Barbara Frances Wootton née Adam (1897-1988) was a pioneer in many fields relating to the most challenging social issues of modern times. Her work was iconoclastic and influential, yet today it is largely unknown. For over sixty years, beginning in the 1920s, she was at the forefront of debates about social inequality; the origins and treatment of antisocial behaviour; the importance of internationalism, human rights and world peace; how to combine democracy with state planning; the environment and the preservation of the countryside; and the (ir)relevance of economics as a way of understanding social systems.
She was a main founder of the modern movement to base public policy on sound evidence, an achievement she managed to combine with leading an extraordinarily interesting life. ‘One of the outstanding women of her age’; she was ‘the sort of woman who might have created an empire, only, being a true Socialist, she’d have given it away’.
As a woman, her remarkable life spanned enormous changes in women’s position. Her achievements cut a broad swathe across sex discrimination and entrenched prejudice, making, as one commentator put it, modern feminists ‘look like a bunch of schoolchildren’.
Barbara Wootton published many books (including a novel and a book of short stories). She also wrote autobiographical reflections, In a World I Never Made (1967).