Partner Helena Born

Queer Places:
65 Whiteladies Rd, Redland, Bristol BS8 2LY, UK

Elizabeth Miriam Wheeler Daniell (October 29, 1861 - April 19, 1894) was a British born socialist and feminist. Helena Born became close friends with another ‘rebel’, Miriam Daniell. Born in Clifton, Gloucestershire, Miriam Wheeler was from a prosperous family, the daughter of a grocer from Northampton, Robert Rogers Wheeler (1830-1900, son of Rev Frances Wheeler e Elizabeth Wheeler) and Catherine Freeman (1832-1906). The family moved to Bristol to import tea. Miriam's father became treasurer of a Congregational chapel in the fashionable Bristol suburb of Clifton. The Wheeler family was conventional, and religious. Their children were educated by a governess brought from Zurich, and Mr Wheeler's networking in chapel circles eventually led to Miriam's marrying in 1881. She was unhappily married to a respectable solicitor, Edward Tuckett Daniell (1853-1913).

Both Miriam and her husband were keen artists. Her work was more highly praised than his when they both submitted paintings to the Bristol Academy Fine Arts Exhibition of 1884. Miriam's talent brought her into contact with the Stacy family, who were important figures in the Bristol Art circles. Bristol was alight with political debate at the time, and the writing of American socialist Laurence Grönlund convinced Miriam she should join the fight to end class inequality, and work toward the social and cultural emancipation of women.

In 1886 Miriam underwent an operation. The reason is unknown, but newspaper coverage of the Daniell’s eventual divorce in 1894 suggests salaciously that from the time of the procedure the Daniells stopped sleeping together, on medical advice. 

In 1888, Miriam Daniell joined the socialists and women Liberals in Bristol. Around this time she met Helena Hope Born, who lived not far away in the same fashionable area of Bristol. The two women were the perfect illustration of opposites attracting. The highly-strung, rebellious Miriam was complemented by the steady, warmhearted and level-headed Helena. While Helena took inspiration from the work of the famous thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin, Miriam wanted to absorb knowledge directly from the lives of ordinary working people. They both came to the conclusion it was the exploitation of labour that made working people losing heart. Helena and Miriam’s study of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden made them increasingly dissatisfied with Clifton life. They became vegetarians. That was an act of rebellion as shocking in their social circle at the time as living naked in the woods would be today.

In 1888, the Bristol Sunday Society was formed as a focus for discussion on science and literature. The following year, Miriam was elected onto the committee—the only woman. On March 8th 1889, a combination of melting snow and heavy rain flooded the poverty-stricken low lying areas of Bristol. Victims were stranded in the upper storeys of buildings, reliant on the police to deliver bread and water by rowing boat. Miriam swung into action, issuing an appeal for donations in the local newspaper. She turned her genteel home into a collection point. Miriam and Helena's work with the flood victims exposed them to the desperate circumstances of the city’s poor and underprivileged.

Through her work in politics, Miriam met Robert Allen Nicol, son of a shopkeeper, radicalised at Edinburgh University. She brought him to Bristol, where he became secretary of the militant new Gas Workers and General Labourers’ Union. In the autumn of 1889, Miriam, Helena, Robert and others formed a strike committee in response to an outbreak of industrial action in Bristol's factories. When Miriam's husband tried to stop her publishing stories of poor treatment of factory girls, she left him and her beautiful home. Together with Robert and Helena, Miriam went to live in a cottage in one of the poorest parts of Bristol. Not long after, Miriam discovered she was pregnant with Robert Nicol's baby.

In August 1890 all three moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, partly driven by local horror at Miriam’s unmarried pregnancy and frustrated by opposition to labour organisation. They “declared their free love union” had a daughter, Miriam Elinor "Sunrise" Nicol (born 1890). That was shocking enough, but when Miriam’s husband petitioned for divorce it meant her reputation was ruined forever in the eyes of Victorian society. They encountered the very different character of American radicalism, which was more individualistic and anarchistic than British collectivist socialism. Robert was attracted to anarchism and Carpenter’s ideas of alternative rural living. They moved to the wilds of California, Placer County, until Miriam died in 1894. Helena returned to Massachusetts, enmeshing herself once more in industrial action and other causes.

Her grand-niece Elizabeth Wheeler (1920-1956), a lesbian director, also died young. She was probably the daughter of Sir Mortimer "Ric" Wheeler (born 1890), Major 1914-18 War. MC. Archaeologist. Director Museum of Wales. Director London Museum. UK Excavations at St Albans, Maiden Castle. Brigadier 1819-45 War. El Alemain, Salerno landings. TV Personality of the Year. Ric Wheeler was the son of Robert Mortimer Wheeler (1856-1936), Miriam Daniell's brother.


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