Pilkington, Ellice (1869–1936), women's activist and artist, was born 1 September 1869 as Louisa Ellice Esmonde , second daughter of Sir John Esmonde, MP and lieutenant-colonel of Waterford artillery militia, of Ballynastragh, Gorey, Co. Wexford, and Louisa Esmonde (née Grattan), granddaughter of Henry Grattan (qv). She had four brothers: Sir Thomas Esmonde (qv), 11th baronet; Col. Laurence Esmonde, 13th baronet, who succeeded his nephew; Walter; and John. Her only sister, Annette, was married to Sutherland Wilkinson, founder of Titania's Palace. She was educated in Paris, studied art in Rome, and with her family was actively involved in the cooperative movement. On 23 June 1896 she married Capt. H. L. Pilkington, of the 21st Hussars, of Tore, Tyrrellspass, Co. Westmeath, and the couple moved to South Africa for a time with their eldest daughter, Ellice Moira. While there she taught in refugee camps and gave birth to her second daughter, Annette. They also lived for a period at Llys-y-Gwinit, Holyhead, Wales.
She was a friend of Sir Horace Plunkett (qv) who established the Irish Agricultural Organization Society (1894), and a speech given by George Russell (qv) at the annual general meeting was the inspiration for the United Irishwomen, founded (1910) by Anita Lett (qv). Hearing Russell speak, Pilkington became the first volunteer organiser and a leading figure in the early stages of the society of the United Irishwomen. Touring extensively (1910), she founded and organised many new branches in the south and west of Ireland, deeming Wexford as the most successful, due to the progressive character of its people. Armed with a map and a thermos flask, Pilkington arrived in Donegal (December 1910), where she described emigration as a blight on rural Ireland. Addressing the issue of female emigration became a major concern of the United Irishwomen. In 1911 a pamphlet, The United Irishwomen: their work, place and ideals, contained three essays by Plunkett, Pilkington, and Russell, with a preface by Fr Thomas Finlay (qv). She focused on the role of the United Irishwomen in teaching and encouraging the rural housewife to set up home industries, to keep the home clean and tidy and provide a healthy diet for her family, and finally to take an active role in public and intellectual life. The pamphlet may have been brought out in a response to criticism, as there was certainly opposition in some quarters to women becoming involved in public affairs.
Pilkington took an active interest in the arts in Ireland. In an article written for the New Ireland Review (Nov. 1910) she regretted the tendency of Irish artists and critics to imitate the European schools instead of finding their own true expression and hence forming an Irish school. She praised George Russell as an artist who was both individual and national and who visualised the beauty of the Irish landscape. Although somewhat vague in her language, it is clear that she saw the development of a national identity as an important issue. She herself painted scenes around Ireland and exhibited with the Dublin Sketching Club (1914–15) and more regularly (1921–36) with the Watercolour Society of Ireland, of which she was secretary for a period. She was an active member of the Central Catholic Library Association (founded 1922) and served for many years as president of the ladies' committee. A widow since 1914, she died 24 August 1936 at 38 Wellington Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, and is interred in the Pilkington family vault, Tyrellspass, Co. Westmeath.