Queer Places:
Standish House, Standish, Gloucestershire, GL10, UK
Passfield Corner, Passfield Rd, Passfield, Liphook GU30, UK
Westminster Abbey Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England

Beatrice Webb, c1875.jpgMartha Beatrice Webb, Baroness Passfield, FBA (née Potter; 22 January 1858 – 30 April 1943) was the first woman London School of Economics co-founder in 1895. Deborah Epstein Nord has highlighted the importance of female community in the lives of pioneering women who lived outside residential communities. Focusing on one female network in late-XIX century London, she traces the connections between Beatrice Potter Webb, her cousin Margaret Harkness and Amy Levy, who all lived and worked in London in the 1880s and were part of a broader network, including the South African novelist Olive Schreiner and Eleanor Marx. Both Levy and Harkness also wrote novels, while Beatrice Potter Webb served as a Charity Organization Society worker and a rent collector in the East End. Nord suggests that, although the women did not partecipate in an organised female community, their membership in this more fluid netwoek sustained them and gave them identity and purpose focused on their work, socially marginal status and resistance of marriage and family.

Beatrice Webb was an English sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer. It was Webb who coined the term collective bargaining. She was among the founders of the London School of Economics and played a crucial role in forming the Fabian Society.

In the autumn of 1883, when she was 25, Beatrice Potter/Webb had resolved to remedy her own ignorance of living conditions among the manual working class by going to live with a family in the Lancashire mill town of Bacup; because the family she lived with were relatives of her mother’s, she presented herself as ‘Miss Jones’, a Welsh farmer’s daughter. One ‘shrewd old man smelt a rat’ and interrogated her about farming methods, but she managed to pass the test.73 Later, in 1888, when working with her cousin Charlie Booth on his mammoth Life and labour of the poor in London, she pretended to be a Jewish tailoress, a challenge complicated by her accent and her incompetence with the needle, but one which inspired dramatic writing, close, perhaps, to the fiction she always longed to write. ‘Pages from a work-girl’s diary’ was published in 1888, around the time Webb was putting in her first public appearance as an expert on poverty and industrial conditions by providing testimony to a House of Lords Committee on the Sweating System.

Beatrice Potter was born in Standish House in the village of Standish, Gloucestershire, the last but one of the nine daughters of businessman Richard Potter and Laurencina Heyworth, a Liverpool merchant's daughter. Her paternal grandfather was Liberal Party MP Richard Potter, co-founder of the Little Circle which was key in creating the Reform Act 1832. From an early age Beatrice was self-taught and cited as important influences the cooperative movement and the philosopher Herbert Spencer.[1] After her mother's death in 1882 she acted as a hostess and companion for her father. In 1882, she began a relationship with twice-widowed Radical politician Joseph Chamberlain, by then a Cabinet minister in Gladstone's second government. He would not accept her need for independence as a woman and after four years of "storm and stress" their relationship failed.[2] Marriage in 1892 to Sidney Webb established a lifelong "partnership" of shared causes. At the beginning of 1901 Beatrice wrote that she and Sidney were "still on our honeymoon and every year makes our relationship more tender and complete".[3] She and her husband were friends with the philosopher Bertrand Russell.[4]

Beatrice Webb left unfinished a planned autobiography, under the general title My Creed and My Craft. At her death, aged 85, the only autobiographical work she had published was My Apprenticeship (1926). The posthumously issued Our Partnership (1948) covered the first two decades of her marriage to Sidney Webb between 1892 and 1911 and their collaboration on a variety of public issues. In the preface to the second work,[5] its editors refer to Webb's desire to describe truthfully her lifelong pursuit of a living philosophy, her changes of outlook and ideas, her growing distrust of benevolent philanthropy as a means of redeeming 'poor suffering humanity' and her leaving of the field of abstract economic theory for the then practically unexplored paths of scientific social research. In 1926 when Webb had begun to prepare the second volume, Our Partnership, only to be repeatedly distracted by other more pressing commitments, the book's editors report her finding it difficult to express "her philosophy of life, her belief in the scientific method, but its purpose guided always by religious emotion." [6]

One of Beatrice's older sisters, Catherine, became a well-known social worker. After Catherine married Leonard Courtney, Beatrice took over her work as a voluntary rent-collector in the model dwellings at Katharine Buildings, Wapping, operated by the East End Dwellings Company.[7] The young Beatrice also assisted her cousin by marriage Charles Booth in his pioneering survey of the Victorian slums of London, work which eventually became the massive 17-volume Life and Labour of the People of London (1902–1903). These experiences stimulated a critical attitude to current ideas of philanthropy. In 1890 Beatrice Potter was introduced to Sidney Webb, whose help she sought with her research. They married in 1892, and until her death 51 years later shared political and professional activities. When her father died in January 1892, leaving Potter an endowment of £1,000 pounds a year, she had a private income for life with which to support herself and the research projects she pursued. The Webbs became active members of the Fabian Society. With the Fabians' support, Beatrice Webb co-authored books and pamphlets on socialism and the co-operative movement including The History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897). In 1895, the Fabians used part of an unexpected legacy of £10,000 from Henry Hutchinson, a solicitor from Derby, to found the London School of Economics and Political Science.[8] After consulting Dr. Andrea Rabagliati for health problems, Webb became a vegetarian in 1902 and shortly thereafter began a vegetarian salon for socialists. By 1908, she was a vice-president of the National Food Reform Association.[9] Webb was a lacto-vegetarian, she described herself as an "anti-flesh-fish-egg-alcohol-coffee-and-sugar eater".[9][10]

When Beatrice Webb died in 1943, she was cremated at Woking Crematorium. The casket containing her ashes was buried in the garden of their house in Passfield Corner, as she had requested. Lord Passfield's ashes were also buried there when he died four years later. Shortly afterwards, the nonagenarian George Bernard Shaw launched an ultimately successful petition to have the remains of both moved to Westminster Abbey. They now lie buried in the nave of the Abbey, close to the ashes of their Labour Party colleagues Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. Beatrice did not live to see the welfare state set up by the post-war Labour government. It was an enduring monument to her research and campaigning, before and after she married Sidney Webb. First outlined in the Minority report (Poor Law) of 1909, it would remain substantially intact until the 1980s. It is not certain that Beatrice Webb would have approved of the manner of its implementation and future management. As her niece Kitty commented:[32] ... although it was Beatrice herself who put the 20th-century zeitgeist into its most concrete form, in the Welfare State, something in her remained sturdily Victorian to the very end. "What has to be aimed at is not this or that improvement in material circumstances or physical comfort but an improvement in personal character," she wrote. She believed that citizens who were given benefits by the community ought to make an effort to improve themselves, or at least submit themselves to those who would improve them.

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