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Ruth Adler (1944-1994)

Feminist, human rights campaigner and child welfare advocate.

Ruth Adler

Ruth Margaret Adler (nee Oppenheimer) was born on 1 October 1944 in Ilfracombe, Devon, to parents who, as newly qualified lawyers, were unable to practise their profession in Nazi Germany and had come to England as refugees in the 1930s. 

Adler's education began at the North London Collegiate School before she enrolled at Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics. She followed this with an MA in Philosophy from the University of London.


Adler's connection to the University of Edinburgh began when she moved with her husband and two children to Scotland in the mid-1960s. Initially taking a role as a part-time lecturer in the Philosophy department, her particular interest in moral philosophy led her to study for her doctorate in jurisprudence under the influential supervision of renowned Law professor Neil McCormick. Fluent in German, she and McCormick went on to translate a number of books by leading Czech and German legal philosophers from German into English.

Human rights

Adler's subsequent professional career was driven by a distinct passion for justice, child welfare, individuals' rights, and the rights of women. Her PhD thesis eventually bore the book 'Taking Juvenile Justice Seriously' in which she sought to show how philosophy can inform public policy in relation to achieving justice for children, while in 1974 she became a founder of Scottish Women's Aid, and later the Scottish Child Law Centre. It was at the latter that Adler helped to create the first comprehensive database of child law in Scotland.


Adler strongly believed in the role of law in protecting an indivdual's interests, but she was aware of its deficiencies and the potential for injustice. To to be part of the solution, she became Assistant to the Lay Observer for Scotland, now the Legal Ombudsman, responsible for investigating complaints against solicitors, in 1987. She was noted for her skill in both analysing evidence dispassionately while seeking to halt any potential injustices.

A prominent member of the Edinburgh Jewish community, Ruth was also editor of the Edinburgh Star and Secretary and President (1998) of the Edinburgh Jewish Literary Society.

Later life and legacy

In 1991 Adler founded Amnesty International's Scotland office, where she worked until a few days before her death from cancer in 1994, aged just 49.

There is a plaque dedicated to Ruth Adler in the garden of the University of Edinburgh Day Nursery, while the School of Law sponsors the annual Ruth Adler Memorial Lecture on Human Rights, as well as the Ruth Adler Prize, which is awarded annually to the best student in the Ordinary course Critical Legal Thinking.

Related links

The Ruth Adler Memorial Lecture on Human Rights

Additional sources

Obituary in The Independent 26 February 1994