Ada Eliot Sheffield, ca. 1930s–40s.
From the collection of the T. S. Eliot Estate.

Ada Eliot Sheffield


Ada Eliot Sheffield (1869–1943): eldest of the seven Eliot children (married to Alfred Dwight Sheffield [1871–1961], college lecturer); author of The Social Case History: Its Construction and Content (1920) and Social Insight in Case Situations (1937). TSE considered her ‘a very exceptional woman’ – the Mycroft to his Holmes – ‘an authority on Organized Philanthrophy’. . Her husband was Alfred Dwight Sheffield (1871–1961), who taught at Wellesley College.

Frank Morley to Helen Gardner, 1978: ‘she and he, when he was a child, had the habit of communicating with each other, as they sat on the steps of their home in St Louis, in lengthy and happy communications by rhythms. Throughout life Tom relied on Ada’s understanding.’

TSE to John Hayward, 20 Feb. 1943:

Being nearly twenty years older than I, and having no children of her own, she came to occupy a quasiparental relation with me (my mother would be 100 this year!) Also she and I have always had more in common than with the rest of our family. She has far more brains than any of the others, and with my grandfather’s organising and executive ability combined a more reflective mind, and a capacity of abstraction, coming from the other side of the family. Without being ‘masculine’ in any way to suggest psychological distortion, she has a capacity for impersonal thought, and for detaching herself from emotion and prejudice, which I have never found in any other member of her sex. So I have always felt a tacit understanding with her, and a more satisfactory relationship, than I have ever found in those of either excitement or friendship with women – in the long run.