BEATRICE POTTER WEBB (1858 – 1943) was born January 22, 1858 in Standish, Gloucestershire, England. The daughter of businessman, she became a socialist and sociologist, an economist and a social reformer. In the 1880’s she worked with her cousin researching the Victorian slums of London, and the cooperative movement. She used the money she inherited from her father to support herself while doing this research.
In 1890 Beatrice Potter met Sydney Webb who helped her with her research. In 1891 she published “The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain”. She and Webb married in 1892 and continued to share and collaborate on political and social issues. The two became active members of the Fabian Society, and, with the support of the Fabians, she co-authored books and pamphlets on socialism and the co-operative movement. In 1895 the Webbs helped the Fabians form the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Beatrice Webb contributed greatly to the economic and political theories of the co-operative movement. It was she who coined the terms “Co-operative Federalism” and “Co-operative Individualism”, and she also came up with the term “collective bargaining”. She considered herself a co-operative federalist, known to advocate for consumer co-operative societies.
Between 1905 and 1909 Beatrice Webb was a member of the “Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905 to 1909”. In 1913 she and her husband co-founded “The Statesman”, a weekly periodical with contributions from many of the leading political thinkers of the day, including George Bernard Shaw and John Maynard Keyes.
In 1914 the Webbs faced opposition from H.G. Wells to their leadership in the Fabian Society. Wells considered the Webbs to be short-sighted bourgeois manipulators. It was around this time that they joined the Labour Party, but also experienced opposition from the far left members of the party, the “Guild Socialists”.
In 1928 the Webbs retired to Liphook in Hampshire, where they lived until their deaths. In 1929, Sydney Webb became Baron Passfield. The Webbs traveled to the Soviet Union in 1932, and became somewhat enamored with Stalin.
The Webbs never had any children. Beatrice Webb died in 1943. Her ashes were initially interred in the garden of the Webb home in Passfield Corner, as were those of her husband who died in 1947. George Bernard Shaw launched a petition to have them reburied in Westminster Abbey. He was eventually successful, and that is where they are both now interred.