“dew-dabblers, pretentious socialists & frothy Fabians”


Main image: “In 1959 the School began work on the refurbishment of the St Clement’s Press building overlooking Clare Market, now known as the St Clement’s building. As part of the work the School commissioned the artist Harry Warren Wilson to design engraved glass doors for the main entrance and a decorative panel for the corner of Portugal Street and Clare Market.” (LSE blog)

From Square Haunting (2020), by Francesca Wade:

“…As was the case for Jane Harrison, it was a woman-led initiative that gave (Eileen) Power her break as a historian. Power was invited to join the London School of Economics as a Shaw Research Student, on a generous fellowship established in 1904 by Charlotte Payne Townshend Shaw, a prominent feminist and the wife of George Bernard Shaw. When her scholarship was awarded to a man for the fifth consecutive year, Charlotte stipulated that it should henceforth be reserved for women only, and given specifically to support research into women’s lives, in the hope that the monographs produced by fellows would form a much-needed canon of women’s history.

“Bas Relief
By ES Frith
It has been suggested the reliefs above depict various shades of thought.” (LSE)

It was an exciting time and place for Power to launch her research career. Since its foundation by the Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw and Graham Wallas, the London School of Economics had stood at the centre of London’s left-wing activities. In 1894, a lawyer and Fabian Society donor named Henry Hunt Hutchinson had committed suicide and appointed Sidney Webb his executor, specifying that a legacy of £20,000 was to go towards advancing the socialist cause, which the Fabians considered the only viable response to pervasive inequality in Britain. To this end, the Webbs decided to found a school in London, inspired by Paris’s École Libre des Sciences Politiques, where students of economics would be supported in their research by professors and activists wholly dedicated to social reform, with an emphasis on vocational training and on the application of economic theory to practical problems. Co-educational from its inception, by 1904 the LSE had over fourteen hundred students, many studying for the new degrees of B.Sc. (Econ) and D.Sc. (Econ), the country’s first university degrees devoted to the social sciences. Classes held in the day were repeated in the evenings for working students, many sent by railway companies, insurance offices and the civil service. In the narrow side streets between Kingsway and High Holborn, their tall buildings stained with London smog, the school bustled round the clock with learning and discussion. Nearby, the Webbs – Beatrice towering over Sidney – worked on their anti-Poor Law campaign from the Fabian Society office in Clement’s Inn Passage,

“Inscription on the former St Clement Danes Parish House:
‘To the honor and glory of God, this memorial stone of St Clement Danes & Clare Market Parish House, erected upon the site presented by the Hon. W.F.D. Smith MP entirely by voluntary subscriptions from parishioners & friends, was laid by Lady Esther Smith on July 2nd 1897.’ The St Clement Danes Church referred to is the one in the middle of the Strand to the east of Aldwych. Clare Market used to be a food, mainly meat market. The site is now occupied by buildings of the London School of Economics.”
(London Remembers)

while next door was the headquarters of the Women’s Social and Political Union, packed with determined women at work making placards, typing pamphlets and occasionally hiding from the police.

At the LSE – though the idea was surely conceived during her time in a Cambridge women’s college – Eileen Power began her study of medieval nunneries, which would become her first full-length published book. In the early years of the twentieth century, the fight for equal suffrage had sparked a growing interest in women’s and working-class history. Frustrated at their political disenfranchisement, women looked to the past for models and alternatives, eager to establish a historical framework from which to agitate for change. Many turned to historians such as Jane Harrison, whose work offered fertile proof that women’s subordination was carefully constructed over time, and not based on any ‘natural’ order…

…When Eileen Power joined the LSE as a student, she was scathing about its social life, finding the school full of ‘dew-dabblers, pretentious socialists & frothy Fabians & unconscionably earnest young people generally!’ But when she returned as a lecturer in the autumn of 1921, she joined a faculty full of radicals, whose company and collaboration would be integral to many of her future projects. In 1919, William Beveridge had taken over as director, and the LSE had undergone a swift expansion, transforming from a cramped and casual evening institution to a leading modern university at the forefront of developments in sociology. A generous yet egotistical character utterly devoted to his work, Beveridge quintupled the school’s annual income, securing lucrative grants from the government, the Rockefeller Foundation and the business world. His schemes for advancement were unpredictable, directed by his enthusiasms and sped on by his fundraising verve: at one point a rumour arose that cages of chimps were going to be installed at the school so that students could study their mating habits.

Side entrance to Cowdray House.
“As part of the central LSE campus, Cowdray House was built in 1903 by Architect Horace Field and is Edwardian in style and is Grade II Listed.” (Russell Cawberry)

In 1921, the university was a building site: classes took place in converted army huts approached by leapfrogging over puddles, while lecturers fought to be heard above the noise of drills. That year, the school enrolled almost three thousand students from more than thirty countries, while the Senior Common Room buzzed with discussion of the rapidly changing political climate. In the 192os and 1930s, the LSE was the epicentre for what Beatrice Webb described as a ‘circle of rebellious spirits and idealist intellectuals’, many of whom invested their hopes for social reform in the fledgling Labour Party. Established in 1900 out of the trade union movement, the party briefly took power in 1924 as a minority government under Ramsay McDonald, but collapsed after nine months and did not return to government until 1929, being ousted again in 1931. Through the interwar years, LSE economists and historians were hard at work establishing a democratic platform on which socialism could be brought to Britain, focused on confronting the practical issues of policy that hampered Labour during its stints in power over the decades; their programmes for an overhaul of the economic system would form the basis of the post-1945 Labour administration. Members of the economics department, including Lionel Robins and Friedrich Hayek, regularly traded blows with Cambridge’s John Maynard Keynes over market reform, while Charles Webster – who lived at 38 Mecklenburgh Square – arrived straight from the Foreign Office to become Stevenson Chair of International History. The Polish-born anthropologist Bronistaw Malinowski (who lived on Guilford Street) worked alongside the future prime minister Clement Attlee, who had begun his career as Beatrice Webb’s secretary. At the centre of most of the Common Room’s controversies was the Marxist political scientist Harold Laski, whose outspoken lectures led one Conservative MP to denounce the LSE publicly as a ‘hotbed of communist teaching’, forcing Beveridge to ban the school’s Marx Society from meeting on LSE premises and to placate business-world investors anxious about the ends to which their money was being put.

“In March 1921 the School Secretary Jessy Mair took advice on the process and possible design from Emery Walker (1851-1933) an engraver, typographer and photographer with connections to the School through both Sidney Webb and G Bernard Shaw. Walker advised that the £76 10s required to enroll a coat of arms might be too expensive for a small institution like LSE but in April he designed a monogram composed of the initial letters of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The committee decided to adopt a coat of arms using “the figure of some animal which would be emblematic of the work of the School. It was agreed “that a beaver would be very suitable”. The design was produced by Arnold Plant – President of the Student’s Union in 1922-1923 and later Professor of Commerce. Plant was an excellent draughtsman. Edwin Cannan, Professor of Political Economy suggested “Rerum cognoscere causas” – to know the causes of things, taken from Book 2 of Virgil’s Georgics. The full quotation is
“Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas”.”
(LSE blog)

But its staff’s intimate involvement in politics, both British and international, proved the LSE’s greatest strength. On Monday after-noons, staff and students would convene for ‘grand seminars’ where issues of the day were discussed without hierarchy and with a sense of urgent practical purpose. As soon as she arrived, Power was delighted by the intellectual stimulus of conversations in the Common Room, at clubs and cafes in Soho and Fitzrovia, during lively country weekends at Passfield Corner in Hampshire with the Webbs and their guests, or over long dinners in Mecklenburgh Square. Just as she had hoped, the LSE offered a way of life utterly different from the one she had led in Cambridge. While Girton had given Power a friendly community to which she always felt loyal, she had often chafed at being cooped up there, and when she accepted the LSE job she admitted to Margery that she was ‘tired of community life’, which had begun to constrain her. Just like Jane Harrison, she was painfully aware that the women’s colleges (particularly Girton, which stood well outside the town centre) remained separate and subordinate within the wider university: she felt the same ambivalence Harriet Vane outlines in Gaudy Night, glad that the women dons can support each other in dedication to their work yet frustrated at their apparent unworldliness and lack of a public voice. Like Harrison, Power felt an overwhelming urge to strike out from Cambridge as her interests became more political and she began to envisage a wider audience for her writing. And arriving in London gave her a taste of the freedom she wanted…

“32 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (formerly Her Majesty’s Land Registry Building) is an Edwardian Grade II listed building on the National Heritage List for England, and an academic facility of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), located on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Central London. The Land Registrar Charles Brickdale based the design of the building on Blickling Hall in Norfolk.” (Wikipedia)

… ‘I like people to be all different kinds, Power wrote to her friend Helen Cam in 1938, explaining why she had chosen not to apply for a job back in Cambridge; her letter gives a joyful snapshot of London life. ‘I like dining with H. G. Wells one night, & a friend from the Foreign Office another, and a publisher a third & a professor a fourth; and I like seeing all the people who pass through London and putting some of them up in my prophet’s chamber.’…”

King James Bible 2 Kings 4:10
“Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.”

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