Elizabeth Maria Molteno (Betty) (24 September 1852 – 25 August 1927), was a prominent early advocate of civil and women's rights in South Africa.
Elizabeth was born into a very prominent Cape family of Anglo-Italian origin. She was the oldest and much beloved daughter of John Molteno, the first Prime Minister of the Cape, and many of her 18 siblings came to hold positions of influence in business and government.
Choosing one of the few careers that were open to women in the 19th century, she became a teacher and later the principal of the Collegiate School for girls in Port Elizabeth. There she applied relatively advanced and liberal methods of teaching, including what was probably the first system of sex education for girls in the country. She was openly against the Anglo-Boer War when it began and for this reason had to give up her job. Miss Molteno had become close friends with Emily Hobhouse and Olive Schreiner and supported them in their causes both during and after the war. In Port Elizabeth she also met Alice Matilda Greene (aunt of the writer Graham Greene) and thereafter maintained a life-long friendship with her (they were lesbian lovers).
After the war, Miss Molteno was opposed to the new developments in South Africa and left for England. There she met Gandhi in 1909. They became friends, exchanged ideas and regularly corresponded over the next few decades.
She returned to South Africa in 1912, regularly visited Mr and Mrs Gandhi at their Phoenix Settlement for Indians and bought property close by at Ohlanga. She moved there during the satyagraha campaign, her presence lending invaluable support to the movement - in no small part due to her standing and political connections. In speeches given with Gandhi at meetings in Durban she urged Indians to identify with Africa.
A particularly important cause for her was the abuse of prisoners at the hands of the South African police force. While Gandhi himself was in prison, she visited beaten prisoners and testified at inquests. She similarly lobbied against the neglect that Mrs Gandhi also suffered whilst in prison.
A determined and formidable advocate of women’s rights, she met and worked with female passive resisters of all races and backgrounds. She was also a regular speaker at the movement's meetings, and espressed the hope that in a future multi-racial South Africa, women would be allowed to play a prominent part