Beatrice Webb
(In)Visible Women in Social Sciences and Social Work

Beatrice Webb (1858-1943)

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    “On the face of it, it seems an extraordinary end to the once brilliant Beatrice Potter (but it is just because it is not an end that she has gone into it) to marry an ugly little man with no social position and less means, whose only recommendation, so some may say, is a certain pushing ability. And I am not ‘’in love’ with him, not as I was. But I see something else in him (the world would say it was a proof of my love) – a fine intellect and a warm-heartedness, a power of self-subordination and self-devotion for the ‘common good’.”

    (Beatrice Webb, diary, 20 June 1891)

    In social science terms, Beatrice Webb was a pioneer. Her goal was to strengthen the development of social science research and to establish the use of research methods. She was interested in researching social phenomena, such as people affected by poverty (related work: "The Abolition of the Poor Law") or gender wage inequality (related work: "The wages of men and women: should they be equal?"

    „The 1895 LSE Prospectus states that: The special aim of the School will be, from the first, the study and investigation of the concrete facts of industrial life and the actual working of economic and political relations as they exist or have existed, in the United Kingdom and in foreign countries.“ (LSE, 2022)

    Beatrice Webb said the following about her husband's life and herself: “We have lived the life we liked and done the work we intended to do. What more can a mortal want?“

    Short biography

    Beatrice Webb, née Potter, was born in Standish House, Great Britain, on January 22, 1858, the eighth of ten children. She spent her childhood in a wealthy Victorian household, enjoying a private education and attending a girls' boarding school. As early as 1873, she traveled to the United States as a companion to her sister. Through her travels with her sister, she developed a social conscience before 1880. When her mother died afterwards, she took over responsibility and managed the parental household; moreover, after the stroke, she became her father's most important advisor. Through this work and the influence of Auguste Comtes as well as Herbert Spencer, she developed into a social researcher. Through her relationship with the conservative politician Sir Chamberlin, she also became more politically active and became a member of the Charity Organization Society, but she soon dropped out because her social-moral attitude changed. However, joining the Fabian Society influenced her and she developed more and more into a socialist. The death of her father and his inheritance enabled her to finance her political activities. In 1892 she married Sidney Webb with whom she continued to work in the Fabian Society. Through a donation from entrepreneur Henry Hutchison, she and her husband were able to found the London School of Economics and Political Science in London in 1895. In the years that followed, through her work on the Royal Commission, she also became increasingly involved in work on poverty in Britain and submitted a Minority Report to the government. Later, together with her husband, she founded the Fabian Research Department and the newspaper The New Statesman. She also became involved with several government committees during World War I. In 1923, her husband then became a member of the Labour Party and he took the seat in the House of Lords in 1929; however, she declined the title of Dame Passfield In 1932, she became the first woman to be elected to the British Academy; as well as being awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Manchester, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Munich. She continued to be involved until her death on April 14, 1943.

    Further links and literature