Elizabeth Haldane

Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane CH JP (/ˈhɔːldn/; 27 May 1862 – 24 December 1937) was an author, biographer, philosopher, suffragist, nursing administrator, and social welfare worker. She was the sister of Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane and John Scott Haldane, and became the first female Justice of the Peace in Scotland in 1920.[1] She was made a Companion of Honour in 1918.

Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane
Taken from the frontispiece of her autobiography 'From One Century to Another'.
Born(1862-05-27)27 May 1862
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died24 December 1937(1937-12-24) (aged 75)
St. Margaret's Hospital, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland, UK
Pen nameE. S. Haldane
OccupationWriter, biographer, historian, philosopher
Genrenon-fiction, biography, philosophy


Elizabeth Haldane was born on 27 May 1862 at 17 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. Her father was Robert Haldane of Cloan House near Auchterarder, Perthshire and her mother was Mary Elizabeth Sanderson.[2] She was educated by a succession of tutors and visiting schoolmasters. She wanted to go to college but it was too expensive and she was an only daughter tied to her widowed mother. Instead she educated herself by correspondence courses.[3]

She took nursing courses in the 1880s and subsequently became involved in establishing the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) from 1908 onwards.[4] She became a manager of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary around 1901 onwards.[5] Her autobiography, From One Century to Another covers the period from 1862 to 1914. It lacks precise detail but gives a graphic picture of what it was like to be a well-to-do lady in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. She was intimate with royalty such as Queen Alexandra[6] and was a personal friend of literary figures such as Matthew Arnold and George Meredith. She was taken out to dinner by Matthew Arnold who astonished her "by his knowledge of the neighbouring fishing streams, since he did not personally know the neighbourhood." She adds that: "I enjoyed his talk very much, as I had always had a great admiration for his work and felt it an honour to meet him. He had the stiff rather highbrow Victorian face one knew so well from pictures, but he was delightful to me."[7] George Meredith visited Cloan House in September 1890. She recalls that "It was quite unnecessary to entertain him, for the wonderful sentences poured from his mouth and we had but to listen."[8] In later life, she corresponded with her niece, Naomi Mitchison (née Haldane) who regarded her suffragist views as being out of date. Haldane accepted "the restriction of women's activities to the inside, the personal, the domestic" whereas Mitchison considered women to be equally free to pursuit their lives outside the home.[9] She died on 24 December 1937 at St. Margaret's Hospital, Auchterarder, Perthshire.

Official Appointments

  • Vice-Chairman, Territorial Nursing Service;[10]
  • Member of QAIM Nursing Board;
  • Deputy President of British Red Cross Society, Perthshire Branch;
  • for some time a Manager of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary;
  • Member of Scottish Universities Committee, 1909;
  • Member of Royal Commission on the civil service, 1912;
  • of Advisory Committees (National and Scottish) under the Insurance Act, 1912;
  • of School Board since 1903;
  • of County Authority for Education, 1919–22;
  • of Scottish Savings Committee, 1916;
  • of General Nursing Council, 1928;
  • Central Council Broadcast Adult Education, 1930;
  • Governor of Birkbeck College;
  • late Governor of London School of Economics.


If Truth were to be found in mixing with the world, Descartes was bent on finding it; but, as he himself realised, he was a stranger in the world into which he had entered—a stranger in a mask which concealed his true expression. He learned, what all men learn in time, that there is no sphere of life in which the contradictions of mankind can be got rid of; everywhere alike is there error and deception: if we accept what is set before us by custom and example, we shall certainly go wrong. Truth must be sought for from the beginning: the Book of the World but sends us back to ourselves.

Descartes' first reflections that winter at Neuberg, when free from cares and passions he remained the whole day in his well-warmed room, gave the colour to the remainder of his life. The student, undistracted by society that interested him, devoted his whole attention to his thoughts, and his thoughts directed the course of his later speculations. What, then, was the lesson learned? The first conclusion the young man came to was this: that seldom does a work on which many persons have been employed attain to the same perfection as that which has been carried out by one single directing mind: this we see clearly in buildings, or in cities which have grown from villages. And with nations the case is similar: civilisation is a growth which has largely come about through the necessity bred of suffering, while the direction of some wise legislation or the ordinances of God must be incomparably superior. Learning has suffered in this way; the sciences have gradually been drawn far from the truth which a sensible man, using his natural and unprejudiced judgment, would gather from his own experience.

  • Descartes, His Life and Times, Haldane, Elizabeth Sanderson, 1862-1937. P. 67-68 published 1905



  1. "Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane:Historical Figures and Perthshire". Strathearn.com. Retrieved 28 September 2007.
  2. Births and deaths information available at the General Register Office for Scotland, Scotlands People Centre in Edinburgh, and also at Scotland's People.gov.uk. She was christened 'Elizabeth Saunderson' but the additional 'u' seems to be a clerical error.
  3. Haldane, Elizabeth S. (1937). From one century to another: the reminiscences of Elizabeth S. Haldane. London: Alexander Maclehose & Co. p. 73. OCLC 2174488.
  4. The Territorial Force Nursing Service 1908–1921: available here.
  5. From One Century to Another, p.196.
  6. From One Century to Another, pp. 223, 257.
  7. From One Century to Another, pp.101–102.
  8. From One Century to Another, p.164.
  9. According to Johanna Alberti, in her paper, Alberti, Johanna (1990). "Inside out: Elizabeth Haldane as a women's suffrage survivor in the 1920s and 1930s". Women's Studies International Forum. 13 (1–2): 117–125. doi:10.1016/0277-5395(90)90078-C.
  10. This list of her appointments appears in her 'Who was Who' entry.


Further reading

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