Orpen, Adela Elizabeth (née Richards) (1855–1927), writer, was born on a slave plantation in Virginia, USA, on 3 February 1855, the only surviving child of Edward Moore Richards and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth (née Tisdale). Following the death of her mother on 19 February 1860, her two siblings having also died, she moved with her father in 1862 to land he had purchased in Kansas. This move was in part because of his abhorrence of slavery, Kansas having recently been incorporated as a new free state of the federal union. His other reason was that, as an engineer looking to work on railway construction, he had sought a location on what he conjectured to be the likely route of the Santa Fé railway. Together with her guardian, Adelia Gates, Adela worked with her father to establish themselves in this frontier area, her father having constructed ahead of her arrival a simple 'frame house', a structure slightly superior to a log cabin. Here she was to hone many skills of the frontier, including managing cattle and horses, but also undertaking unusually substantial responsibilities for a nine-year-old while her father was away fighting on the union side in the American civil war. This included planning for an evacuation of the settlement in the event of a confederate advance. This isolated childhood environment, together with many early lessons in survival in a frontier society, was to have a powerful influence on Adela's later life and established the basis of an exceptionally close relationship with her father. As she later wrote he was: 'Father, mother, playmate, friend during those Kansas years and the influence of his training has remained strong throughout my life' (Orpen, Memories, v).
Adela's move to Ireland in 1867 was the result of her father's unexpected inheritance of the Grange estate in Killann, Co. Wexford, after the death of his older brother, John Francis Richards. Accompanied by Adelia Gates (usually addressed by Adela as 'Mamma'), she spent her remaining childhood and youth at Grange, later renamed by her father Monksgrange. This was a more conventional life than she had previously experienced, although her father's unusual interests, including campaigning for women's dress reform and a more general advocacy of the rights of women, provided an intellectually and emotionally stimulating context for her development. Significant changes in their lives, both economically and politically, occurred with the onset of the land war in the late 1870s, threatening the economic viability of the Grange estate but also changing the political outlook both of her father and herself from liberalism and nationalist sympathies to staunch unionism and active support of the British Conservative party. The economic constraints created by withholding of rents was also a factor in delaying her marriage to her first cousin once removed, Goddard Henry Orpen (qv), although this was compounded by her father's resistance to the marriage on grounds of Orpen's financial inadequacy, his career as a London barrister being still in its infancy. They were married at St Peter's church (Church of Ireland) in Dublin on 18 August 1880. It was to prove a very successful partnership, warm and affectionate – in her husband's words 'a perfect union' – and providing a strong foundation, not only for bringing up their two children, but for their respective careers as authors.
The newly married couple established themselves in the new London suburb of Bedford Park, a development strongly influenced by the arts-and-crafts movement. As well as giving birth to their two children, Lilian Iris (b. 1883) and Edward Richards (b. 1884), Adela set about establishing her credentials as a novelist and essay writer, enjoying a significant measure of success from about 1886 onwards. She successfully published numerous articles in London and New York journals, and three novels: Corrageen in '98: a story of the Irish rebellion (1898), a fictional account of the experience of the Grange estate in 1798; Perfection city (1897); and The jay-hawkers: a story of free soil and border ruffian days (1900). Two non-fictional books are perhaps her most durable works: The chronicles of the Sid; or, The life and travels of Adelia Gates (1893) is an account of the remarkable journey of her erstwhile guardian across North Africa and the Middle East; and Memories of the old emigrant days in Kansas, 1862–1865 (1926) recalls her American childhood.
Nineteen hundred marked the pinnacle of her writing career but also its effective end. In that year her father transferred to her the ownership of Monksgrange and she decided to devote herself fully to its management, taking residence there with her husband Goddard who now abandoned the London bar for his preferred career as an historian. In 1923, in an uncanny reminder of her childhood experiences, she suffered at first hand the terror of another civil war with three republican raids on her house, in one case with a revolver pointed threateningly at her, its use apparently averted only by her quick verbal rejoinder. In her later life she was deeply disappointed at developments in Ireland and bitterly hostile to England for its betrayal of what she saw as Ireland's interests. She inherited her father's deeply ingrained scepticism on religion and in the 1911 census listed herself as an agnostic. She died at Monksgrange on 17 February 1927 and is buried in St Anne's churchyard, Killann. A very extensive collection of her papers, including manuscripts of her books and articles, is held at Monksgrange.