This Christmas I was gifted the book Bloody Brilliant Women authored by Cathy Newman with the goal of giving a voice to ‘the pioneers, revolutionaries and geniuses your history teacher forgot to mention.’ In the first chapter Newman mentions, in a brief few lines, Henrietta ‘Nettie’ Adler and her role as a school board manager and then progressive councilor for Hackney Central in the early 1900s. Immediately I thought of my involvement in the Newington Green Meeting House’s project ‘Revolutionary Ideas Since 1708’ and how an exploration of Adler’s life and role in Hackney’s history would contribute to the project as a whole.
Born in 1868 and daughter of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Henrietta Adler was one of the few women of the time to have a full education and similar to many women from an upper-middle class Victorian society she put much of her energy into philanthropy, specifically education. Beginning her social work on the London School Board as a school manager, she went on to be honorary secretary of the Committee on Wage Earning Children (1899-1946) as well as member of the Jewish Board of Guardians. However she gained most recognition as a politician, and was elected to the London County Council in 1910 as Hackney Central’s representative, at a time where universal suffrage was not yet a reality. Adler was a Liberal Party member which aligned with the Progressive Party in local government. She held her position on the London County Council until 1931, representing the Liberal Party from 1928 after the dissolution of the Progressive Party. Additionally she severed as deputy chair of the London County Council from 1922 until she was defeated in 1925.
In 1920 she was appointed as a Justice of the Peace in youth courts becoming one of the first women in England to do so. She became renowned for her authority on child wage-earning and youth offending. In 1934 she was made a Commander of the British Empire for her work in local government. Henrietta Adler’s political career was trailblazing for the time. Her work in local politics as one of the first women to do so makes her a member of Hackney’s political past that should be recorded and remembered.