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Ida Darwin: Correspondence and Papers I

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.9368

Scope and Contents

Comprises correspondence with family and friends, particularly Horace Darwin, her husband, Erasmus Darwin, Ruth Rees-Thomas and Nora Barlow, her children, Thomas Farrer, her father, and other extended members of the Farrer, Barlow and Darwin families. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically and chronologically; a small proportion of the letters have been calendared to provide a summary of their contents, but the vast majority of the correspondence is simply listed by date with no indication of the content or subject-matter. The names of institutions or societies have been recorded as found. The original names are indicated by the use of initial capitals is this catalogue.
Other papers include: Erasmus Darwin's examination papers and school reports; Erasmus Darwin's army pass book; a series of printed lectures given by Leonard Darwin on eugenics; collection of press-cuttings relating to Horace Darwin becoming Mayor of Cambridge, Ypres and the First World War, obituaries of Horace Darwin; collection of offprints relating to botany, eugenics, Charles Darwin, health and mental health.


  • Creation: 1860-1960 (Circa)


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Emma Cecilia 'Ida' Darwin, born 1854, married Horace Darwin (1851-1928), fifth son of Charles and Emma Darwin. They had three children: Erasmus (1881-1915) who died at Ypres during the First World War, Ruth Frances [Rees-Thomas] (1883-1973), and Emma Nora [Barlow] (1885-1989). The Darwins lived at ‘The Orchard’, a large house on Huntingdon Road in Cambridge In 1883 Ida joined a group mainly of wives of Cambridge University academics to found the Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls (from 1956-1985 the Cambridge Association for Social Welfare). The Association offered help to girls living in 'dangerous circumstances', providing training and securing work in domestic service. In 1908 she and Florence Ada Keynes (1861-1958) founded the Cambridge Association for the Feeble-Minded (from 1921 the Cambridgeshire Mental Welfare Association) to help to put into action the recommendations of the 1908 Report issued by the ‘Royal Commission for the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded’. The report provided the first clear legal distinctions between people with a mental illness and people with a learning disability or brain injury. Ida remained President of the Cambridgeshire Mental Welfare Association until 1942, and this contact with the vulnerable inspired her to campaign for the passing of the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 which required local authorities to maintain institutions and supervise community care. In 1913 she was elected to the Executive Committee of the United Kingdom’s first national mental welfare organization, the Central Association for Mental Welfare (CAMW), led by Dame Evelyn Fox. Ida was Vice-President from 1917 until 1927. From 1922 to 1927 Ida also served on the committee of the National Council for Mental Hygiene; in 1947 this merged with CAMW and the Child Guidance Council (established in 1927), to become the National Association of Mental Health, the leading UK mental health charity now known as Mind. In 1924, Ida and Horace Darwin and Dame Ellen Hume Pinsent donated £5000 to Cambridge University to endow a scholarship for "original research into any problem which may have a bearing on mental defects, diseases or disorders." It continues today as the Pinsent-Darwin Studentship in Mental Pathology, named after their sons who died in WW1. Ida died in July 1946.


1 collection

Language of Materials



The names of institutions or societies have been recorded as found. Similarly, the titles of newspaper articles or other offprints have been recorded as found. These descriptions include language which is offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate, particularly in the description of mental health, and those suffering from mental or physical ill-health. The original names of institutions or societies, and the titles of newspaper articles and offprints have been retained to reflect the context of their creation.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented 1996 by Dr A. D. Barlow and brothers.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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