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Beatrice Webb (nee Potter)

(Martha) Beatrice Webb nee Potter (1858 - 1943) was a pioneering British social and economic reformer, and with her husband Sidney Webb an extremely influential socialist economist and historian. Beatrice Webb came from an unconventional Unitarian family and was highly educated and widely read for a woman of her generation. According to Davis (2004), she spent much of the 1880s trying to “reconcile her religious outlook with her faith in scientific method”, which led her to the writings of Herbert Spencer, who also had a major though transitory impact on Schreiner’s intellectual development. Webb became interested in social reform and began to do social work in London, investigating working-class conditions, especially around Whitechapel, as part of Booth’s survey “Life and Labour of the People in London” (1886 - 1903). She married Sidney Webb, a member of the socialist Fabian Society, in 1892. Together they served on a number of royal commissions and wrote extensively on economic problems. In 1895 they were involved in founding the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Beatrice Webb published a number of books, including The Co-operative Movement in Britain in 1891 and Factory Acts in 1901.

From Olive Schreiner’s 1913 letters to Havelock Ellis and John X. Merriman, it is evident that Beatrice Webb approached Schreiner to invite her to write for the newly formed New Statesman, founded by the Webbs as an independent journal. The only extant letter from Schreiner to Webb dates from 1888, and in it she discusses working out what “seems to me the reconciliation of Socialism & Individualism” and also notes, “You are one of the few women I want to know more of.”,  both an overture and one of the signs of Schreiner’s keen interest in establishing a friendship, which seems not to have developed in this instance.

For further information see:
Margaret Cole (1945) Beatrice Webb London: Longmans
John Davis (2004) ‘Webb, (Martha) Beatrice (1858-1943)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36799
Carole Seymour-Jones (1992) Beatrice Webb: Woman of Conflict London: Allison & Busby
Beatrice Webb (2000) The Diaries of Beatrice Webb (edited by Norman Mackenzie and Jeanne Mackenzie) London: Virago
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collection icon LSE Passfield: The extensive Passfield (Beatrice and Sidney Webb) collection is part of the Archives Collections held by the London School o... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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collection icon LSE Passfield: The extensive Passfield (Beatrice and Sidney Webb) collection is part of the Archives Collections held by the London School o... Show/Hide Collection Letters
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
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