Skip to content
Heatherleys School of Fine Arts - logo

The Heatherley School of Fine Art, 75 Lots Road, Chelsea, London SW10 0RN  |  phone 020 7351 4190

Women at Heatherleys: Kate Heatherley


We’re celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of posts to coincide with our Women at Heatherleys Exhibition.⁠

In this article we’re appreciating the contributions of Kate Heatherley (1852 – 1949).⁠


Unfortunately we have no photos of Kate Heatherley, the estranged wife of Heatherleys’ namesake, Thomas Heatherley. Regardless, her tenacity and work for women’s rights are worth knowing and remembering.


Thomas Heatherley sitting next to the daughter he had with his estranged wife Kate Heatherley and their granddaughter.
Thomas Heatherley sitting next to the daughter he had with his estranged wife Kate Heatherley and their granddaughter.



Kate Heatherley had been a student at the school during the wild and bohemian times of Matthew Leigh. While she was there she nursed Leigh through his last illness. Touched by her kindness and devotion Thomas Heatherley determined to marry her.


Mr Heatherley's Holiday: An Incident in Studio Life 1874 Samuel Butler 1835-1902 Presented by representatives of Jason Smith 1911
© Tate. Mr Heatherley’s Holiday: An Incident in Studio Life (1874) Samuel Butler 1835-1902. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)


Champion of women’s Suffrage

It was under the principalship of Kate and Thomas Heatherley (1860 – 1887) that the school became one of the first to introduce mixed classes. Previously, under Leigh, the classes at 79 Newmanship were split into morning classes for women and evening for men. (Bartlett School of Architecture, 2016)

In 1868 Kate was secretary to a pioneering Women’s Club and Institute known as ‘The Berners’. Like Heatherleys at the time, the institute was based in Newman Street, behind the later Langham Club for women at 24 Langham Street. (ibid.)

Kate Heatherley was an early feminist, proponent of birth control and champion of women’s suffrage. In her later years she said that she only married because she wanted to have two children. She believed it was every woman’s right to have two and ought not to have more. Estranged from her husband, after the birth of their second child, Lois, she moved herself and the two children into lodgings. In later life she moved to the Seychelles Islands with the intention of education native women and preaching the doctrine of birth control. (Eva, 1996)


1.  Bartlett School of Architectur (2016) The Berners Estate: Berners and Newman Streets. London: Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Accessed at: [Accessed on: 13/03/2023]

2. Eva, Rose (1996) Heatherley’s[sic]: The First 100 Years. London: Heatherley School of Fine Art.

Image Copyright:

All images are copyright of Heatherleys, unless otherwise stated.