Obituary: Lady Taylor

May Doris Charity Clifford, prison administrator: born Woking, Surrey 16 September 1914; Governor, HM Prison Holloway 1945-59; Assistant Director and Inspector of Prisons (Women) 1959-66; member, BBC General Advisory Council 1964-67; President, Newfoundland and Labrador Social Welfare Council 1968-71; married 1939 Dr Stephen Taylor (created 1958 Baron Taylor, died 1988; two sons, one daughter); died Haywards Heath, West Sussex 4 January 1998.

Charity Taylor was one of the most influential prison administrators of the post-war years. She was a reformer with a firm touch and a prison governor who always remembered that the prisoners were there to be helped back successfully into society.

At the time of her appointment as the first woman governor of Holloway Prison, in 1945, she said: "In many cases where women have gone wrong and got as far as prison, the psychological approach may do a great deal of good. The thing is to give some of these people the hope that they will become decent citizens again. Severe punishment is not always the way to prevent an individual doing something wrong."

The daughter of a journalist, she was born Charity Clifford in Woking in 1914. The family moved to Huntingdon and she was educated at Huntingdon Grammar School before qualifying in medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London. She joined the Prison Commission in the Second World War because she thought that, as a doctor, she should help in any way she could with the war effort. In 1942 she was appointed as Assistant Medical Officer at Holloway Prison. She undertook this challenging new role for a woman as, up to then, all the medical officers in women's prisons were men. Later she was appointed as Medical Officer and in 1945, at the age of 30, she became the Governor of Holloway.

While at Holloway she introduced major reforms to help the women prisoners build their self-esteem. She was concerned that they should leave the prison better equipped for the outside world than when they were sentenced. She introduced classes in both practical skills and academic subjects. She allowed the women prisoners to wear make-up for the first time. She allowed them to wear their own clothes. Perhaps most important of all, she allowed them to keep their babies in prison with them after they were born in the prison hospital.

Education in Holloway in the 1950s was a broad experience. Classes covered subjects as varied as drama, typing, first aid and home nursing, art, English and literature, gardening, knitting and current affairs.

Charity Taylor became a bit of a media star: appearing in the papers with her children, and talking enthusiastically about combining a career and family as a successful working mother. She said that a married woman with children was able to govern Holloway with a better understanding of the prisoners, since most of them were also mothers. In later years she rarely talked about her role as Governor of Holloway since she felt, as a senior civil servant, that her responsibilities were to the State; she did not believe that memoirs were appropriate.

The thirteenth of July 1955 must have been a date that she never forgot. She hit the headlines as Governor of Holloway when Ruth Ellis was hanged (the last woman to be hanged in Britain). She never revealed to anyone her reaction to this event, except that it was clear that she found it a terrible responsibility.

In 1959 she was appointed as Assistant Director and Inspector of Prisons for Women - the head of the service. Much of her effort at this time went into training staff and she often lectured at the Prison Staff Training College at Wakefield. She rigorously visited women's prisons and Borstals throughout England and Wales and made sure that high standards were observed, together with a tough but caring regime. At this time she was also an enthusiastic member of the General Advisory Council of the BBC.

In 1966 she retired and went to live in Canada with her husband, the doctor and former government minister Lord Taylor, on his appointment as President and Vice-Chancellor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland. While in Newfoundland she was President of the Social Welfare Council. She returned to Britain in 1973 when her husband retired, and in recent years she faced the deterioration of her sight with typical fortitude. She was a tower of strength to her family, her sisters, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

- Daniel Yates