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Adelaide Anderson was appointed Principal Lady Factory Inspector in 1896 and for the next twenty-five years was the directing mind of the newly formed women’s branch of the British Factory Inspectorate. As such, she established a professional female presence in an organisation, which had previously been the exclusive domain of men. This was a time when hundreds of thousands of women worked in appalling conditions in factories and workshops and when industrial accidents and disease were common occurrences. However, it was also a period of growing political acceptance that the state had a duty to intervene to improve the conditions in which people worked, and when new medical and scientific developments were beginning to inform the policies and practices of industrial health and safety.

Adelaide Anderson was at the centre of these developments, creating a new focus on the employment conditions of women workers. Arguably, she ranks as one of the most significant figures in the development of occupational health practice in early twentieth-century Britain. Moreover, her commitment to the improvement of working conditions continued long after her retirement from the British Factory Inspectorate, taking her to China and to Egypt where, during the formative years of the International Labour Organisation, she attempted to confront the worst excesses of child labour.

Women and Children in the Factory

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