Wheeler, Anna [Doyle]


Wheeler, Anna [Doyle]


Bibliographic Dictionary Entry




O'Toole, Tina


Munster Women Writers Project, University College Cork


Women in Irish Society Project, University College Cork




Munster, Ireland, 1800-2000









Wheeler, Anna Doyle


O'Toole, Tina

Birth Date


Death Date



Clonbeg, Co Tipperary

Place of Association

Ballywire, Co Tipperary

Biographical Text

The daughter of Anna Dunbar, and Nicholas Milley Doyle, a Church of Ireland clergyman in Co. Tipperary, who died when Anna was two years old. Her interest in nationalism came from her godfather, Henry Grattan, and her uncle, Gen.Sir John Doyle, who travelled extensively in France. Following her father's death, her family was not particularly well-off, which may have been the reason for her marriage to Francis Massey-Wheeler when she was just fifteen years old. The couple lived on his Ballywire estate, on the Limerick-Tipperary border, where their married life was characterised by Massey-Wheeler's alcoholism and violence. She finally ran away from the marriage, taking her two children with her, and went to live with her uncle, the Governor of Guernsey. There, she received an education in French and Italian, alongside her daughters, and participated in the lively social world of the Governor's household.

Sending her teenage daughters to school in Dublin and London in 1816, Wheeler went to live in Caen, where she joined the Saint-Simonians, a group of socialists and free thinkers. At this point, Dooley tells us that "Wheeler began to construct her identity as a nineteenth-century salonnière" (1996; 63). In the 1820s, following the death of Massey-Wheeler, she divided her time between Dublin and London, and got to know members of the co-operative movement, as well as the utilitarians. One of her closest friends was Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian leader. Dooley describes her at this point in her life as: "a translator, a collaborator between French and English co-operators, a liaison person facilitating introductions to both Owen and Fourier, and a diplomatic ombudswoman among highly competitive men" (1996; 71).
Today, she is probably best-known for her collaboration with William Thompson on the first socialist feminist manifesto, Appeal of One-Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political and thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery (1825). Although her name is not down as co-author of this work, Thompson explains in the introduction, a "Letter to Mrs. Wheeler", that the project was a joint effort: "our joint property, I being your interpreter and the scribe of your sentiments" (xxiii). This explanation of the kind of project undertaken by Thompson and Wheeler acknowledges Wheeler's part in it, and delineates her intellectual contribution to the finished work. We know that she actually did write some sections of the Appeal, but it seems clear that Thompson wrote much of it. However, Wheeler's arguments and ideas were well-known to those in the cooperative movement in the period, and would have been recognisable to those familiar with her work, even in the sections penned by Thompson.

In 1826, one of Wheeler's daughters, Henrietta, died of a wasting disease. Henrietta shared her mother's radicalism, and had been involved, for example, in the political mobilisation of Europeans to help the Greek national struggle (Dooley, 1997; 8). We know that following Henrietta's death, Anna Wheeler was once again living in Ireland. Her other daughter, Rosina (q.v.), married the novelist and politician Bulwer Lytton, although their marriage was a turbulent one and ended after nine years. Interestingly, Constance Lytton (1869-1923), Anna Wheeler's great-granddaughter, was a prominent feminist and member of the Women's Social and Political Union.

It is by her political legacy that Wheeler is remembered today. In addition to the Appeal, her writing includes public lectures, correspondence and translations of feminist materials from French journals which she published in the Owenite journal, The Crisis, often under the pseudonym 'Vlasta'. A radical feminist who identified the subordinate position of women as one deliberately constructed through the institutions of marriage, education, and religion, Wheeler participated in many debates on these issues with other women in The Crisis. Her investment in a community of political radicals and intellectuals remained with her throughout her life. For example, she maintained strong friendships with other Saint-Simonian women such as Flora Tristan and Desirée Veret, whose writing and political activism contributed to the construction of early feminist principles. Her correspondence facilitated a nexus of exchanges between French and English philosophers and political activists throughout her lifetime. She was actively communicating with friends in France leading up to the upheavals of 1848, and always yearned to return to live in France but was prevented by illness from travelling. Although we are not sure of the exact date, it is thought that Wheeler died between 1848 and 1851.
Note: for a full list of Wheeler's correspondence, see Dooley, Equality in Community (1997).

Writing Genre

Political Writing