Eglantyne Jebb – British Constitution Association


Eglantyne’s speech to the annual conference of the British Constitution Association that met in Cambridge in late November 1909. 

A summary of Eglantyne Jebb’s speech from a scan from The British Newspaper Library of Cambridge Independent Press – Fri 26 November 1909 transcribed below.

Hope for Cambridge

“Miss Jebb, speaking from the point of view of one whose chief interest had lain in social questions, said that the conditions of life among the working class had improved considerably during the last 50 years. It was impossible to judge how much or how little was due to the effort of philanthropists, but it was certain that improvement would never have taken place had it not been for the rise in wages during the last half century. 

There were three classes of wage-earners

  • Those who earned enough to supply the necessaries of life,
  • a large and increasing class who earned more than that, and…
  • those who earned less

Under Tariff Reform the cost of living would necessarily rise, while the wages would rise much more slowly. The heightened cost of living was thus equivalent to a drop in wages. Many of those men who had hitherto a margin would have it no longer, while the last class would be largely increased. In Cambridge the most serious social problem was that of the casual and seasonal labourer. Some men brought up families on 14 shillings a week. If they found it difficult now, what would it be like when the cost of living were increased? (Applause). Miss Jebb concluded by moving a vote of thanks to Mr. Keynes for his address.”

Historical notes

One of the other famous names on the platform was the economist John Maynard Keynes – son of Eglantyne’s mentor Florence Ada Keynes, the first woman to be elected to Cambridge Borough (now City) Council.

The speech took place in the run up to the 1910 General Election when the Liberal Party (of which Eglantyne was now campaigning for) was struggling to get its legislation – in particular its financial measures, through the Conservative-dominated House of Lords. There was no welfare state at the time, and the struggles in the run up to the First World War would be the start of systematic overhaul of social security provided for by the state.