Isabella Tod was born in Edinburgh in 1836. Entering active public life at the 1867 Belfast meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, she was a prominent campaigner for many of the social issues affecting Victorian women.
Like her close friend Margaret Byers, the founder of Belfast’s Victoria College, Tod argued for the extension of educational opportunities available to primarily middle class girls, publishing a pamphlet on the subject in 1874. With Byers, she was active in the Temperance movement and was on the first committee of the Women’s Temperance Association founded in Belfast in 1874. She was also involved with the Prison Gate Movement in Belfast, supporting female former prisoners.
Tod's philanthropic activities were informed by her Presbyterian beliefs, which also drove her to link various campaigns together in support of the demand for the vote for women. Secretary to the Belfast branch of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, she wrote, ‘Women are bound to demand their immediate admission within the electorate’.
Active in the Women’s Liberal Unionist Association, she strongly opposed Home Rule for Ireland. Her demand that women be permitted to become Poor Law Guardians was finally realised only in 1896, the year of her death following many years of ill health.
Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenthcentury Ireland (1995) by M Luddy; A Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by K Newmann.