Eva Violet Melchett or Lady Eva Violet Mond Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading, as she was to become, was born on August 6th, 1895 and died on August 4th 1973 at the age of 77.
As the child of one extraordinary family and joining with another through her marriage, it came as no surprise that she should make such a mark on life herself.
She was the child of a mixed marriage; her mother, Violet was an Anglican and her father, Alfred Mond was Jewish. His father had been German and founded the company which went on to become the chemical multinational ICI.
Eva’s childhood was one of great ease and opulence, spent in illustrious company, her parents having very many eminent friends who would visit. She demonstrated an aptitude for the arts. She travelled widely in Europe during her youth and attended finishing school in Munich.
She met her husband, Gerald Isaacs, in Scotland before leaving for Germany and Finishing School. A close friend of her father’s was Chaim Weizmann so that Zionism figured in her life early on and was to become significant in the years to come. She became close to Gerald on her return and the couple married
It had been intended that a church wedding should take place after Eva came out in the May of 1914 as a debutante, but the marriage was delayed with the outbreak of war and at the last minute the Archbishop of Canterbury refused his permission for a church wedding as it was a mixed (religious) marriage. The couple had a civil ceremony followed by a blessing in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street.
The couple lived in Berkhamstead for the first two years of their marriage and Eva then lived with her son Michael at Melchett Hall in Hampshire, her father’s home whilst her husband was serving in the British Army on the Front. She then moved to Sussex where she had her second child, Joan, her third child Elizabeth being born in 1921.
Through experiencing life as a mother of three and observing people’s impoverished living conditions, while canvassing for her father, she developed a passion for improving the desperate situation of working-class women and children. She fund-raised to establish the Sunbabies’ Home, a Nursery in Hoxton as she was so concerned about the lack of childcare for working mothers.
During the First World War she also carried out Red Cross work and took practical instruction in First Aid and Nursing and attended Red Cross workshops.
Eva travelled twice to India with her husband in 1922 and 1924, while his father was Viceroy of India. What could be seen as a milestone in her life was her visit to Palestine with her father, who had a growing involvement with Zionism, in 1928. This caused her to question the conflict between her Christian beginnings and her Jewish background.
She took up the study of Hebrew on her return and became deeply attached to the Zionist cause, returning to Palestine the next year.
Her commitment to improving the lives of women and children continued and she became Chair of the National Society of Day Nurseries, President of the Nursery Nurses Training Colleges and a member of the National Society for Maternity and Child Welfare.
She also had an interest in the Jerusalem Baby Home and the Tel Aviv Mothercraft Society. This devotion was also expressed in her contribution to the development of health records being kept for children, ‘The Little One’s Log’, was written under her pen name Eva Erleigh in 1927. She also wrote ‘A First History for Little Children’ under this same pseudonym in 1926.
At the same time her brother Henry was developing a passion for Palestine and converted to Judaism without Eva’s knowledge, which came as a surprise to her as they were very close. She had herself been receiving instruction in the faith and also converted. She worshipped at the liberal synagogue in St. John’s Wood. Both her daughters were subsequently to convert to Judaism, first Joan and then Elizabeth.
Eva would travel to her father’s estate, Melchett Villa, in Ereẓ Israel overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in the spring of each year.
Gerald’s father died in 1935 and the couple became the Second Marquis and Marchioness of Reading. Eva continued with her commitment to both the Zionist cause and improving child welfare unabated.
She was involved in helping to smuggle Jewish refugee children to Britain before the Second World War. She went on to become an advisor to the Minister of Health on issues around child day-care in 1942. She was Vice President of the World Jewish Congress in 1947. In 1956 she received a CBE for her achievements in improving child welfare and in1957 she made history by becoming the first Jewish president of the National Council of Women.
It has to be said her husband did not share her passion for the Zionist cause that her brother Henry did, so Henry’s early death at the age of 51 was a particularly painful blow to her.
This dedication to the Zionist cause was recognised when she was awarded an honorary fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1971. On the bestowal of the award it was said that
‘throughout her lifetime she has devoted herself wholeheartedly to the promotion of Jewish rights all over the world—to the attainment of the Jewish people’s vision—the reconstruction of its ancient homeland in sovereign independence…Her services to the Jewish people have been a central expression of her devotion to human rights and human dignity throughout the world and particularly to the rights of women.’
Eva stands out as a person of great note as a life-long advocate for the Zionist cause and the birth of Israel as a nation.
Sources: Lehrer, Natasha. “Eva Violet Mond Isaacs, Second Marchioness of Reading.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopaedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on October 8, 2019)