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Beatrice Potter Webb

Beatrice Potter Webb

The English social reformer Beatrice Potter Webb (1858-1943) was a leading Fabian socialist and a partner with her husband, Sidney Webb, in their projects for social and educational reform and in their research into the history of political and economic institutions.

Beatrice Potter was born on Jan. 2, 1858, at Standish House near Gloucester. Her father, Richard Potter, was a man with large railroad interests and many contacts among politicians and intellectuals. She was educated at home by governesses and also by extensive travel, wide reading, and direct contact with many of the leading figures of politics, science, and industry. Herbert Spencer in particular gave her the attention and encouragement that she thought denied to her by her family.

Potter's involvement with social problems began in 1883, when she became a rent collector in London. This work, in turn, led to her participation in Charles Booth's survey published as Life and Labour of the People in London. In 1887 the results of her inquiries into dock life in the East End of London were published in Nineteenth Century, soon followed by other articles and studies of sweated labor.

Increased confidence and deeper study culminated in Potter's The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain (1891). It was in connection with this that she met Sidney Webb. They were married in 1892, and their life together became one of single-minded dedication to research and social reform. Together they produced a veritable torrent of books, pamphlets, essays, and memoranda amounting to over a hundred items.

Until 1906 Potter's role in the partnership was primarily that of researcher, writer, and hostess for gatherings of Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament who came to hear the Webb opinion on social legislation. At the end of 1905 Beatrice was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, which sat from 1906 to 1909. The minority report, drafted by the Webbs, played an important role in the dismantling of the old Poor Law and in its replacement by the new systems of social insurance.

In the period after 1910 the Webbs abandoned their nonpartisan stance and became an important force in building the Labour party. Another cornerstone of their earlier philosophy was abandoned with the publication of their Soviet Communism: A New Society? (1935). They, who had always held that social change cannot come about by the violent destruction of existing institutions, endorsed the Russian Revolution in spite of its totalitarianism. Beatrice Webb died at Liphook, Hampshire, on April 30, 1943. In 1947, shortly after Sidney's death, their ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

The two volumes of Beatrice Webb's Diaries, 1912-1924, edited by Margaret Cole (1952), with an introduction by Lord Beveridge, offer many insights missing from the standard biographies. Beatrice Webb's memoirs are My Apprenticeship (1926) and Our Partnership (1948). One of the best books on Beatrice Webb was written by her niece, Kitty Muggeridge, and Ruth Adam, Beatrice Webb: A Life, 1858-1943 (1967). Margaret Cole, ed., The Webbs and Their Work (1949), is a collection of appraisals of the Webbs written by acquaintances and colleagues. Margaret Cole, Beatrice Webb (1945), is also well written, informative, and accurate. Mary Agnes Hamilton, Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1933), is an interesting account of the Webbs' activities up to the early 1930s.

Additional Sources

MacKenzie, Jeanne, A Victorian courtship: the story of Beatrice Potter and Sidney Webb, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Muggeridge, Kitty, Beatrice Webb: a life, 1858-1943, Chicago: Academy Publishers, 1983, 1967.

Nord, Deborah Epstein, The apprenticeship of Beatrice Webb, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.

Radice, Lisanne, Beatrice and Sidney Webb: Fabian Socialists, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.

Seymour-Jones, Carole, Beatrice Webb: a life, Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1992.

Webb, Beatrice Potter, My apprenticeship, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. □

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Webb, Beatrice Potter

Beatrice Potter Webb, 1858–1943, English socialist economist; daughter of a wealthy industrialist. She took an early interest in social problems and worked with Charles Booth on his survey of working life in London. Her Cooperative Movement in Great Britain was published in 1891. In 1892 she married Sidney James Webb, 1859–1947, a civil servant and a contributor to Fabian Essays (1890). Thereafter they worked together, complementing each other's qualities in an unusual partnership. They were of first importance in the Fabian Society, in the building up of the British Labour party, and in the creation (1895) of the London School of Economics. In 1913 they founded the New Statesman. Most of the political and social reforms of their period owe much to their indefatigable research and political acumen. Together they produced The History of Trade Unionism (1894; rev. ed. 1920), Industrial Democracy (1897), English Local Government (9 vol., 1906–29), Consumers' Cooperative Movement (1921), and Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (2 vol., 1935). In 1922 Sidney Webb was elected to Parliament. He was president of the board of trade in the 1924 Labour government and secretary for the colonies from 1929 to 1931. In 1929 he was created Baron Passfield, a title his wife refused to share.

See Beatrice Webb's autobiographical My Apprenticeship (1926) and Our Partnership (1948); her diaries (ed. by M. I. Cole, 2 vol., 1952–56); biographies by M. I. Cole (1945) and K. Muggeridge and R. Adam (1968); M. I. Cole, ed. The Webbs and Their Work (1949).

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Webb, Beatrice (née Potter) and Webb, Sydney James

Webb, Beatrice (née Potter) and Webb, Sydney James (1858–1943; 1859–1947) Noted authors of a definitive History of British Trade Unionism, and leading thinkers and activists of the so-called Fabian socialist movement, who made a distinguished contribution to the development and characteristic outlook of the British Labour Party. The Webbs' work on trade unions shows a distaste for the strong craft tradition in Britain and looks forward to a time when state regulation of minimum wages, together with social insurance, will make unions obsolete. Their socialism was distinguished for its advocacy of building democratic socialist institutions by steady accretion. The welfare consensus between the political parties of post-1945 Britain owed much to their ideas.

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"Webb, Beatrice (née Potter) and Webb, Sydney James." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Webb, Beatrice

Webb, Beatrice (1858–1943) British social historian and politician. Beatrix Webb (née Potter) and her husband, Sidney Webb (1859–1947), founded the London School of Economics (1895) and helped to found the New Statesman magazine (1913). Sidney Webb was one of the founders of the Fabian Society.

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