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Summary Article: Webb, Beatrice
from Economic Thinkers: A Biographical Encyclopedia

Born: January 22, 1858, in Gloucester, England; Died: April 30, 1943, in Hampshire, England; English; economic history, cofounder of the London School of Economics and Political Science; Major Works: The History of Trade Unionism (1894) (with Sidney Webb) (1894), Industrial Democracy (1897) (with Sidney Webb) (1897), English Local Government, Vols. 1–10 (with Sidney Webb) (between 1906 and 1929).

Beatrice Webb was one of the cofounders of the famous London School of Economics. In 1895, she was instrumental in the cofounding of the school as a response to her convictions as a member of the Fabian Society. Webb was a major researcher and writer on the poor in London during the nineteenth century. Focusing on economic historical history, Webb along with her husband, Sydney, were considered the preeminent historical researchers when between 1906 and 1929 they published 10 volumes of English Local Government. Webb died in 1943.

Beatrice Martha Potter (Webb) was born on January 22, 1858, in Gloucester, England. Her father was a wealthy railway engineer and she traveled widely as a child. She received little formal education but read extensively in the areas of philosophy, mathematics, and science.

In 1883, Webb joined the Charity Organization Society (COS) and began working with the poor. In 1886, she went to work as a researcher for her cousin Charles Booth. She became involved in studying the lives of working people living in London. It was her assignment of studying and investigating the lives of dock workers and sweat labor in the tailoring trade that would later lead to the publishing of several articles published in the journal Nineteenth Century. She also covered other topics including Jewish immigration.

Webb's research on would lead her to believe that poverty was caused less by the individual than by the governmental systems in place, over which the poor lacked control. Later, to better understand the organizations the working class had created for itself, Webb became interested in the work achieved by the different cooperative societies currently existing in many of Britain's industrial towns. While writing The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain, she contacted Sidney Webb who had also researched this topic. In 1892, they married. Since Webb had a considerable income from her deceased father's estate, both began to focus on their political interests and social reform. Sidney was a leading figure in the Fabian Society, which Webb later joined. The Fabian Society was a social order that believed capitalism had created an unjust and inefficient society. Later, when the society was bequeathed a large sum of money, it was the Webbs who suggested that the funds be used to create a new university. In 1895, the London School of Economics and Political Science was founded.

During their early years, Beatrice and Sidney Webb cowrote several books including The History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897). Their greatest work, English Local Government, was a 10-volume project published over a 25-year period. It was a history of the government from the seventeenth to the twentieth century and firmly established the Webbs as first-rank historical researchers. It became the standard work on the subject of the organization and function of English local government.

Continuing to be involved in politics on all levels, the Webbs would later write the 1902 and 1903 Education Acts, which would set the pattern for public education for years to come. In an effort to end the Poor Law system in Britain, the Webbs authored the Minority Report, which, though rejected, has long been seen as a key influence on the emergence of Britain's welfare state (i.e., the welfare of the citizen is the responsibility of the state). In 1913, Webb started the Fabian Research Department and with her husband, a new political weekly, The New Statesman. In 1914, the Webbs became members of the Labour Party. During World War I, Webb served on a number of government committees and continued to write for a number of Fabian Society pamphlets. In 1929, her husband became Baron Passfield; Beatrice, however, refused to be known as Lady Passfield.

In 1932, disillusioned with their lack of success in politics and the Labour prospects, the Webbs visited the Soviet Union. During this time many changes were occurring there to ensure economic and political equality for women, as well as improvements in health and educational services. Upon their return, they spent three years writing a book called Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (1935). This was later followed by another book, The Truth about Soviet Russia (1942).

Beatrice Webb died on April 30, 1943, in Hampshire, England.

See also: Bauer, Otto; Engels, Friedrich; Hilferding, Rudolf; Marx, Karl

Selected Works by Beatrice Webb
  • Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb. English Local Government. Vols. 1-10. Longmans, Green London, 1906-1929.
  • Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb. The History of Trade Unionism (1894). Longmans, Green London, 1894.
  • Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb. Industrial Democracy (1897). Longmans, Green London, 1897.
  • Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb. Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? Vols. 1-2. Scribner New York, 1935-1938.
  • Webb, Sidney; Beatrice Webb. The Truth about Soviet Russia. Longmans, Green London, 1942.
  • Selected Works about Beatrice Webb
  • Muggeridge, Kitty; Ruth Adam. Beatrice Webb: A Life, 1858-1943. Knopf New York, 1968.
  • Seymour-Jones, Carole. Beatrice Webb: A Life. I. R. Dee Lanham MD, 1992.
  • Simkin, John. Spartacus Educational. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUwebbB.htm (accessed October 2012).
  • Carol Lynn Nute
    Copyright 2013 David A. Dieterle

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