Emma Darwin

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Emma Darwin
Emma Darwin

Emma Darwin (née Wedgwood, 2 May 18087 October 1896) was the wife of the English naturalist Charles Darwin.



Emma Wedgwood, born in 1808, was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood II and his wife Elizabeth, and grew up in a wealthy family. Her grandfather Josiah Wedgwood had made his fortune in pottery. For a time in her youth she was sent to Paris, where she studied piano with the celebrated composer Frédéric Chopin, and conducted a grand tour of Europe.

Charles Darwin was her first cousin; their shared grandparent was Josiah Wedgwood; and as the Wedgwood and Darwin families were closely allied, she had been acquainted with him since childhood. She accepted Charles' marriage proposal on 11th November 1838, at the age of 30, and they were married on 29 January 1839 at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Maer, Staffordshire. Following a brief period of residence in London, they moved permanently to Down House, located in what was then the rural village of Down, close to the city.

Charles and Emma had ten children. They raised them in a distinctly non-authoritarian manner, and several of them later achieved considerable success in their chosen careers.

Emma Darwin is especially remembered for her patience and fortitude in dealing with her husband's long-term illness, which became apparent shortly after their marriage. In nursing and humoring Charles through his many ups and downs, she was a crucial factor in her husband's scientific accomplishments. She also endured the deaths of three of her children, Anne, Mary, and Charles Waring.

A source of difficulty in the Darwins' marriage was conflict between Charles' scientific findings (most particularly, the origin of humanity in the undirected process of evolution) and Emma's own devout Christian beliefs. The difficulty was increased when, following the painful and emotionally devastating death of their 10-year-old daughter Anne, Charles no longer accepted the orthodox Christian view of God. By his own admission he remained a theist until around 1859/60, when the Origin of Species appeared. After T.H. Huxley coined the word "agnostic" around 1868, Darwin used it to describe himself. Charles was evidently pained by the anxieties his beliefs produced in Emma, and tried to express them as gently as he could.

Emma often played the piano for Charles, and in Charles' 1871 The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin spent several pages on the evolution of musical ability by means of sexual selection.

See also


Missing image
Emma Darwin with her son Leonard


  • Healey, E. Emma Darwin: The Inspirational Wife of a Genius ISBN 0747275793 New Scientist review (http://www.newscientist.com/opinion/opbooks.jsp?id=ns23178)
  • H. Litchfield (ed) (1915). Darwin, a century of family letters, 1792-1896, in two volumes. London, John Murray.

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