The Hon. Lady Emma Cecilia "Ida" Darwin (née Farrer; 7 November 1854 – 5 July 1946) was an English mental health campaigner who spent much of her career working to improve the quality of care for the more vulnerable in society.

Early lifeEdit

Emma Cecilia "Ida" Farrer was born on 7 November 1854. She was the daughter of the lawyer Thomas Farrer of Abinger Hall (later Baron Farrer) by his first wife, Frances Erskine (1825–1870), daughter of the historian and orientalist William Erskine (1773–1852). The family lived in Dorking, Surrey where Ida and her father shared a love of botany. As a young girl, Ida enjoyed reading Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and her favourite was a story called ‘Little Ida’s Flowers’. As a result she insisted that she be known as Ida from then on.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Against her father's wishes, on 3 January 1880 Ida married Horace Darwin, son of the naturalist Charles Darwin at St Mary's, Bryanston Square.[2] They had a son and two daughters:[3]

Forms of addressEdit

  • Miss Ida Farrer (1854-1880)
  • Mrs Ida Darwin (1880-1893) - her marriage
  • The Hon. Mrs Ida Darwin (1893-1918) - her father's barony.
  • The Hon. Lady Darwin (1918-1946) - her husband's knighthood.


In 1908, Ida, along with Florence Ada Keyes, founded the 'Cambridge Association for the Feeble-Minded'. This was in response to recommendations by the 'Royal Commission for the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded' in 1904. The commission was formed in order to consider 'the existing methods of dealing with idiots and epileptics, and with imbeciles, feeble-minded, or defective persons'. This was the first clear distinction between mental illness and learning disability or a brain injury.[1]

Ida also helped to found the ‘Association for the Care of Girls’ along with other wives of Cambridge University dons in 1883. The group offered support to abused women and those drawn into sex work and helped them with training and getting back to other employment. Ida's daughter said of her that she 'realised the injustices they suffered in an ignorant and careless world. She suffered with them and there was awakened in her the deep convictions of the need for social and legislative reforms that guided her future course'.[1] Her work with the particularly vulnerable, ‘feeble-minded’ women inspired her to campaign for legislation, such as the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913.

After the Mental Deficiency Act was passed, the 'Cambridge Association for the Feeble-Minded' merged with the ‘Cambridgeshire Voluntary Association for the Care of the Mentally Defective’ and became the 'Central Association for Mental Welfare' which later became the leading mental health charity MIND. Ida was chairman of the ‘Central Association for Mental Welfare’ for her entire working life, even providing a room in her house for the administration of the group.

Death and LegacyEdit

Ida died 5 July 1946 and is buried in Cambridge at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground along with her husband. She had an obituary in The Times,[5] with a further note by Leslie Scott[6] who described her as "one of the pioneers in this country in the field of social work".

The Ida Darwin Site and HospitalEdit

In the late 19th century people with brain injury and single mothers were labelled "feeble minded" and local authorities had to provide public asylums to house those individuals deemed to be "pauper lunatics". Fulbourn Asylum was opened in 1858[7] for the feeble minded people of Cambridge to be kept in as it was considered that those people should be segregated from the rest of society.[1]

In the 1960s, the need for provision of dedicated care and support of the mentally handicapped people in the area was recognised. The East Anglia regional hospital board chose a site next to the Fulbourn mental hospital. The new hospital was to cater for 250 residents and the aim was that the facilities would enable each resident to maximise his or her potential. At a meeting of the regional hospital board in 1963 the chairman Lady Adrian suggested that the new unit be named "the Ida Darwin Hospital."[8]

Headway Cambridgeshire Research ProjectEdit

In 2016, a research group from Headway Cambridgeshire carried out a Heritage Lottery funded project called ‘Looking Back at Making Headway’ in which they researched Ida Darwin, advances in brain injury treatment and the origins of Headway Cambridgeshire itself. As a result, they produced an exhibition, film, digital timeline and a series of oral histories.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "A Digital Timeline of Brain Injuries | Heritage Lottery Fund and Headway Cambridgeshire". Heritage Lottery Fund and Headway Cambridgeshire. Heritage Lottery Fund and Headway Cambridgeshire. 11 September 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries . Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland), Thursday, 8 January 1880
  3. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry, Darwin formerly of Downe.
  4. ^ CWGC :: Casualty Details at
  5. ^ The Times, Saturday, 6 July 1946; pg. 7; Issue 50496; col E
  6. ^ Leslie Scott KC Hon. Lady Darwin. Obituaries, The Times, Tuesday, 16 July 1946; pg. 7; Issue 50504; col E
  7. ^ "Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge - County Asylums". County Asylums. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Charles Darwin on Land and at Sea". Charles Darwin on Land and at Sea.
  9. ^ "Making Headway | Headway Cambridgeshire". Headway Cambridgeshire. Headway Cambridgeshire. 11 September 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.CS1 maint: others (link)

External linksEdit