Miss Elizabeth Haldane CH

Elizabeth Haldane.png
Elizabeth Haldane[1]
Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane, CH, 70, (1862-1937) was a lifelong liberal, writer, suffragist and social welfare worker. Her ODNB biographer Lionel Alexander Ritchie reports her appearance as ‘of medium height, rather thick set, not exactly good looking, but with a high forehead and an expression of extreme intelligence and benevolence’. Another friend, Violet Markham, considered that she had sacrificed her own ambitions to the claims of family obligations during her mother’s long widowhood: ‘I often wished that her life had been less wholly devoted to the service of others and had belonged more to herself’.[2]


puzzle-piece2-50 A lively companion for anyone at the dinner: do you have any good ideas? I have yet to find her linked with anyone in particular at the dinner, a little unusual.


I suspect she will have enjoyed the celebratory evening, the chance to reflect, or in the words of her later autobiography, to reminisce. And despite being on the top table, perhaps keen to meet the younger diners who might benefit from guidance and encouragement in the way that she herself was inspired by others.


Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane was born in her family’s townhouse in the elegant Georgian Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, on 27th May 1862, the only daughter (with five brothers) of Robert Haldane (1805–1877), writer to the signet, and his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Burdon-Sanderson (1825–1925). The family also lived at their country house at Cloan, Auchterarder, Perthshire – Elizabeth later earned the sobriquet – for her community loyalty, not for any superior attitude – of the “Queen of Perthshire”. In a strongly Calvinistic household she enjoyed all the advantages of a good upbringing and sharing her brothers’ tutors, alongside the disadvantage of not being a sixth son. A family friend believed she was smarter than any of them (and they had good careers) but when her father died when Elizabeth was fifteen it was she who had to stay with her mother. And her mother’s widowhood lasted for 48 years, becoming a centenarian in 1925. Meanwhile brother Richard Burdon Haldane became a politician and lord chancellor, John Scott Haldane, a physiologist, and William Stowell Haldane, a lawyer.

Elizabeth built her career on two other foundations: on travel, broadening her horizons, and on meetings with significant and inspiring people such as Octavia Hill, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and GBS, and if not always meeting, reading the likes of Toynbee and Ruskin. In Edinburgh she established an institution to tackle the terrible housing condition, encouraged by Octavia Hill. In London she helped run a club for boys and girls in Lisson Grove, founded by Margaret Llewellyn Davies (aunt to the boys that inspired Peter Pan). In Westminster she got involved in running a health society concerned with infant welfare and maternal mortality and gained nursing skills. She was the first woman trustee of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust.

Her brothers also benefited from her support, for example in Richard’s election campaigns, and she became treasurer of the Scottish Women’s Liberal Association. A regular observer from the gallery of debates in the House of Commons, Elizabeth was a lifelong suffragist, supporting the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

The list of her public service activities is long, and includes the Royal Commission on the Civil Service 1912; first woman member of the Scottish Savings Committee 1916; Governor of Birkbeck College; Companion of Honour (CH) in 1918; the first woman JP in Scotland 1920; General Nursing Council 1928; and Vice chairman Territorial Forces Nursing Service (set up as a result of her brother’s “Haldane” army reforms). Elizabeth originated the Voluntary Aid Detachments and helped to found the Scottish Women’s Benefit Society, whose members were later admitted to the Ancient Order of Foresters, the pioneers of old-age pensions for women in Scotland.

Elizabeth authored philosophical and literary works, often in collaboration with others, and a number of books. At the time of the dinner her most recent was Mrs Gaskell and her Friends (1930) with The Scotland of our Fathers to be published that year, in 1933. Elizabeth was also a regular contributor to The Scotsman.


In 1933 her book The Scotland of our Fathers was published and in 1937, not long before she died, her reminiscences, From One Century to Another, reflecting on the changes in the position of women during her lifetime.

One of her few distractions was a keen interest in curling. Elizabeth died at St Margaret’s Hospital, Auchterarder, on Christmas Eve 1937.[3] [4]


[1] From her autobiography, From One Century to Another (1937)

[2] V. Markham, Friendship’s harvest (1956) p48, cited in the ODNB essay

[3] Lionel Alexander Ritchie, Haldane, Elizabeth Sanderson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 4.10.2008

[2] Elizabeth Haldane Wikipedia accessed 15.3.2019

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