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Second child of Patrick and Maria Brontë, older sister of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë.
Born Hartshead, Yorkshire 8th February 1815.
Died Haworth, Yorkshire 15th June 1825.
Elizabeth Brontë died when she was only ten years old, and less is known about her than any other member of the family. When she was only a few months old, the Brontës moved from Hartshead to Thornton, and Mrs. Brontë's older sister, Elizabeth Branwell came up from Penzance to help with the move. The godmother chosen for the new baby was another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Firth, one of the Brontës' new friends in Thornton, so there were twin influences on the choice of Christian name. Patrick and Maria Brontë had four more children during their five years at Thornton, before moving to Haworth with their completed family of six in 1820. The following year, Mrs. Brontë died, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moved into the Parsonage to look after the children.
In 1823, Elizabeth and her older sister Maria (born 1814) were sent to the fashionable girls' boarding school that Elizabeth Firth had attended, Crofton Hall at Wakefield. The fees were high, and it is thought that Elizabeth Firth may have helped to pay them. But the Brontës had three other daughters, and it was not going to be possible for them, on only Mr. Brontë's stipend, to provide the same education for all five girls. An opportunity presented itself with the opening in 1823, of the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, some forty miles north of Haworth. The school was well recommended by respected Yorkshire clergy, and Patrick Brontë had high regard for the Master of the school, the Reverend Carus Wilson. Thanks to subscription subsidies, the fees were £14 a year, half the price of Crofton Hall. Maria and Elizabeth were among the first twenty pupils at the Clergy Daughters' School, arriving on the 21st July 1824. Charlotte joined them six weeks late and Emily followed in the autumn.
Patrick Brontë described his second daughter as a girl with 'sound common sense'. She was not academic, and while the school records show that Maria, Charlotte and Emily were to be trained to be governesses, Elizabeth's destiny was listed as 'housekeeper'. Accordingly, Mr. Brontë did not pay the extra £3 a year for Elizabeth to learn French, music and drawing, that he did for his other three girls. By modern standards the school's regime was harsh, but no more so than other boarding schools of the period. However, as subsequent investigations showed, food was ill prepared in unhygienic conditions, and many of the pupils became ill.
In February 1825, Elizabeth's elder sister, Maria, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and returned home. Throughout the early spring there was an outbreak of typhus in the school, which may have masked the symptoms of tuberculosis in Elizabeth. Over the following six months, one girl was to die at school and twenty more, one third of the roll, were withdrawn ill, and six of them died soon afterwards. Elizabeth's condition deteriorated and she was sent home on the 31st May. Charlotte and Emily were brought home in good health a few days later and never returned to Cowan Bridge. Maria Brontë died at home on the 6th of May 1825, followed by Elizabeth on the 15th of June. The only mementoes we have of Elizabeth Brontë is her completed sampler, which is displayed, along with those of her four sisters, at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
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