Hornsey Ln, Highgate, London N6 5EP, UK
36 Berkeley Rd, Crouch End, London N8 8RU, UK
90 Woodside, Wimbledon, London SW19 7AW, UK
Vernon Chambers, 4 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8PN, UK
81 S Hill Park, Hampstead, London NW3 2SP, UK
61 Swain's Ln, Highgate, London N6 6QL, UK
Clara Collet (10 September 1860 – 3 August 1948) was an economist and British civil servant. She was one of the first women graduates from the University of London and was pivotal in many reforms which greatly improved working conditions and pay for women during the early part of the twentieth century. She is also noted for the collection of statistical and descriptive evidence on the life of working women and poor people in London and elsewhere in England.
Clara Collet was born on 10 September 1860 to Jane (1820-1908) and Collet Dobson Collet (1813-1898). They lived in Hornsey Lane, Islington. Her Unitarian father, Collet Dobson Collet, sent her to the North London Collegiate School close to where she lived, which was one of the most liberated schools for girls at that time. When finishing her education at the Collegiate School in 1878, she was recommended by the founder of the school, Frances Buss, to work as assistant mistress at the newly founded Wyggeston Girls' School in Leicester, later to become Regent College. Her salary was £80 and she got herself coached by masters from the boy's grammar school in Greek and applied mathematics. Collet also enrolled at University College London and in 1880 graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, making her one of the first women graduates from the University of London. In October 1885 Collet moved to College Hall, on Gordon Square, and started to study for a master's degree in Moral and Political Philosophy, which included psychology and economics. While studying at University College London she took the Teacher's Diploma. In 1886 she and Henry Higgs were jointly awarded the Joseph Hume Scholarship in Political Economy. Collet was awarded an M.A. in 1887.
After completion of her master's degree she worked for Charles Booth helping in his great investigative work on the conditions prevailing in late nineteenth century London. To this end she took up residency in the East End during the autumn of 1888. She was working on a chapter on women's work in Booth's survey Life and Labour of the People of London. Booth had planned for a chapter on women's work in his survey. In 1887 Alice Stopford Green started the investigation on women's work and wages, but in November 1888 she left Booth's project. Booth asked Beatrice Webb if she could complete the women's work study by March 1889. Webb was working on the study of the Jewish community, which had to be completed in February. Records show that Collet started work on the women's work survey in late November. It is not documented how Collet was recruited to Booth's team. Webb and Collet had a mutual friend, Eleanor Marx, and Collet had in 1887 attended the Toynbee Hall conference on women's work and wages, which had also been attended by Booth. Collet was formally employed by Booth in late 1888 and took over Green's study of women's work in the East End of London and contributed to Graham Balfour's study of Battersea Street. In 1890 she studied the Ashby-de-la-Zouch workhouse for Booth's work on the Poor Law Unions. In her diaries Collet recorded that "this investigative work has many drawbacks... I would give it up and will give it up whenever I see a chance of earning a certain £60 even by lectures on economics". While working for Booth she coached girls and occasionally stood in for Henry Higgs to give lectures on economics at Toynbee Hall. Collet ended her employment with Booth in 1892. She remained close to Booth and her former colleagues. In 1895 she moved to 36 Berkeley Road, Crouch End, and in 1900 she moved to 90 Woodside, Wimbledon. In 1899 her friend George Gissing met with Gabrielle Fleury, and they lived together as man and wife. Collet promised Gissing she would be come Fleury's friend. In 1903 George Gissing died at Ispoure in South West France and in 1904 Gabrielle came to stay with Collet. In 1904 she and her former colleagues attended Booth's celebratory dinner. The same year they moved to 4 Vernon Chambers, Theobald's Road. By 1919 she is living at 81 South Hill Park, Hampstead. Sometime in 1930 Collet moved to 61 Swains's Lane, Highgate with a view through Highgate cemetery gates of Karl Marx's grave. In 1931 she contributed data on domestic service to Hubert Llewellyn Smith's New Survey of London Life and Labour.
Collet joined the Civil Service and worked with the Board of Trade to introduce many reforms, including the introduction of the Old Age Pension and labour exchanges (employment bureaux). During these years she worked with well-known politicians such as David Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, William Beveridge and Winston Churchill. With the support of Charles Booth she initially joined the civil service as Assistant Commissioner for the Royal Commission on Labour. In 1893 she secured a permanent post as Senior Investigator for Women's Industries at the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. Collet retired from the civil service in 1920 and became an active member of the Royal Economic Society and the Royal Statistical Society.
Her family became acquainted with Karl Marx and Clara became especially friendly with his daughter Eleanor Marx. Collet was a friend of George Gissing during the last ten years of his life (they first met in July 1893), and she offered to act as guardian to his two sons when it became clear his second wife, Edith, would find it hard to cope financially after his death. At this time she also became engaged in a long disagreement with H.G. Wells over the foreword of Gissing's posthumously published novel Veranilda.
She died on 3 August 1948 and her body was sent to London for medical research.
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