Barbara Wootton: A biography

Barbara Frances Wootton, nee Adam (Baroness Wootton of Abinger) was a pioneer in fields relating to economic planning, social science and evidence-informed public policy. Her work contributed to the emergence of a distinctive British social science. 

Born in 1897, Barbara Wootton was one of the extraordinary public figures of the twentieth century. She was an outstanding social scientist, an architect of the welfare state, and the first woman to sit in the House of Lords.

Among her public activities, she was a governor of the BBC and served on royal commissions and committees concerned with workmen’s compensation, the press, the civil service, the penal system, national debt and taxation, shop hours, the criminal courts, criminal statistics, and drug dependence. In 1958, she was made one of the first four life peers.

We have funded Ann Oakley's biographical project, which draws on the Wootton archives in Girton College, Cambridge; on Wootton’s published work; and interviews with academics, policy-makers and others who knew her. The resulting biography, A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootton, Social Science and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century is published by Bloomsbury Academic

Project details



Professor Ann Oakley, Institute of Education

Grant amount and start date:


1 May 2008