Kitty Wilkinson was born Catherine Seward in Ireland in 1786. She emigrated to Liverpool with her mother and was apprenticed to a cotton mill, probably at Caton, near Lancaster, returning to Liverpool when she was 18 to care for her mother. In 1812 she married a French sailor named John De Monte (or Dimont) and had two sons. However, before the birth of the second child her husband had been lost at sea. She endured great hardship struggling to care for her children and deranged mother but married again in 1823, to a cotton porter named Thomas Wilkinson. The two undertook much charitable work, visiting the sick and caring for orphans. In 1832 Liverpool was struck by a cholera epidemic and Kitty's devotion to nursing the sick and opening a school for orphans gave her legendary status in the city. A key role she undertook was to let neighbours use her boiler to wash their bedding in chloride of lime. The noted philanthropist William Rathbone became aware of her efforts and pressed the council to establish public wash houses so that the poor could bathe and wash their clothes cheaply. The first such wash house was opened by the council in 1842 in Frederick Street with Kitty Wilkinson appointed as superintendent. The project was a success and established the way for similar facilities across the country. In 1846 she was presented with a silver tea service from the queen, the queen dowager, and ladies of Liverpool. She died in 1860 and was buried in St James' Cemetery. In 1910, a stained-glass window portrait of Wilkinson was installed in Liverpool Cathedral. In 2012 a statue of her was unveiled in the Great Hall of St George's Hall, the first woman to be so honoured
Opened in 1842 with Kitty Wilkinson as superintendent.
Kitty Wilkinson's grave in St. James Cemetery beside the Anglican cathedral
The Life and Times of Kitty Wilkinson [Liver 2000] by Michael Kelly is a a fairly recently published work. A much earlier account Memoir of Kitty Wilkinson [Henry Young, Liverpool 1927 ED. H R Rathbone) is worth reading but copies are few and far between. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is quite comprehensive and there is an interesting article on a Baths and Wash Houses Historical Archive website.
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