in St George's Hall, and most recently, a public laundrette that bears her name.