1854 – 1924
1854 Born in Bridgewater, Somerset.
1857 Her father died. Mills Baker her older brother became her guardian. He also retrieved his father’s drapery business in Bristol and made a success of it. As Eliza’s guardian he was able and willing to pay for Eliza’s further education, a rare thing for women of the time. She was highly intelligent.
1872 She went to North London Collegiate Girls School, the head of which was Frances Mary Buss, a pioneer in women’s education. Eliza came top of the entrance exam to Bedford College London. She didn’t take up the scholarship because she had come second in the entrance examination to Girton College Cambridge.
1873 She moved to Girton College in the first intake. She came top of the roll for a pass in History and Political Economy in 1877. She was remarkably able.
A garden was installed at Girton College in her memory. After Cambridge she became a teacher. She also played the piano well and in later years used it to soothe John Lewis when he was stressed.
1882 She was appointed second mistress of Bedford High School.
She met John Lewis on a bus, though he couldn’t quite remember her from a prior acquaintance, and fell in love. Prior to their marriage, her brother Mills came up to London to check out John Lewis’s business and was very impressed at the results he was achieving.
1884 They married. John Lewis aged 48 and Eliza aged 30.
John Lewis ran the business and she brought up the boys Spedan and Oswald. They lived in Spedan towers on Hampstead Hill with 4 acres of ground.
Thoughts by her sons:
Spedan saw her as a woman with a large, strong mind and very little intellectual appetite – somewhat unkind – probably as she was not attuned to his ideas for developing the business.
Oswald, on the other hand, called her “the sweetest most unselfish woman that ever lived”.