Ian Preston, University College London, describes the backgrounds and achievements of some of the women who participated in the founding of the British Economic Association, later to become the Royal Economic Society.
The meeting held at UCL in 1890 which founded the British Economic Association, forerunner of the Royal Economic Society, was attended by ‘about two hundred persons’. Sixty four (or five) of them are named in the report of proceedings published in the first issue of the Economic Journal and of those ten (or eleven) are women (though nothing that might have been said at the meeting by any of them is recorded). Some of these women are still well known, though not necessarily as economists, and others less so. To trace their backgrounds and subsequent contributions brings attention to the role played by the opening of access to higher education in the latter half of the nineteenth century in broadening the scope of economic enquiry. Seven of them were women who had participated in university education, three of them at Cambridge and four of them at UCL. Six went on to write pieces of one sort or another in the Society’s journal, typically on similar themes relating to aspects of women’s work. Although no woman would become professor of economics until much later in the following century, a number of the ten became involved in lecturing and in practical public service.
The oldest of the ten was Octavia Hill (1838-1912), a social reformer known for her campaigns for housing for the poor and for the preservation of open spaces, now remembered too for her part in establishing the National Trust.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929)
Also present was Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), now best known as a suffragist, honoured only this year with a statue in Parliament Square. But she was also someone highly knowledgeable about economics and her 1870 text Political Economy for Beginners went through ten editions as a widely read introductory exposition of the subject. Her late husband, Henry Fawcett, also a campaigner for female suffrage, had been Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and she, alongside the philosopher Henry Sidgwick, was one of the founders of Newnham Hall, the second Cambridge college to admit women.
The struggle for higher education
Among the first five students at Newnham in 1871 was another of the women attending the meeting, Mary Paley (1850-1944). She took and passed the Moral Sciences Tripos in 1874 (though could not graduate, being a woman) and then lectured on economics there from 1875 before she married the economics lecturer, Alfred Marshall (mover of the resolution to found the Association at the UCL meeting). The couple moved to Bristol where she continued to teach and collaborated with Marshall in writing, for example, their 1879 The Economics of Industry.
Opened before Newnham was Girton College, the first to admit women at Cambridge, which was the college of two others at the meeting. Constance Jones arrived at Girton in 1875, taking a first class in the Moral Sciences Tripos in 1880. Returning as a research student in 1884 she went on to lecture and write on philosophy and eventually became Mistress of Girton. The Misses Borchardt referred to in the proceedings are presumably two or three of the daughters, Malvina (1848-1916), Sophie (1852-1932) and Helene (1858-1937), of the Manchester suffragist Louis Borchardt. Malvina also studied at Girton from 1873-77, went on to a career in education including becoming headmistress of Devonport High School and establishing a hostel for women students next to UCL in Gower St.
Though able to attend lectures offered by enlightened university staff and able to take examinations with the cooperation of individual examiners, women would be accepted for full membership of the university at Cambridge only in 1948 after repeated rebuffs. The first university to teach men and women together and to permit women to graduate on the same terms as men was in London and economics as a discipline was closely involved in the events leading to that.
Although the foundation of UCL in 1826 was intended to open access to degrees to those excluded by religion from taking degrees at Oxford or Cambridge, its inclusiveness did not extend as far as allowing women to take degrees. It was not until the 1860s, encouraged by the newly-formed London Ladies’ Educational Association and within UCL especially by the Professor of English Literature, Henry Morley, that lectures were offered to women, at first outside college premises then later within, but women were still not allowed to sit for degrees and men and women were taught separately.
The first coeducational class in any British university was held by John Elliot Cairnes, Professor of Political Economy, in October 1871, his class including ‘Five ladies who are manifesting a very intelligent interest in the subject and are evidently studying it with care.’ Cairnes, a friend of John Stuart Mill, was a strong believer in female emancipation but his request to teach men and women together was founded not on an argument of principle but on his poor health and inability to teach the same course twice. UCL Senate assented without committing themselves to affirming any general principle.
Cairnes remained in the post less than a year after this and his successor Leonard Courtney (another leading figure at the Association’s inaugural meeting) with no argument of disability to justify persisting with the experiment nonetheless argued successfully in his letter of acceptance that it should be continued: ‘The experiment seems to have been attended with great success, and I should very much regret if the interest that has been excited among women with reference to the subject should die away.’ His successor, William Stanley Jevons, evidently agreed since he combined with Morley in using UCL’s example to persuade his previous employers in what was to become the University of Manchester to also go coeducational in 1883.
After other departments followed the lead of Political Economy, the decision to allow women to take University of London degrees came in 1878 and UCL became the first British university to admit women on fully equal terms to men, in all faculties except Medicine. The four remaining women recorded at the inaugural meeting of the British Economic Association were all among the first cohorts to take courses there in political economy.
Pioneers in public life…
Sophie Bryant (1850-1922), born in Dublin, already widowed, was teaching mathematics at North London Collegiate School when she enrolled at UCL to study mental and moral sciences and mathematics. Progressing to doctoral studies she became the first woman to achieve a DSc in England in 1884. She was promoted to headmistress, served on county council boards and commissions on education and became the first woman to be elected to the senate of the University of London.
Clara Collet (1860-1948) was one of Bryant’s pupils. Born into a radical north London family and friendly during childhood with the Marx family, she was herself a teacher who began as an external student of the college then moved to London in 1885 to enrol for an MA in political economy at UCL which she completed in 1888 with the help of a departmental scholarship. She maintained links with the college, becoming the first woman to be awarded a UCL Fellowship in 1896 and delivering a series of lectures on ‘economic questions requiring medical answers’ in 1902. She joined the pioneering statistical project of Charles Booth to map social conditions in London, participated in a Royal Commission on Labour (with another former UCL student, Eliza Orme) which published its report in 1893 and joined the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. In 1894 she was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Statistical Society and later served on its Council and she was a member of the RES council from 1918 to 1940.
An earlier scholarship holder, in 1881, was Ada Heather-Bigg (1855-1944), daughter of a well-known designer of and author on orthopaedic appliances, and one of the college’s earliest female undergraduates. She had been studying in the department since 1875 and went on to be awarded a Jevons studentship in 1891 to study economic and social conditions in London. She became a suffragist and opponent of restrictions on women’s work, prominent in the Women’s Provident and Protective League, an organisation promoting trade unionism for women, and in the Women’s Employment Association. The department still awards a prize in her name.
Finally, Caroline Foley (1857-1942) took a BA in 1886 and MA in 1889. Her studies also covered psychology and philosophy, she became interested in spiritualism and went on to a distinguished career lecturing on Indian philosophy and the history of Buddhism in Manchester and at SOAS, marrying and then writing with Thomas William Rhys Davids, the professor of Pali at UCL.
Collet, Heather-Bigg and Foley were among the small group of young progressive economists who formed the Economic Club at UCL in 1890, a group meeting monthly, often with the participation of noted senior economists, to discuss topics in social science away, in the words of fellow founding member Henry Higgs, from ‘people who rant without being “trained economists”.’
…and at the RES
Besides founding the forerunner of the RES, the 1890 meeting established the Economic Journal, edited in its early years by Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, and Foley was employed on its staff from 1891 to 1895. Among the women discussed above, Bryant, Collet, Fawcett, Foley, Heather-Bigg and Marshall all wrote in its early issues.
Collet was both the first woman to write in the EJ and the most frequent contributor among these six women, writing sixteen pieces of one sort or another between 1891 and 1940. Her work brings data to bear on questions related to women’s pay, employment, expenditure and social circumstances, beginning with a piece on women's work in Leeds and including another on the budgets of a sample of middle class working women. Reviewing a collection of Collet’s papers on educated working women, Mary Paley Marshall praises the ‘outcome of trained economic thought working on a wide experience of life.’ Collet and Orme’s work together on the Royal Commission on Labour produced its report in 1893. Summarised in a review by Foley in the EJ, its findings viewed wage-labour as beneficial for women, argued however that they were underpaid and required to endure unhealthy conditions, and encouraged unionisation.
Both Marshall and Foley reviewed several times for the EJ, these two examples being two of the more substantial. Foley, second only to Collet in the frequency of contributions, also wrote articles of her own, one an erudite exploration of the economics of fashion and another on economic conditions in ancient India. Fawcett meanwhile contributed occasional reviews but also a couple of articles, a quarter of a century apart, expounding her changing views on equality of pay for equal work.
Bryant and Heather-Bigg each wrote single articles in the journal. Bryant’s article on educational finance, mainly an analysis of data on cost structures in schools, ended by hoping that achievement of fair pay for women in teaching might help in encouraging broader equalisation of pay through society. Heather-Bigg contributed a historically-informed piece on the tendency to undervalue the wife’s economic contribution to family income arguing that opposition to employment outside the household was motivated more by a fear, not so much of women’s work, but of women’s wage-earning. (Writing outside the EJ, Heather-Bigg interestingly, like Foley, also wrote on fashion, though taking a more polemical line criticising ‘the cost, the tyranny and the uselessness of fashion’ — both articles are references in Alfred Marshall’s Principles.)
Where Bryant and Collet impress with the careful and methodical gathering of statistical evidence, Foley is more discursive, Fawcett and Heather-Bigg more openly committed. Through all of their work runs a belief in the importance of documenting and understanding women’s economic experiences.
I am especially grateful for comments on an earlier draft to Cl;éo Chassonnery-Za;ïgouche and Victoria Chick.
This article is an expansion of a piece on the role of UCL economics in the admission of women to higher education in the nineeteenth century written for UCL Department of Economics website (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/economics/about-department/women-economics-and-ucl-late-19thcentury).
Besides some information not included here, that piece also contains photographs of several of the women mentioned here.
On the history of the foundation of the Royal Economic Society and the admission of women to UCL I have drawn on:
`The British Economic Association', Economic Journal, 1891, 1-14.
N. Harte, The admission of women to University College London: A centenary lecture, UCL, 1979
N. Harte, J. North and G. Brewis, The World of UCL, UCL, 2018
J. Maloney, `The teaching of political economy in the University of London', in: The Market for Political Economy: The Advent of Economics in British University Culture 1850-1905, ed. by A. Kadish and K. Tribe, Routledge, 2013
For biographies of the women discussed I have drawn in general on:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, online edition
R. W. Dimand, M. A. Dimand and E. L. Forget, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, Edward Elgar, 2000.
D. Rutherford et al., eds., The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, Continuum, 2004.
More specically I have used:
S. Fletcher, `Bryant [n;ee Willock], Sophie (1850-1922), educationist and su;ragist', in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, op. cit., 2004
J. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson, `Sophie Willock Bryant', MacTutor History of Mathematics, online.
S. Bryant, `Educational nance', Economic Journal, 1894, 94-105.
R W Dimand, `Collet, Clara Elizabeth (1860-1948)', in: D. Rutherford et al., The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, op. cit., 2004.
D. Doughan, `Collet, Clara Elizabeth (1860-1948), civil servant and promoter of women's education and employment', in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, op. cit., 2004
P. Groenewegen, `Clara Elizabeth Collet', in: R. W. Dimand, M. A. Dimand and E. L. Forget, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, op. cit., 2000.
D. McDonald, Clara Collet 1860-1948: An Educated Working Woman, Woburn Press, 2004
C. E. Collet, `Reports of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labour on Working Women, 1870-1889', Economic Journal, 1891, 398-405.
C. E. Collet, `Women's work in Leeds', Economic Journal, 1891, 460-473.
C. E. Collet, `Review: Family Budgets: being the Income and Expenses of Twenty-eight British Households, 1891-1894 ', Economic Journal, 1896, 570-573.
C. E. Collet, `The expenditure of middle class working women', Economic Journal, 1898, 543-553.
C. E. Collet, `Review: The Strength of the People: A Study in Social Economics by Helen Bosanquet', Economic Journal, 1903, 81-84.
C. E. Collet, `Wages Boards in Victoria', Economic Journal, 1901, 557-565.
C. E. Collet, `Review: Women in Industry: A Study in American Economic History by Edith Abbott', Economic Journal, 1910, 73-77.
C. E. Collet, `The professional employment of women', Economic Journal, 1915, 627-630.
C. E. Collet, `Review: Life According to Jones by "Enlightened Selshness" ', Economic Journal,1919, 86-89.
C. E. Collet, `Review: Scheme for a State Bonus: A Rational Method of Solving the Social Problemby E. Mabel and Dennis Milner', Economic Journal, 1919, 241.
C. E. Collet, `Obituary: Sir Charles Loch', Economic Journal, 1923, 123-128.
C. E. Collet, `Review: The Charity Organisation Movement in the United States: A Study in American Philanthropy by Frank Dekker Watson', Economic Journal, 1923, 410-413.
C. E. Collet, `Review: Labour in Indian Industries by G. M. Broughton and Welfare', Economic Journal, 1924, 457-459.
C. E. Collet, `Review: Women Servants of the State 1870-1938: A History of Women
in the Civil Service by Hilda Martindale', Economic Journal, 1939, 124-125.
C. E. Collet, `Obituary: Herbert Somerton Foxwell', Economic Journal, 1936, 589-619.
C. E. Collet and C. K. Webster, `Obituary: Henry Higgs', Economic Journal, 1940, 546-561.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett
D. Gladstone, `Fawcett, Millicent Garrett (1847-1929)', in: D. Rutherford et al., The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, op. cit., 2004.
J. Howarth, `Fawcett, Dame Millicent Garrett [n;ee Millicent Garrett] (1847-1929), leader of the constitutional women's su;rage movement and author', in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,op. cit., 2007
M. Milgate and A. Levy, `Fawcett, Millicent Garrett (1847-1929)', in: S. N. Durlauf and L. E. Blume, eds., The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Palgrave Macmillan, 1987.
M. A. Pujol and J. A. Seiz, `Millicent Garrett Fawcett', in: R. W. Dimand, M. A.Dimand and E. L. Forget, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, op. cit., 2000.
M. G. Fawcett, Political Economy for Beginners, Macmillan, 1870.
M. G. Fawcett, `Mr. Sidney Webb's article on women's wages', Economic Journal, 1892, 173-176.
M. G. Fawcett, `Review: Women in the Printing Trades: A Sociological Study by J. Ramsay MacDonald, F. Y. Edgeworth, J. L. Hammond, H. Oakeshott, A. Black, A. Harrison and Irwin', Economic Journal, 1904, 295-299.
M. G. Fawcett, `Review: Labour Ideal Series. The Woman Socialist by Ethel Snowden', Economic Journal, 1907, 376-378.
M. G. Fawcett, `Review: Women in Industry from Seven Points of View by Gertrude Tuckwell, Constance Smith, Mary MacArthur, May Tennant, Nettie Adler, Adelaide Anderson, Clementina Black and D. J. Shackleton', Economic Journal, 1909, 228-233.
M. G. Fawcett, `Equal pay for equal work', Economic Journal, 1918, 1-6.
Caroline Foley Rhys Davids
R. W. Dimand, `Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids', in: R. W. Dimand, M. A.Dimand and E. L. Forget, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, op. cit., 2000.
C. A. Foley, `Fashion', Economic Journal, 1893, 458-474.
C. A. Foley, `Review: Handbuch des Socialismus by Carl Stegmann and Phil C. Hugo', Economic Journal, 1893, 675-676.
C. A. Foley, `Review: Public Assistance of the Poor in France by Emily Greene Balch
and Paris qui Mendie, Mal et Rem;ede by Louis Paulian', Economic Journal, 1893, 676-678.
C. A. Foley, `Royal Commission on Labour. The Employment of Women', Economic Journal, 1894, 185-191.
C. A. Foley, `Review: Die Frau und der Sozialismus (Die Frau in der Vergangenheit Gegenwartund Zukunft) by August Bebel; Woman: Her Position in the Past, Present and Future by August Bebel and H. B. Admas Walther; The Rights of Women. A Comparative Study in History and Legislation by M. Ostrogorski', Economic Journal, 1894, 90-93.
C. A. Foley, `Review: Primitive Civilisations; or, Outlines of the History of Ownership in Archaic Communities by E. J. Simcox', Economic Journal, 1894, 701-704.
C. A. F. Rhys Davids, `Review: Rich and Poor by Bernard Bosanquet', Economic Journal, 1897, 83-85.
C. A. F. Rhys Davids, `Economic conditions in ancient India', Economic Journal, 1901, 305-320.
A. Heather-Bigg, `What is "fashion"?', The Nineteenth Century and After, 1893, 235-248 .
A. Heather-Bigg, `The wife's contribution ot family income', Economic Journal, 1894, 51-58.
G. Darley, `Hill, Octavia (1838-1912), housing and social reformer', in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, op. cit., 2012.
M. Warnock, `Jones, (Emily Elizabeth) Constance (1848-1922), philosopher and college head', in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, op. cit., 2004.
Mary Paley Marshall
G. Becattini, `Marshall, Mary Paley (1850-1944)', in: S. N. Durlauf and L. E. Blume, eds., The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
R. W. Dimand, `Marshall, Mary Paley (1850-1944)', in: D. Rutherford et al., The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists, op. cit., 2004.
R. McWilliams Tullberg, `Mary Paley Marshall', in: R. W. Dimand, M. A. Dimand and E. L. Forget, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Women Economists, op. cit., 2000.
R. McWilliams Tullberg, `Marshall [n;ee Paley], Mary (1850-1944), economist', in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, op. cit., 2006.
A. Marshall and M. P. Marshall, The Economics of Industry, Macmillan, 1879.
M. P. Marshall, `Review: Ladies at Work by Lady Jeune', Economic Journal, 1893, 679-680.
M. P. Marshall, `Review: Viertehalb Monate Fabrikarbeiterin. Eine Praktische Studie by Mina Wettstein-Adelt', Economic Journal, 1895, 401-404.
M. P. Marshall, `Conference of Women Workers', Economic Journal, 1896, 107-109.
M. P. Marshall, `Review: Educated Working Women by Clara E. Collet', Economic Journal, 1902, 252-257.