Partner Kathleen Courtney

Queer Places:
38A Netherhall Gardens, London NW3 5TP, UK
25D Fitzjohn's Ave, London NW3 5NB, UK
44 Upper Park Rd, Hampstead, London NW3 2UU, UK

Edith Verena Eckhard (1885 – August 9, 1952) was Assistant Lecturer subsequently Senior Tutor and Deputy Head of the Social Science Department 1919-1952 at the LSE Library. Eckhard was a close friend of Kathleen Courtney, a suffragist, peace campaigner and internationalist. Eckhard and Courtney lived together in London, some of the time with the pacifist doctor Hilda Clark, and Clark’s partner, the midwife and Quaker pacifist Edith Pye.

Born in 1885, Edith Eckhard originally came from Manchester and was the daughter of Gustav and Mary Eckhard, and a cousin of Lord and Lady Simon Wythenshawe. Starting as an assistant lecturer in the Ratan Tata Department (later known as the department of Social Science and Administration) at the LSE in 1919, she served for 33 years in the Social Science Department; in 1928 she was designated as Senior Tutor and in 1947 as its Deputy Head. To the welfare of that Department she devoted increasingly all her thoughts and energies, and to her is due in large measure the high reputation of the Department in UK and overseas. In her care for students, guiding them not only through their university careers but also in later years, she was untiring; many generations of students will remember her with profound gratitude.

In her history of women in British universities before 1939, Carol Dyhouse suggests the LSE offered a research environment that was relatively friendly to women. In contrast with Cambridge academic life, there was no informal social apartheid between the sexes. The University of London's self-representation included an emphasis on it being "the first academic body in the United Kingdom to throw open its degrees, honours, prizes to students of both sexes, on terms of perfect equality." How did women academics fare?

Eckhard was a cousin of Ernest Simon. She and Ernest grew up in Manchester's émigré community. Like Shena Simon, Edith studied economics at Newnham. Unlike her friend Shena, she did not follow a path that combined public life with marriage and motherhood. After leaving university, Edith worked as a secretary for child welfare centers in Manchester and Leeds, and then undertook emergency relief work for the Society of Friends in Vienna, Austria. In January 1919 she accepted a temporary post at the LSE in the Department of Social Science and Administration, nicknamed "Urwick's harem." Mary Stocks confessed that her fellow economists "adopted an attitude towards these potential social workers which can only be described as tainted with intellectual snobbery." T.H. Marshall, who came to the department as a social work lecturer in 1925, said it was "popularly regarded as a convenient place for wealthy mothers to send their daughters to when disturbed by the dawning of a social conscience."

Eileen Younghusband went to LSE in 1926, having met Eckhard as a settler in Bermondsey. Eckhard had seen her work and suggested that she be interviewed for a place on the Social Science course. Younghusband's biographer, Kathleen Jones, describes Eckhard as a "vital, dark-haired woman of some originality" with a penchant for wearing "red stockings which were always twisted round her legs like a spiral staircase." Eileen Younghusband's recollections of the department in the 1920s and '30s capture the experiences of women teachers and students. "The lecturers were terrifying and remote. . . . Tutorial contact was provided by tutors, a lower form of academic life. The Certificate of Social Science occupied a humble place in the School's hierarchy of courses—not an internal qualification, not a degree course, 'practical,' and mainly for women, and therefore only marginally acknowledged in academic terms."

Women were employed as special tutors, responsible for bridging the gap between theory and practice. Eckhard's story shows how this played out in career terms. Her department head was Mostyn Lloyd, Editor of New Statesman. Lloyd left much of the administration to Eckhard, although she was not officially the deputy. Indeed, Eileen Younghusband recalls that Eckhard ran the department, knew staff and students alike, and organized all the teaching and practical work without any secretarial help: "Her whole life was LSE." In 1927, Eckhard applied for recognition as a sociology lecturer. Lloyd considered her a "first-rate teacher" and hoped her weak research record would not hamper her promotion prospects. "Her duties in lecturing, in coaching pupils, and in organising the practical side of the Social Science training here, in fact, left her little leisure for research and writing." Writing to a colleague in December 1928, Lloyd judged that "it is very difficult to know what to say about Miss Ecichard. . . . The plain fact is that she is a damned good teacher (and examiner) and wouldn't be any better if she wrote a dozen books. I have asked her intentions, and she says frankly she has not at present anything she feels moved to write about." The Senate rejected Eckhard's application for promotion to sociology lecturer in 1927 and 1928. Asked if anything had changed in 1929, Lloyd said they had discussed the question of her writing but she "has not taken any active steps." He also acknowledged the competing demands on her time.

"She has been occupied in connection with the establishment of the Clinic and our proposed course and she does not want to hurry anything that she may be going to write. I am afraid this all sounds vague and negative. . . . I suppose we cannot begin to get teachers recognised on their merits as teachers. It is a pity; for Miss Eckhard is a first-rate teacher."

T.H. Marshall took over from Lloyd in 1944. Allegedly switching from history to sociology on account of his inability to remember dates, Marshall was appointed as a lecturer and ultimately professor. Summing up Marshall's contribution to the development of sociology in Britain, A.H. Halsey notes that he "never acquired the driving puritanical dedication to research and writing. . . . His professionalism was never so narrow. Teaching was at least as important as research. Administration at the LSE, burdensome as he found it, was a compelling duty, especially as professor of social institutions and head of the social work department."

The records lend a different gloss. Senior management was sympathetic to Marshall's desire to lose his administrative burden, and in 1947 Eckhard became his deputy. The failure to develop a research record had stalled Eckhard's promotion prospects, but this appointment represented a modicum of formal recognition for work she had been doing for two decades. She appreciated the "generosity" of LSE's governing body and Marshall's confidence in her. In 1950 she postponed retirement to help the newly appointed Richard Titmuss set up a new degree and training courses for social workers in the local authority health and welfare services. Eckhard said she was "very glad" to be staying and "to have the privilege of taking part in shaping a plan for the future of the Social Science Department." She felt deeply satisfied "that it is felt that I still have some contribution to make."

Nobody predicted the turn of events that followed. Dahrendorf records that Eckhard "was now ready to retire and left in 1952," but it was not quite that simple. In February 1952 Eckhard wrote the LSE director, Alexander Carr-Saunders, asking the governors to accept her immediate resignation. She had been ill for some weeks and had been diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer.

"I cannot tell you how much I regret the inconvenience and extra work this will put on my colleagues . . . or what a blow it is to me personally to have to end my 32 years of service to the School in this abrupt way... . I shall miss, especially, the daily co-operation, friendship and stimulus from my colleagues. . . . I am particularly sad at leaving when re-organisation and change are essential, in which I had hoped to be of some use before my retirement at the end of the summer term."

Dead within six months, Eckhard was praised in The Times obituary (by Eileen Younghusband) for her personality and her qualities as a teacher and colleague:

"She belonged to a liberal tradition—liberal in thought, liberal in toleration of others, liberal in giving, and liberal of time. She believed in freedom for students to work out their own destinies but with all the unstinted help which she was prepared to give them. She was so free from self-concern that she hardly seemed to remember her own existence, though so vividly aware of the loves and fears, the needs and desires, ambitions and plans of others. She was not only uniquely and satisfyingly herself, but she was also the central spirit of the department in which she worked. . . . Her long last illness was a time for the gathering together of friendship. Once more she gave more than she received and all that she was shone through in its fullness for a last inspiration to those who loved her, who will not forget."

Two women received a copy of the resolution Carr-Saunders read to the LSE Academic Board in the autumn of 1952: Eckhard's sister, Beatrice Paish (wife of Professor Frank Paish, LSE staff 1932-65) and Kathleen D'Olier Courtney, suffragist and peace campaigner who shared Eckhard's Hampstead home. They probably met in Manchester, when Courtney worked as secretary of the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage (1908-11). In common with Eckhard, Courtney also became associated with the Friends' War Victims Relief Committee and spent three years in Vienna. In thanking Can-Saunders for his sensitivity, the reputedly unemotional Courtney wrote: "I should like particularly to say how much I appreciated the report of what you said. It describes exactly Miss Eckhard's great qualities and I do indeed realise what a terrible loss she must be to the School of Economics. I need not say what the loss is to me personally."

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