Elizabeth was the third child and only daughter of the Reverend Joseph Wolstenholme and his wife Elizabeth. Her mother died just days after her birth so Elizabeth was placed with foster parents until her father remarried when she was three.
When her father died, Elizabeth subsequently lived with her brother Joseph (1829-1891). She was educated by governesses and only permitted two years at Fullneck Moravian School near Leeds between the ages of 15 and 17.
Elizabeth was frustrated when her brother was sent to Cambridge University (to study mathematics), whilst Elizabeth, his intellectual equal, was denied this opportunity.
Elizabeth worked as a governess until she was able to found a school for girls in Manchester where she was reunited with her father’s widow Mary, who became its housekeeper.
Elizabeth married Ben Elmy in October 1874 when pregnant with their son Frank. Ben shared Elizabeth’s feminism and ‘free love’ radicalism and for some time they had resisted the social pressure to marry, due to the “patriarchal nature of Christian matrimony.”
Benjamin Elmy (1838 – 1906) was a businessman in Congleton, a poet, author and an activist in his own right. They made their home in Buglawton, Congleton. They lived in Congleton for 50 years and Elizabeth founded a girls’ school on Moody Street.
Elizabeth died in 1918, just a few weeks after women first got the vote.