Personal Papers of Barbara Wootton

Scope and Content

The papers of Barbara Wootton deposited at Girton College are contained in 14 boxes. They include the following: personal and general correspondence; biographical materials; photographs; a small number of records of and relating to BW's brothers, Arthur Adam and Neil Adam; copies of some of BW's written work, published and unpublished; the text of some of her lectures and talks; transcripts of some of her media broadcasts; reviews of her work; and correspondence re her work; general papers relating to BW's interest in various matters, including criminology, penal policy, immigration, marriage laws, the use of firearms, euthanasia and unemployment; and papers re visits to Ghana and China in the 1960s.

Administrative / Biographical History

Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger (1897-1988). Born Barbara Adam, she was the daughter of two Cambridge Classicists. Her father was a Fellow of Emmanuel College, her mother was a Girtonian who had lectured in Classics for College and became a Research Fellow in 1920, the same year as BW became a lecturer and Director of Studies in Economics for the College. She never got on with her mother and looked to her nanny (The Pie) for affection and stability. She was educated at the Perse School for Girls, Cambridge and came to Girton to read Classics then Economics 1915-19. She married John (Jack) Wootton in 1917 and lived as an out-student from 1917-19. Initially it seemed she would follow her parents into academia but a series of personal tragedies may have caused her to change course. Her father died when she was aged 10, and her husband died of war wounds only weeks after their marriage. She also lost a brother in World War I. Her second husband, George Wright, whom she married in 1934, died in 1964. After her degree, her focus was on social administration, criminology and the law. She took a job as a researcher for the TUC and Labour Party, then became Principal of Morley College for working men and women, and subsequently Director of Studies, and later Reader in Social Studies, at the University of London, finally being appointed Professor at Bedford College in 1948. In 1952 she relinquished this post to take up a Nuffield Foundation Research Fellowship, from which she produced her major publication Social Science and Social Pathology (1959). She was a lay magistrate for almost 50 years, sitting as chair of the juvenile courts in London for 16 years. She was an acknowledged workaholic but one who was 'endlessly and untiringly engaged in practical matters'. She published widely on social sciences, being a member of innumerable committees, was a Governor of the BBC and served on four Royal Commissions. Particular campaigns were on juvenile crime, firearms, and drugs, especially the legalisation of cannabis. In 1958, she was one of the first four life peers, an honour she accepted while remaining a rebel, seeking to abolish 'this creaking contrivance'. She was the first woman to sit on the Woolsack as Deputy Speaker. She was made an Honorary Fellow of Girton College in 1969, a Companion of Honour in 1977 and received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1985. Wootton was an acknowledged leader throughout her career. In 1926, Everywoman stated 'This is an age when women are coming into their own and we can get inspiration by following the remarkable career of Barbara Wootton. She is even now only 29 years of age, yet she is a considerable figure in the national life, and is, in a sense, the standard-bearer of the new generation'. In 1971 she was hailed by the London Illustrated News as 'a sociological legend in her own lifetime' and in 1984, she was one of six remarkable women chosen for the BBC 2 series 'Women of Our Century'. She died in 1988 having been active in the House of Lords into her late eighties.

Access Information

Please cite as Girton College Archive, Cambridge, Personal Papers of Barbara Wootton, GCPP Wootton

Acquisition Information

Barbara Wootton's papers came to Girton through the offices of her personal secretary and research assistant, Vera Seal. Miss Seal wrote to College in August 1988, offering the collection. Baroness Wootton had not willed her papers to Girton but had voiced the wish that they should come to College if possible. The bulk of the papers was collected by the Archivist from Miss Seal's London home in February 1989. Correspondence with Baroness Wootton's executor, N Morgan of Kingsford Dorman and Routh Stacey Solicitors, about terms and conditions of the gift is in the acquisitions file. Further small deposits of papers were made by Miss Seal in 1990, 1994 and 1998.

Other Finding Aids

As at Sep 2008 an online catalogue was available at

Archivist's Note

Collection Description taken from JANUS in Sep 2008 as part of Genesis 2008 Project


Some of the material in the papers has been published in Vera Seal and Philip Bean (eds), 'Barbara Wootton: Selected Writings' Volumes I-IV, Macmillan 1992. Barbara Wootton's autobiography, 'In a World I Never Made', Allen and Unwin 1967 contains useful contextual material.