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Clara Collet (10 September 1860 – 3 August 1948)[1][2][3] was a British social reformer. She was pivotal in effecting many reforms which greatly improved working conditions and pay for women (and some men) during the early part of the twentieth century. Perhaps the most important thing that she did for posterity was her collection of statistical and descriptive evidence of life for working women and poor people in London and elsewhere in England.[4]

Her Unitarian father, Collet Dobson Collet, sent her to the North London Collegiate School close to where she lived, which was one of the most liberated schools for girls at that time. On leaving school she worked as a teacher at Wyggeston Girls' School in Leicester, later to become Regent College. However, she did not find this work fulfilling enough.

She later enrolled at University of London and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, as an external student.[5][6] She later returned to London to enroll for a master's degree at University College London.

After completion of this degree she worked for Charles Booth helping in his great investigative work on the conditions prevailing in late nineteenth century London. To this end she took up residency in the East End during the autumn of 1888. She was working on a chapter on women's work in Booth's masterpiece Life and Labour of the People of London. As part of this investigation, Collet interviewed prostitutes and wrote a section covering their conditions and reasons for choosing such work.[7] This was at the time Jack the Ripper killed at least five prostitutes.

Her family became acquainted with Karl Marx and Clara became especially friendly with his daughter Eleanor Marx.[8]

Collet was a friend of George Gissing during the last ten years of his life (they first met in July 1893),[9] and she offered to act as guardian to his two sons when it became clear his second wife, Edith, would find it hard to cope financially after his death. She may have been in love with Gissing, though this does not appear to have been reciprocated. At this time she also became engaged in a long disagreement with H G Wells over the foreword of Gissing's posthumously published novel Veranilda.

Collet joined the Civil Service and worked with the Board of Trade to introduce many reforms, including the introduction of the Old Age Pension and labour exchanges (employment bureaux). During these years she worked with well-known politicians such as David Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, William Beveridge and Winston Churchill.[10][11]


  1. ^ Doughan, David. "Collet, Clara Elizabeth". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/42336. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ 'McDonald, Deborah, 'Clara Collet 1860-1948: An Educated Working Woman', Woburn Press 2004 ISBN 978-0-7130-4060-9
  3. ^ "Chronology". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  4. ^ McDonald, Deborah, 'Clara Collet' - gives full bibliography of Collet's work
  5. ^ Sutherland, Gillian (2015). In Search of the New Woman: Middle-class Women and Work in Britain, 1870-1914. Cambridge University Press, 2015. p. 187. ISBN 9781107092792.
  6. ^ McDonald, Deborah (2015). Clara Collet 1860-1948: An Educated Working Woman. Psychology Press, 2004. p. 256. ISBN 9780713002416.
  7. ^ Booth, Charles, 'Life and Labour of the People of London' Vol I
  8. ^ Diary of Clara Collet, Warwick University Modern Record's Office
  9. ^ ,Coustillas, Pierre ed. The Collected Letters of George Gissing, vol. 1, p.xii.
  10. ^ McDonald, Deborah, 'Clara Collet'
  11. ^ Diary of Clara Collet held at Warwick Modern Records Office

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