Partner Eleanor Rathbone

Queer Places:
the Victoria Women’s Settlement, Netherfield Rd S, Liverpool L5 4LS
Tufton St, Westminster, London SW1P 3QH, UK

Eleanor Rathbone and Elizabeth Macadam in 1937Elizabeth Macadam (10 October 1871 – 25 October 1948) was, along with her close friend Eleanor Rathbone, a leading figure within the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and its successor body, the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship. Many British women’s partnerships were quieter and less exotic affairs, but their prevalence is still remarkable. In one of the early women’s Settlements in Liverpool, the British family allowances campaigner Eleanor Rathbone met her partner, Elizabeth Macadam, and the two worked for the next 17 years to put the Settlement on a sound footing and transfer its training of women social workers to the University of Liverpool. A photograph shows the two women sitting companionably in the garden of the cottage where Rathbone wrote her anti-government book about foreign policy in the 1930s. In 1919 Rathbone and Macadam moved to London, where they lived together for the rest of Rathbone’s life, Macadam, it is said, increasingly adopting the role of ‘political wife’ (a role that may have led to a certain downplaying in the historical record of Macadam’s own worthy achievements as a social reformer).

Macadam was also an important figure in the professional development of social work.[1] Rathbone and Macadam had met in Liverpool in 1902. Eleanor Rathbone, in the preface to her book, Child Marriage: the Indian Minotaur, formally recorded the support given by her life-partner Elizabeth Macadam: “I must acknowledge the debt I owe not only to these authorities but to my friend, Elizabeth Macadam, who has read the script throughout and insisted on modifying some of its acridities.”

EElizabeth Macadam was born on 10 October 1871, in the village of Chryston outside Glasgow. Her father, Revd Thomas Macadam, was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland, and her mother, his wife, was Elizabeth Whyt.

Macadam spent part of her childhood in Canada. Her father served as the minister of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Strathroy, Ontario. He later became professor of political philosophy at Morrin College, in Quebec City.

Following the death of her mother and the retirement of her father, Elizabeth and her sister Margaret returned to Scotland as young women.[2]

In the late nineteenth century, Macadam spent time in Germany where she worked in a kindergarten.

In 1898 Macadam was awarded a Pfeiffer scholarship and trained in social work at the Women's University Settlement in Southwark, London. During the four years that she spent at the settlement, Macadam helped to run an evening school for approximately hundred adolescent boys and girls.

Macadam served as the warden of the Victoria Women's Settlement in Liverpool, between 1902 and 1910. In this position, she worked alongside Eleanor Rathbone, with whom she would subsequently become close friends.[3] Mary Stocks was both friend and political ally to Rathbone and Macadam. According to Stocks, after Rathbone and Macadam met at the Committee of the Victoria Women’s Settlement, “Elizabeth Macadam became in due course the friend and companion of Eleanor’s existence until death did them part, and at no subsequent time was Eleanor lonely.” Lesbian feminist historians have since been grateful for Stocks’ clue confirming the importance of the passionate alliance between Rathbone and Macadam. Stocks, as a close friend of Elizabeth and Eleanor, called on other close friends such as Hilda Oakley and Eva Hubback to contribute to Rathbone’s biographical details. Rathbone’s and Macadam’s relationship flourished despite the discomfort of Rathbone’s family and at one stage Rathbone wrote to Macadam countering her loneliness after a period of separation, “except when I am with you I am always alone to all intents and purposes.”

Macadam was a strong advocate for the professional development of social work. In 1904 the Victoria Women's Settlement in Liverpool began a training programme for social workers. This included lectures on poverty, child welfare, and civic administration. These courses were complemented by opportunities for practical work experience with municipal and voluntary associations. In 1910 Liverpool University took over the running of this programme. Macadam was the first lecturer on the methods and practice of social work. By 1914, more than 100 students were enrolled on the course.

In 1916, and at the request of the Ministry of Munitions, Macadam helped to devise training courses for welfare workers.[4]

In 1919, Macadam left Liverpool permanently for London. She became secretary of the newly established Joint University Council for Social Studies. In the same year, Rathbone became president of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC). Macadam became an NUSEC officer and was involved in editing its paper, the Woman's Leader.

Macadam also supported Rathbone in campaigning for family allowances.[3]

At the end of the First World War, Macadam and Eleanor Rathbone bought a house in London together. The two friends continued to share the house until Rathbone's sudden death in January 1946. Following the death of Rathbone, Macadam returned to Edinburgh where she spent the rest of her life.

Macadam died of cancer on 25 October 1948.[3]

The surviving archives of the Victoria Settlement and the School of Social Science and of Training for Social Work are held by the University of Liverpool.[4]


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