A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootton, Social Science and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century

08 June 2011

Barbara Frances Wootton, nee Adam (Baroness Wootton of Abinger) was one of the extraordinary public figures of the twentieth century. 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. 

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Professor Ann Oakley has written an engaging account of the life and work of Barbara Wootton. Her study is a profile of a remarkable woman, but also provides insights into the making of British social policy at a critical period. A Critical Woman: Barbara Wootton, Social Science and Public Policy in the Twentieth Century, is published by Bloomsbury Academic. To mark its launch, Baroness Blackstone will host a reception at the House of Lords this evening.

Barbara Wootton biography


Cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury Academic.

Born in 1897, Barbara Wootton 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.

Ann Oakely is a writer and a sociologist who has written both fiction and non-fiction. She is best known for her work on sex and gender, housework, childbirth and feminist social science, and more recently for her work on evidence-based public policy and methodologies of research and evaluation. She is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Her book 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.