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Grace Eyre Woodhead’s Life and Legacy

This page tells you more about Grace Eyre Woodhead’s life and legacy. Grace fought for disabled people’s rights. She helped disabled people live in the community. This was rare in the 1880s. Many disabled people were locked away back then. Click on the headers below to find out more about Grace and her work.

Before the Guardianship Society

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This is a photo of Grace Eyre in the 1870s. She was about 10 years old here.


Grace was born in Brighton on 24th February, 1864. She was the eleventh child in her family. Her dad was a Major in the Army. Her mum was upper class and religious. They moved to Brighton around 1856-1860. They lived at 12 Norfolk Terrace in Brighton.

In 1871, the family had seven daughters living with them. It was a busy home. They had a cook, a teacher, a nurse, and maids. The family also owned a country home in Heathfield. Grace’s family was rich.

In 1884, Grace went to Lady Margaret Hall. This was the first women’s college in Oxford. Grace was one of the first women in the UK to go to university. She studied for two years. Grace’s sister Hilda studied there too. This was rare in the 1880s. Lots of people did not want women to study back then. Women couldn’t get a degree until the 1920s.

Grace moved back to Brighton. She visited some asylums. Asylums were big crowded hospitals. Many people lived in asylums back then. Some of them had a learning disability. Some of them had mental health problems. They were stuck in hospital. Grace thought this was unfair. Grace wanted people to have more freedom.

Setting up the Guardianship Society

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A photo of Grace as a young adult. She looks very smart here. Her jacket has spirals and stripes on. She has her hair pinned back.

This was Grace’s calling card. A calling card was a photo you left at someone’s house to say you had visited. This photo was taken on Western Road in the 1890s.


In 1898, Grace helped working class and disabled children to go on holidays. The children stayed in Heathfield House. Heathfield House was Grace’s family’s second home. The house was in the countryside. Grace asked her friends to let children stay at their homes. The children enjoyed visiting the seaside. Lots of them had never seen the sea before.

Lots of people asked Grace if children could leave hospitals for good. Grace and her friends helped find homes for the children to stay. This was the start of Shared Lives. Shared Lives is a scheme where people live in a carer’s home. People still live in Shared Lives homes today. Doctors and nurses visited children at their new homes. They made sure the children were healthy and happy.

Grace wanted disabled people to have more freedom. Lots of people did not agree. These people believed in eugenics. Eugenics is the idea that only people with good qualities are allowed to have children. For example, if two parents are smart their children might be smart. The problem with eugenics is it says some people are better than others. This means other people have their rights taken away.

A report came out in 1908. It wanted to stop disabled people from having children. It wanted disabled people to work away from society. In 1911, Winston Churchill agreed with this report. This shows how forward-thinking Grace and her friends were. Grace had helped many disabled people to live in the community by then.

Early days of the Guardianship Society

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A photo of children and adults on the front steps of a building. There are some children sat at the front. The children have lots of different expressions. Some of the children are smiling, some look distracted, most of them have neutral expressions. There are some adults standing at the back of the steps. It is harder to see their faces. This is because the photo has faded at the top from age.

This photo was taken in 1915 on the steps of 4 Richmond Terrace, Brighton. Can you spot Grace at the back? She is 4th to the right. We think she is standing next to staff. We think the children in the photo attended the day centre.


The Mental Deficiency Act was passed in 1913. This act set up the Board of Control. The Board of Control decided if people needed care and where they could live. They decided what happened to people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. Groups who helped these people had to register with the Board of Control. This meant Grace had to set up a group.

In June 1913, Grace set up a meeting. Her sister Hilda was there too. Dr Helen Boyle came to the meeting. She was one of the first UK women doctors. They helped disabled people to live in the community. Disabled people went to live with carefully selected families. Disabled people were supported to get jobs. They were given medical support. Regular reports were sent to the Board of Control.

They named their group the Guardianship Society. The Guardianship Society started on 1st October, 1913. This was the start of what is now the Grace Eyre Foundation.

Grace was the Secretary of the Society. She reported to the Board of Control. The Board of Control thought some people were too dangerous to live in the community. Grace did not always agree. It was hard for Grace to raise money sometimes. This is because hundreds of disabled people wanted to live in the community.

In 1932, Brighton Council said too many disabled people lived in Brighton. Grace didn’t give their addresses to the council. The council complained to the Board of Control. The Board of Control ignored this complaint.

Grace's achievements

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There are 3 young men pushing a wagon full of hay. They are smiling and squinting because of the sun. They are wearing shirts, suspenders and ties. Two of them are wearing caps. One man is standing in front. He is wearing a suit and a fedora. An elderly Grace stands next to them in the field. She is wearing a long coat, a wide-brimmed felt sun hat, a high collar, and wellies. It is hard to see her face but it looks like she is slightly smiling.

Grace on a summer visit to Tubwell Farm. We think these young men worked and lived on the farm. This photo was taken in the early 1930s. Thanks to Muriel Hart for this image.


Some people saw the Guardianship Society was doing good work. The Board of Control praised their work in 1923. People wrote to Grace for advice on how to set up their own groups. Some of these people lived in Australia, America, and Canada.

In 1922, the Guardianship Society set up the first UK training centre. Men learnt wood work and leather work. Women learnt knitting, sewing, and domestic work. People also learnt basket-making and painting. The council gave Grace some money to run the centre. The Guardianship Society had an Art Sale to raise money.

In 1923, the Guardianship Society bought Dungates Farm. In 1927, they bought Tubwell farm. They also bought some cottages for foster families. Young men with learning disabilities learnt skills on the farms. Learning skills at the farms helped these men become more independent. Learning skills helped them find work. The farms ran until 1958. Men worked on the farms growing crops, caring for animals, and selling produce.

The Guardianship Society also supported people with mental health problems. They ran a support group for people who had left mental health hospital. They set up a mental health clinic. The clinic was at 82 Grand Parade. The hospital head visited weekly. They helped people with early stages of mental health problems.

Grace's later years

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An elderly Grace is standing in a sunny field. She is wearing a stripy jacket, a three quarter-length skirt, and a big hat. She has what looks like a coat and scarf draped over one arm. She is smiling.

This is a photo of Grace smiling, taken at Tubwell Farm in the 1930s.


Grace went on summer outings to the farm with staff, carers and families. She was “a rather thin lady, always in grey”.

Grace lived at 13 Compton Avenue, Brighton. She lived with her sister Hilda and brother Henry. In 1935, she had a heart attack. She moved to a nursing home on Dyke Road. Grace died on 5th April, 1936. She was 72 years old.

Grace gave around £10,000 in her will to the Guardianship Society. She wanted her funeral to be “as plain as possible”. The Sussex Daily News wrote about her funeral. The Mayor and Council members went to the funeral. Grace’s loved ones went to the funeral.

Grace was buried at Woodvale Cemetery in Brighton. She was buried with her family. A staff member said Grace was enthusiastic, kind, and determined.

Grace’s Shared Lives model is still used today. Grace was one of the first to start a training centre. She helped start the Clinic for Nervous Disorders. Grace worked very hard. She worked 7 days a week until 8 or 9 at night. Grace said asylums should be “the last option of care”. Grace wanted people with learning disabilities to feel happy, useful, and confident. Grace thought disabled people should have their own “place in the sun”.

Grace's life in detail

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If you would like to read more about Grace Eyre Woodhead, a longer version of her story (still a work in progress!) is here:  Grace Eyre’s Life & Legacy (June 2021)

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