Sisters in Humanity

Isabel and Adeline as children, painted by G F Watts by permission of James Hervey-Bathurst, Eastnor Castle

Isabel and Adeline Somers Cocks were daughters of the 3rd Earl Somers and his beautiful and vivacious wife, Virginia. A third daughter, named Virginia after her mother, sadly died in infancy from diptheria.
The two girls had a privileged but rather cloistered childhood, often left to the care of a succession of governesses as their parents travelled widely. Their mother was so paranoid about them catching infections that she issued detailed instructions as to what they were to wear and what activities they could or could not undertake. This was all rather frustrating to the girls, although Adeline seems to have been more obiedient than the spirited Isabel.

It is therefore rather surprising to find that in later life both Isabel and Adeline chose actively to support causes which were not fashionable and which took them face to face with some of the more unsavourary aspects of Victorian life.

Isabel, better known by her married name of Lady Henry Somerset, campaigned for temperance and worked tirelessly with women and children whose lives had been blighted by alcohol abuse. She regularly went out onto the streets of London, late at night, to see for herself the social problems caused by drink and drug abuse.
Adeline, meanwhile, had married the Marquis of Tavistock, son of the Duke of Bedford. Her mother-in-law, the Duchess was so straight-laced that when Isabel sought a legal separation from her husband on the grounds of his homosexuality, she refused to associate with her. There was a farcical incident at Adeline’s home where Isabel had to flee down the backstairs so as to avoid the Duchess, who had come to visit.
But Adeline too was moved by the plight of those less fortunate than herself. She didn’t just support her sister’s causes, finacially and emotionally. She herself became Chairman of the board of Borstal Institutions and Vice-President of the Association of Lady Visitors to prisons. Like her sister, she was not just a titled figurehead. yet prison visiting was hardly a glamorous pastime for someone of her social rank.
Both sisters were deeply religious and Adeline was a very close friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife.

Having written the biography of Isabel, Lady Henry Somerset, I now plan to research the life of Adeline, as I feel this has the potential to be another so far untold story of a remarkable woman.

If anyone has any information about Adeline, i would love to hear from you.

About rosblack

I am a freelance writer & author of 4 social history books, featuring female social reformers of the late 19th and early 20th century. In a previous life I managed a housing charity. I also give talks.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Lady Henry and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sisters in Humanity

  1. madebymags says:

    I have read your web page with interest. When my aunt died a few years ago she left among her possessions a bible which had been either her mother’s or her grandmother’s. At the front of the bible is an inscription which reads ‘Ann Wells a kind remembrance from Adeline, Duchess of Bedford Woburn Abbey May 7 1893’. Ann was a servant at Woburn and I assume this was given to her when she left.
    I have no use for the bible and have been looking to sell it although I doubt it has any great value. Are you aware of anyone who may be interested in it?

    • rosblack says:

      Glad you found the webpage interesting. The bible was very likely a gift when your ancestor left service. I have replied privately to the question about possible sale of the book.

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