Little is known of Faithfull’s personal life, but her record of philanthropy and activism for women’s welfare is exemplary.
The lack of opportunities for women to learn any trade or profession particularly concerned her, and led her to found the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women in 1859 and then her own Victoria Press in 1860, where she employed only women compositors.
She also hired men, both to teach the women how to set type and to do some of the presswork and lifting of heavy chases. This “mixed shop,” however, met with enormous hostility from the printer’s union, supposedly on moral grounds.
Presses were sabotaged and ink poured on the women’s chairs (Faithfull had introduced the novelty of providing the typesetters with tall, three-legged stools to alleviate some of the fatigue of standing at the case during their twelve-to fourteen-hour workday).
Nevertheless, the Victoria Press continued in operation for twenty years, producing a solid body of work, including thirty-five volumes of the Victoria Magazine, which advocated the right of women to gainful employment.
Faithfull also won the support of the sovereign, and was appointed Printer and Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty in 1862.
One of the most beautiful books published by Emily Faithfull is the Te Deum Laudamus. It is typical of the Victorian era in its rich colors and intricate decorative patterns. A new technique known as chromolithography, patented at mid-century, enabled printers to reproduce colors (using a separate stone for each color) more vividly than ever before.
Also notable is the way in which text and image are interwoven, sometimes to the detriment of readability. The iconography of this image was explained by Faithfull herself: “The blue and white of this Plate are the well-known colours of the Virgin; the lily is the emblem of the Incarnation, and the doves refer to the offering in the temple at the time of the Purification (Luke ii.24).”
Read on via Unseen Hands: Emily Faithfull.