Hidden Lives Revealed. A virtual archive - children in care 1881-1981 * Image of handwritten text

A Biography of Edward Rudolf (1852 - 1933)

This is a short biography of the early life of Edward Rudolf, founder of the Waifs and Strays Society, now called The Children's Society.

When and where Edward was born

Edward Rudolf, 1888
Edward Rudolf, 1888
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Edward Rudolf was born on 11 April 1852, in Lambeth, South London, near the Elephant and Castle.

His father, William Edward Rudolf, was retired major, who had served in the British and Dutch armies. He had a small pension, and he supplemented this income with language translation. Mrs Rudolf was called Susan. Not much is known about her background.

Family circumstances

Edward was the second child in a family of four children. He had an older brother, Richard, and younger brother Robert, and a young sister called Ida. Ida died aged 2 and a half. It was quite common in Victorian families for one or more children to die at a young age.

William Edward Rudolf, Edward's father, had an earlier marriage, in which he had another four children. Only one of these survived to adulthood. William Edward's first wife died in 1848.

The son from this first marriage, William Heaton Rudolf, gave his father an annual allowance of 20 pounds, but the family still did not have a lot of money to live on.

Edward and his brother Robert did not go to school. They were educated by their father.

Starting work at the age of 13

William Edward was an elderly man. He was aged eighty when Edward was twelve. His eyesight grew very poor, and his earning capacity dwindled.

Edward took on responsibility for bringing in some money to support the family.

In 1865, at the age of thirteen, he went to work as an office boy in a business in Blackfriars, London. He earned five shillings a week, and two pence an hour overtime.

Family income reduced so Edward gets a higher paying job

In 1867, Edward's step-brother William Heaton Rudolf died. The allowance he had given to the family stopped, which nearly cut their income in half.

Edward's father was a friend of the Consular-General of the Netherlands, a Mr May. Mr May helped the family out by giving Edward a higher paying job as a junior clerk at the consulate.

Portrait of the founder
Portrait of the founder
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Edward educates himself and helps support the family

The 15 year old Edward worked hard during the day, and spent his evenings educating himself. He studied French, German, mechanics and physics. He kept rabbits for the family to eat.

Edward also made a small amount of money by selling waste paper from the consulate office to a waste dealer for one and a half pence for a pound in weight of paper.

Hard times for the family

Edward's father died on the 7th January 1871. On the 20th January his mother, who had been ill for some months, was admitted to Bethlem Mental Hospital in Beckenham, Kent.

Richard, the oldest brother, had gone to live in New York in July 1870.

Edward, aged 18, and Robert, aged 14, now had to look after themselves. They moved into a room in a boarding house in Kennington, for 5 shillings a week.

A new career with the Civil Service

Both Edward and Robert were now working for the Netherlands consulate. In order to gain more financial security Edward took and passed the British Civil Service exam in March 1871. He was offered a post at the Office of Works in Whitehall.

Mrs Rudolf came out of mental hospital in July 1871.

Now that Edward was in a better financial position, Mrs Rudolf and her two sons moved into a three-room apartment in Kennington.

Voluntary teaching

In September 1869, Edward, aged 17, became a member of a committee of 'Popular Educator Committee'. This involved running classes to help educated young men. He ran classes every Tuesday and Friday evening through the winter of 1869 - 1870.

Interest in the Church

In early 1870 Edward decided that he wanted to become a Church minister. He enrolled at the London College in Greek and Divinity classes, and did part time study.

Edward Rudolf in retirement
Edward Rudolf in retirement
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Because of his interest in the church and his experience teaching, in 1871 he was asked by his vicar at St Phillip's church in Kennington to start a night school at the Church.

He ran the school for four months until the family moved. After resettling themselves Robert and Edward started attending St Anne's Church in Lambeth, South London, in September 1872.

Edward was soon asked to become the superintendent of the St Anne's Sunday School. He started on the 1st December 1871, and did this work for 10 years until his work with the Waifs and Strays' Society took over his time.

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