Frances Power Cobbe was born on December 4, 1822, in Dublin on the family estate of Newbridge House, the only daughter in a house full of boys. Her family was wealthy, with Evangelical religious ideals and conservative notions of familial roles.
Cobbe was not educated in the manner of her brothers and was expected to spend most of her life “visiting” and caring for sick family members. Much of her early life was spent caring for her mother. Despite Cobbe’s passionate love of her mother, however, her early life of nursing family members came to feel increasingly restrictive to her.
When Cobbe’s mother died in the late 1840s, Cobbe’s familial role shifted and constricted. Her father attempted to marry her off to some suitable Dublin man, but found his efforts of little use. Moreover, Cobbe worsened relations with her father by renouncing the Evangelical faith of her parents. Accordingly, Cobbe’s father packed her off to her brother’s farm in Donegal for ten months. He then required her to tend him in ill health until his death in 1857. In his will, her father left her an annuity of two hundred pounds; he left her brother the estate, with an annuity of five thousand pounds.
Though Cobbe apparently bore no ill will toward her father, she clearly felt freed by his death. Though she had written Essay on Intuitive Morals, Being an Attempt to Popularise Ethical Science (1858) while caring for her aging father, she published her work anonymously so as not to cause him undue embarrassment.