Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger

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The Baroness Wootton of Abinger
The Baroness Wootton of Abinger.jpg
Born Barbara Adam
(1897-04-14)14 April 1897
Cambridge, England
Died 11 July 1988(1988-07-11) (aged 91)
Surrey, England
Occupation sociologist and criminologist

Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger CH (14 April 1897 – 11 July 1988) was a British sociologist and criminologist. She was one of the first four life peers appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958. She was President of the British Sociological Association 1959–1964.

Early life[edit]

Born Barbara Adam in Cambridge, the daughter of the classicist James Adam (1860–1907) and Adele Marion, she was educated at the Perse School for Girls. She studied Classics and Economics at Girton College, Cambridge from 1915 to 1919, winning the Agnata Butler Prize in 1917.

Professional life[edit]

Inter-war period[edit]

In the 1930s Wootton was a member of the Federal Union and represented the Union in a historic debate against Edgar Hardcastle of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which was later published as a pamphlet.

Second-world war[edit]

During the Second World War Wootton considered herself to be a conscientious objector, although she was never liable for military service. She was, however, required, under the Registration for Employment Order 1941, to be interviewed in 1943 by a National Service Officer of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, who deemed her service as an unpaid magistrate to be of sufficient value as not to require direction to any employment. With her agreement, her husband, George Wright, registered as a conscientious objector in 1941, and did farm work and later civil defence work.


Wootton served as a juvenile court magistrate for nearly 20 years.[1]

In 1948 she became a Professor at Bedford College of the University of London. In 1952 she received a Nuffield Foundation Research Fellowship.

In 1968, she was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the University of Bath.[2] In 1969 she was made an Honorary Fellow of Girton College. In 1977 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH).[3] In 1985 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Cambridge. In 1984 she was chosen as one of six women for the BBC 2 series 'Women of Our Century'.

She was created a Life Peer on 8 August 1958 with the title Baroness Wootton of Abinger, of Abinger Common in the County of Surrey,[4] on the advice of Harold Macmillan and was thereby one of the first women ever to sit in the House of Lords; she also became the first woman to sit on the Woolsack as a Deputy Speaker. She was the chairperson of the Wootton Report.

Ethically, she was a supporter of utilitarianism. She supported an "Incurable Patients Bill" in the 1970s which would have allowed doctor-assisted suicide. Her views on abortion which were pro-life but without any religious basis led her to be removed from her position as Vice-President of the British Humanist Association.[5]


Wootton wrote several books on economic and sociological subjects, including Lament for Economics (1938), End Social Inequality (1941), Freedom Under Planning (1945), Social Science and Social Pathology (1959), Crime and the Criminal Law (1964) and Incomes Policy (1974).

In Crime and the Criminal Law she controversially advocated that all crimes ought to be crimes of strict liability (see Elliott, C. & Quinn, F. 2010. Criminal Law. 8th ed. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd). In other words, it was her contention that mens rea – the 'guilty mind' – should not be taken into account. This would remove the burden from the prosecution of proving intent or recklessness.

Personal life[edit]

In 1917, she married John (Jack) Wootton. He was wounded during World War I and died weeks after their marriage. She married George Wright in 1934. He died in 1964.

She died in a nursing home in Surrey in 1988 aged 91.

Further reading[edit]

  • Oakley, Ann (2011). A critical woman: Barbara Wootton, social science and public policy in the twentieth century. London: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781283149068. 


  1. ^ Wootton B. 'Children in trouble', The Observer, 19 August 1965, p. 8.
  2. ^ Honorary Graduates 1966 to 1988 | University of Bath
  3. ^ "(Supplement) no. 47234". The London Gazette. 11 June 1977. p. 7105. 
  4. ^ "no. 41467". The London Gazette. 8 August 1958. p. 4930. 
  5. ^ Oakley, Ann (May–June 2011). "Woman of substance". New Humanist. pp. 36–38. 


Academic offices
Preceded by
Morris Ginsberg
President of the British Sociological Association
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Taylor
Senior life peer
February–July 1988
Succeeded by
The Lord Shackleton