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Homan [née Waterlow], Ruth (1850–1938), educationist and women's welfare campaigner, was born on 8 August 1850 at 5 Gloucester Terrace, Hoxton Old Town, London, the eldest daughter of the three sons and five daughters of , stationer and MP, and his first wife, Anna Maria (d. 1880), the younger daughter of William Hickson, London merchant and manufacturer. She spent her childhood at Waterlow Park; little else is known of her early life. On 7 May 1873 she married Francis Wilkes Homan, the son of Ebenezer Homan of Wormwood Street. Left a widow in 1880, with one daughter, she accompanied her father, sister Hilda, and brother Paul on a tour of Canada and the United States in 1881. Widely travelled, she had by 1896 been round the world three times.

Ruth Homan's candidature for the London school board in 1891 was practically her first experience of public work, though her upbringing in a politically active family obviously facilitated the process of learning how to ‘work’ the existent political machinery. Her father's friends included four board members: Sir Edmund Hay Currie, T. H. Huxley, Samuel Morley, and the Revd William Rogers. Her brother, David Waterlow (1857–1924), later became a county councillor and Liberal MP. Her interest in education had been aroused while presiding over a girl teachers' club in the East End, and she took exceptional pains to qualify herself for school board work. She first became a school manager in Chelsea in 1887, then, to extend her knowledge of cookery, health, and hygiene, followed the course of artisan and scullery cooking classes at South Kensington School of Cookery, going on to serve as a probationer at St Bartholomew's Hospital, of which her father was treasurer. Finally her work for a charity called the Country Holidays Fund gave her a personal acquaintance with some of the poorest and most unfortunate children attending the board schools.

Ruth Homan was elected at the head of the poll for Tower Hamlets division of the London school board in 1891, temporarily leaving her home at 52 Addison Mansions, Kensington, to take lodgings in the midst of the constituency. She held the seat until the 1903 London Education Act abolished the board, transferring its responsibilities to the London county council (LCC). A Liberal who supported the school and Progressive Party policy, she endorsed the development of the higher grade and evening continuation schools, the teaching of temperance principles in board school, and special teaching for ‘afflicted’ and delicate children. She took an active interest in the work of Elizabeth Miriam Burgwin, superintendent of London's special schools for physically and mentally handicapped children and was a keen advocate of the kindergarten system. She also promoted the teaching of cookery and laundry-work and went on to succeed Rosamond Davenport-Hill as chair of the domestic subjects subcommittee. Hard-working, active, and efficient, both women were frequently depicted as ‘typical’ women members by the contemporary media. On 16 March 1896 she gave evidence to the departmental committee on reformatory and industrial schools. She recommended industrial schools for both boys and girls, women inspectors, varied industrial training, and the cottage home system of organization.

Ruth Homan gave all her spare time to the work of the board. This amounted to five or six days a week while the board was sitting, and incalculable time during the recess as she visited schools both at home and abroad. She also extended her charitable work in the East End—an interest she had first displayed in the late 1880s. She continued to run a boot and clothing help society in the schools, and used her position as a member of the committee of the London School Dinners Association to supply free school meals to needy East End children during the winter months. She was also vice-president of the Pupil-Teachers Association and member of a Club of Working Girls in the City. Co-opted to the education committee of the LCC following the dissolution of the London school board in 1904, she served on the day schools and special schools subcommittee.

In 1897 Ruth Homan was elected president of the Cornish Union of Women's Liberal Associations. Qualifying for election on the basis of her property at Tintagel (her daughter married Arthur Greig Chapman, the vicar of Tintagel), she was also president of the Hammersmith Women's Liberal Association and officer of Poplar Women's Liberal Association. A member of the Somerville Club for Women, she and four other women members of the London school board—Margaret Eve, Susan Lawrence, Emma Maitland, and Hilda Miall-Smith—belonged to the Women's Local Government Society (WLGS), an upper-middle-class, liberal, London-based feminist group, which supported the claims of all women to elected local office, whatever their politics. Ruth herself contributed to the fight against the Education Acts of 1902–3 which, until 1907, disqualified women for election to the new local education authorities. Possessing an attractive personality and with an established reputation as an easy, fluent speaker, she was an ideal person to publicize the work of women in local government. She wrote and spoke on both school board work and public work more generally in an open letter entitled Women as Candidates for Local Elections, published by the WLGS in November 1908. She herself continued to act as a role model for other women. In 1910 she was elected a poor-law guardian for Ewell, Surrey, and served for eleven years. Latterly she lived mainly in Cornwall and died at Camelford on 6 November 1938.

Jane Martin

Sources  

M. Bateson, ed., Professional women upon their professions (1895), 48–51 · Young Woman, 4 (1895–6), 129–32 · School Board Chronicle (1891–1904) · The Board Teacher (1 Nov 1892), 236 · ‘Departmental committee on reformatory and industrial schools’, Parl. papers (1896), 45.788–92, C. 8204 · G. Smalley, The life of Sir Sydney Waterlow bart (1909) · A. Wright, ed., The Argus guide to municipal London: a poll-book and a year-book combined (1903), 130 · b. cert. · m. cert. · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1939)

Archives  

LMA, Women's Local Government Society records, pamphlets and references to political activities


Likenesses  

photograph, repro. in Board Teacher · portrait, repro. in Election Manifestos, 1891–1900 · sketch, repro. in Bateson, ed., Professional women, 48

Wealth at death  

£20,168 10s. 2d.: resworn probate, 25 Jan 1939, CGPLA Eng. & Wales