Sociology Index

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Martha Beatrice Webb

Martha Beatrice Webb, Baroness Passfield, FBA (22 January 1858 – 30 April 1943), was an English sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer. It was Webb who coined the term collective bargaining. She was among the founders of the London School of Economics and played a crucial role in forming the Fabian Society. In 1932, Webb was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA); she was the first woman elected to the fellowship.

Beatrice Webb left unfinished a planned autobiography My Creed and My Craft. Beatrice Webb was a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905-09. Beatrice was lead author of the dissenting minority report. This sketched the outlines of a welfare state.

At her death, aged 85, the only autobiographical work she had published was My Apprenticeship (1926). The posthumously issued Our Partnership (1948) covered the first two decades of her marriage to Sidney Webb between 1892 and 1911 and their collaboration on a variety of public issues. In the preface to the second work, its editors refer to Webb's "desire to describe truthfully her lifelong pursuit of a living philosophy, her changes of outlook and ideas, her growing distrust of benevolent philanthropy as a means of redeeming 'poor suffering humanity' and her leaving of the field of abstract economic theory for the then practically unexplored paths of scientific social research. Martha Beatrice Webb figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

In 1890 Beatrice Potter was introduced to Sidney Webb, whose help she sought with her research. They married in 1892, and until her death 51 years later shared political and professional activities. With the Fabians' support, Beatrice Webb co-authored books and pamphlets on socialism and the co-operative movement including The History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897).

In her 1891 book The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain, based on her experiences in Lancashire, she distinguished between "co-operative federalism" and "co-operative individualism". She identified herself as a co-operative federalist, a school of thought which advocates consumer co-operative societies. The Webbs' final book, The Truth About Soviet Russia (1942), celebrated central planning. It was Webb who coined the term "collective bargaining." At the end of World War I Beatrice collaborated with her husband Sidney in his writings and policy statements such as Labour and the New Social Order (1918).

Beatrice Webb was a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905-09. Beatrice was lead author of the dissenting minority report. This sketched the outlines of a welfare state which would "secure a national minimum of civilised life, open to all alike, of both sexes and all classes, by which we meant sufficient nourishment and training when young, a living wage when able-bodied, treatment when sick, and modest but secure livelihood when disabled or aged."