Needham, Alicia Adelaide (1863–1945), musician and composer, was born Alicia Adelaide Montgomery in Co. Meath, daughter of John Wilson Montgomery (c.1834–1911); she spent most of her childhood at the family home in Downpatrick, Co. Down. Educated at Victoria College, Londonderry, she entered the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied pianoforte, harmony, and counterpoint. Graduating in 1887, she became a licentiate of the academy two years later. An accomplished pianist, she pursued a career as a music teacher while continuing to give public recitals. In August 1892 she married Joseph Needham, a successful London doctor who specialised in anaesthesia. Continuing to give piano recitals after her marriage, in 1893 she passed the examination to become an associate of the Royal College of Music.
It was only in 1896 that she established herself as a composer of some repute. Some of her work, which consisted chiefly of songs, was performed publicly and she had a major success with ‘An Irish lullaby’. This encouraged her to continue composing and she also began publishing her compositions. For six successive years she was a prizewinner at the Feis Ceoil competition for her Celtic songs and in 1902 she won the earl of Mar's £100 prize for writing the best composition in honour of the coronation of King Edward VII. Entitled ‘The seventh English Edward’, it had words by Harold Begbie. In 1906 Needham became the first woman president of the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales. During the first world war she served with the Red Cross as a searcher for the wounded and missing, and in recognition of her efforts she was included on the roll of honour at St James's Palace. During this period she also became the first woman to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall when she led the band of the Irish Guards.
After an illness, she died 24 December 1945. In a prolific career she published about 400 songs including ‘Husheen’ and ‘My dark Rosaleen’; and some piano solos, duets, quartets and hymns. Some of her most famous collections included ‘12 ballads for bairns’ (1900), ‘12 lyrics for lovers’ (1902), and ‘12 small songs for small people’ (c.1907). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was impressed with her work and wrote lyrics specially for her war collection, ‘Seven songs for soldiers’. Her marriage was not happy. She had one son, Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham (1900–95), who was born in London. He became a distinguished scientist and historian, best known for his collaboration on Science and civilisation in China (1954), and his work as a biochemist; he was master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1966–76). Because of his stature, the private papers of Alicia Needham, including her correspondence, diaries, and biographical information, were catalogued by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists at the University of Bath; they are now deposited at the University of Cambridge, and include her autobiography, ‘A daughter of music’, and her diaries for the period 1879–1924.