1815 – 1825
Who was Elizabeth Brontë?
The second of six children born to the Rev. Patrick Bronte and his wife, the former Maria Branwell, 10-year-old Elizabeth suffered a fate similar to that of the character Helen Burns in "Jane Eyre", the classic novel written by her celebrated sister Charlotte. Born in Hartshead, Yorkshire in 1815, Elizabeth and her elder sister Maria were babies when their parents moved to Thornton, which in short time became the birthplace of their more famous younger siblings: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. Raised in a loving, creatively stimulating atmosphere, the young Brontes' happy childhood had been saddened only by their mother's death from cancer in 1821, an event which occurred soon after the family had moved to the Haworth parsonage on the Yorkshire moors. Elizabeth was then six years old. Three years later, in 1824, she and her sisters Maria, Charlotte, and Emily were sent away to Cowan Bridge School for clegymen's daughters, a semi-charitable institution which inspired the miserable "Lowood" of "Jane Eyre". Girls at Cowan Bridge were underfed, malnourished, exposed to extreme cold and disease, and routinely subjected to bullying by older students and fire-and-brimstone harangues by the staff. Both Elizabeth and her elder sister Maria became consumptive, and the Rev. Bronte withdrew them, along with Emily and Charlotte, before the year was out. The elder girls' health had been irreparably damaged, however. Both Elizabeth and 12-year-old Maria died of tuberculosis--the disease which eventually claimed the lives of all six Bronte siblings--in the spring of 1825, Maria having predeceased Elizabeth by six weeks.
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