Adelaide Mary Anderson

Born 8 April 1863 – 28 August 1936 Melbourne, Australia to a Scottish family, but was raised in London, UK. She was educated at Queen’s College in Harley Street, London and at Girton College, Cambridge where she studied for the Moral Sciences Tripos and graduated in 1887.

She was a British Civil Servant and labour activist, particularly interested in child labour and conditions in China. She served as HM Principal Lady Inspector of Factories from 1897 to 1921.

She was a lecturer for the Women’s Co-operative Guild and was offering private tuition when, in 1892, she joined the staff of the Royal Commission on Labour as a clerk. This subsequently led to her appointment in 1894 as one of the first women factory inspectors in the Home Office.

She was appointed His Majesty’s Principal Lady Inspector of Factories in 1897, dealing with issues of health and safety, working hours and conditions.

She was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1918 and on her retirement in 1921 she was appointed Dame Adelaide Mary Anderson, DBE. See London Gazette, 13 May 1921, no. 32323 p. 3844.


After her retirement from the UK Home Office, she visited China three times. In 1923–1924 she became a member of the Commission on Child Labour under the auspices of the Municipal Council of the International Settlement of Shanghai. In 1926 she was a member of the Advisory Committee on the China Indemnity of the Foreign Office.

In 1931 she served on a mission for the International Labour Office to Nanking, regarding a factory inspectorate for China. She was also a member of the Universities China Committee in London from 1932 to 1936.

In 1930 she also visited Egypt to enquire into conditions of child labour. In addition, she travelled to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Anderson wrote and lectured widely until her death in 1936.

Dame Adelaide Anderson’s work and life in also described in the UK Health and Safety Executive’s publication Women of Courage, published in 1993. This publication celebrated 100 years of Lady Factory Inspectors.


See Reading list on this website for list of publications by and about Dame Adelaide Anderson.

Dame Adelaide Anderson’s papers are held by the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, reference 7AMA

Fawcett Library Scrapbooks and Press Cuttings, 10/23 – Scrapbooks of Dame Adelaide Anderson (1914–1915)