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Stephen Henry Hobhouse (5 August 1881 – 2 April 1961) was a prominent English peace activist, prison reformer, and religious writer.

Stephen Henry Hobhouse
Born(1881-08-05)5 August 1881
Pitcombe, Somerset, England
Died2 April 1961(1961-04-02) (aged 79)
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
OccupationReligious writer
Known forPrison reform
Peace activism
Notable work
English prisons to-day: Being the report of the Prison system enquiry committee
Spouse(s)Rosa Waugh
Parent(s)Henry Hobhouse
Margaret Heyworth Potter
RelativesArthur Lawrence Hobhouse


Stephen Henry Hobhouse was born in Pitcombe, Somerset, England. He was the eldest son of Henry Hobhouse (1854–1937), a wealthy landowner and Liberal MP from 1885 to 1906, and Margaret Heyworth Potter.[1] Both sides of his family included a number of reformers and progressive politicians:

Richard Potter
Lawrencina Potter
Catherine Courtney
Leonard Courtney
Theresa Cripps
Charles Cripps
Marian Cripps
Margaret Hobhouse
Henry Hobhouse
Beatrice Webb
Sidney Webb
Stafford Cripps
Stephen Hobhouse
Arthur Hobhouse

Education and formative yearsEdit

Stephen Hobhouse was brought up as a member of the established Church of England.[3] He was educated at Eton, where he won prizes in both academics and sports, and at Balliol College, Oxford.[4] Hobhouse attended Quaker meetings in Hampstead after graduation and officially became a member of the Society of Friends in 1909.[5]

The Second Boer War broke out when he was 18. He originally supported the war but his views were soon challenged by his cousin Emily. "Thus, no doubt, it was that my mind was prepared for the awakening". What he regarded as an awakening came from a 1902 reading of a pamphlet by Leo Tolstoy. This tract had a profound influence on him and he became an ardent lifelong pacifist.[6]

He worked as a civil servant for seven years in the Board of Education.[7] During the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, he resigned his post to go to Constantinople as a volunteer with a Quaker relief mission that helped refugees and saw firsthand the damage that war can do.[8]


In April 1915, Hobhouse married Rosa Waugh (1882–1971).[1] He met her at a dinner party for Christian activists. She was also an activist, and spent three months in jail for distributing pacifist pamphlets.[4] Rosa was also a prolific author on her own.[9] Together they wrote a biography of Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy.[10] Both Hobhouses were firm believers in homeopathy, and Steven even translated articles for the Homeopathic Journal.[11]

As eldest son of a wealthy family, Stephen stood to inherit a large fortune, but, influenced by Tolstoy again, he renounced his inheritance. He and his wife adopted a lifestyle of poverty, living in Hoxton, then a slum district in East London.[12] At the same time they joined the Quaker Society of Friends and became active in Quaker service.[3]

Pacifism and prisonEdit

Hobhouse was conscripted into the army in 1916.

At a tribunal in August 1916, he was granted an exemption from military service so long as he joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. As an absolutist or unconditionalist conscientious objector,[3] however, Hobhouse refused either to accept the decision or to appeal against it. He ignored a notice to report to barracks, was arrested by the civil police, brought before a magistrates' court, and handed over to the military. He refused to put on military uniform, was court-martialled and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour.[2]

Hobhouse was then placed in solitary confinement because he refused to obey the "Rule of Silence" forbidding prisoners to speak to one another.[13] He wrote to his wife: "The spirit of love requires that I should speak to my fellow-prisoners, the spirit of truth that I should speak to them openly"[14] By mid-1917, after 112 days in jail, followed by a second jail sentence, his health was declining rapidly.[15] (His health had always been frail: he had previously suffered nervous breakdowns and scarlet fever.[8]) His wife was very angry about his treatment in prison and some said that he never recovered his health entirely.[9] In 1917 Hobhouse wrote:[13]

Nearly every feature of prison life seems deliberately arranged to destroy a man's sense of his own personality, his power of choice and initiative, his possessive instincts, his concept of himself as a being designed to love and serve his fellow-man. His very name is blotted out and he becomes a number; A.3.21 and D.2.65 were two of my designations. He and his fellows are elaborately counted, when-ever moved from one location to another, in the characteristic machine-like way. He is continually, of course, under lock and key, ignored except as an object for spying.

His mother, Margaret, was a supporter of the First World War, in which three of her four sons served: the youngest Paul Edward was killed in March 1918.[16][17] She was determined, however, to save her eldest son Stephen's life and to draw attention to the predicament of 1,350 war resisters then being held in prison.[18]

She maintained that "absolutists" like Stephen should either receive a King's Pardon or be released into civilian life. Margaret produced a pamphlet, I Appeal unto Caesar: the case of the conscientious objectors, with an introduction by the eminent classicist and public figure Gilbert Murray, publicising the plight of the conscientious objectors. The pamphlet sold over 18,000 copies.[19] (Recent research by Jo Vellacott has revealed that the appeal's author was actually Bertrand Russell.)[20][21] This active public campaign was aided discreetly by the influential Alfred Milner, who was a family friend.[22][23] The case of Stephen Hobhouse was first raised in Parliament on 9 July 1917.[24] The campaign eventually prevailed, and in December 1917 Stephen, and some 300 other COs, was released from prison on grounds of ill health.[25]

In prison Hobhouse met Fenner Brockway, a "fiery socialist" and fellow anti-war activist. After the war, they wrote English Prisons Today, sponsored by the Prison System Enquiry Committee.[26] This book, which appeared in 1922, was a critique of the entire English prison system,[9] initiating a wave of prison reform which has continued to this day.[27]


Hobhouse wrote many books on prison reform, Quakerism, and religion. Selected works include:[28][29]

  • 1918 The silence system in British prisons. London: Hoxton. OCLC 83702276.
  • 1919 Joseph Sturge, his life and work. London. OCLC 187101825.
  • 1919 An English prison from within. London: G. Allen & Unwin. OCLC 60734929.
  • 1922 English prisons to-day: being the report of the Prison system enquiry committee. London: Longmans, Green and co. OCLC 4619955.
  • 1927 William Law and eighteenth century Quakerism. London. OCLC 466191746.
  • 1934 Margaret Hobhouse and her family. Rochester [Eng.]: Stanhope Press. OCLC 7161818.
  • 1937 Isaac Newton and Jacob Boehme. Belgrade. OCLC 36931558.
  • 1948 Selected Mystical Writing of William Law. New York: Harper. OCLC 8408065.
  • 1944? Christ and our enemies. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. OCLC 8970134.
  • 1946 A Christian's outline of belief. London: Fellowship of Reconciliation. OCLC 43490560.
  • 1951 Forty years and an epilogue an autobiography (1881–1951). London: J. Clarke. OCLC 612886400.
  • 1952 The autobiography of Stephen Hobhouse, reformer, pacifist, Christian. Boston: Beacon Press. OCLC 3463052.
  • 1954 A discourse on the life to come. London: Independent Press. OCLC 4392028.


  1. ^ a b The Peerage: A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe:Stephen Hobhouse
  2. ^ a b Zedner, p. 248
  3. ^ a b c Brock, p. 14
  4. ^ a b Hochschild, pp. 220–222
  5. ^ Hope Hay Hewison (1989). Hedge of Wild Almonds: South Africa, the Pro-Boers & the Quaker Conscience, 1890-1910. James Currey Publishers. ISBN 978-0-85255-031-1.
  6. ^ Hochschild, p. 277
  7. ^ I appeal unto Cæsar
  8. ^ a b Hochschild, p. 276
  9. ^ a b c Sue Young Histories: Rosa and Stephen Hobhouse and Homeopathy
  10. ^ Hobhouse, Rosa
  11. ^ Homeopathic Journal: Volume 3, Issue 5, Mar 2010 (Historical Papers)
  12. ^ "The Soul As It Is and How to Deal With It", by Professor Gilbert Murray, Reprinted from the Hibbert Journal, Published in January 1918 by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai India.
  13. ^ a b Brock, p. 18
  14. ^ Hochschild, p. 270
  15. ^ Moorehead, pp. 271–2
  16. ^ CWGC record for Paul Edward Hobhouse
  17. ^ Hochschild, p. 322
  18. ^ Hochschild, pp. 269–272
  19. ^ Hochschild, pp. 270–272
  20. ^ Hochschild, p. 329
  21. ^ The Bat Segundo Show: Adam Hochschild
  22. ^ digitalcommons: Russell as ghost-writer, a new discovery
  23. ^ Hochschild, p. 303
  24. ^ Hansard
  25. ^ St. Stephen's House, Friends' Emergency Work in England, 1914 to 1920, Compiled by Anna Braithwaite Thomas
  26. ^ English prisons to-day; being the report of the Prison System Enquiry Committee (1922)
  27. ^ The report of the Commission on English Prisons Today: Final Report, 2009, p. 18, 62 Archived 2013-06-28 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Stephen_Hobhouse at Open Library
  29. ^ Stephen_Hobhouse at WorldCat
  • Brock, Peter, These strange criminals : an anthology of prison memoirs by conscientious objectors to military service from the Great War to the Cold War, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004, ISBN 0802087078
  • Hobhouse, Rosa Waugh, Life of Christian Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathy, New Delhi: B. Jain, 2001, ISBN 8170216850
  • Hochschild, Adam, To end all wars : a story of loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, ISBN 0618758283
  • Moorehead, Caroline, Bertrand Russell: a life, New York: Viking, 1993, ISBN 067085008X
  • Rae, John, Conscience and Politics - The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, Oxford University Press, 1970, ISBN 0192151762
  • Vellacott, Jo, Bertrand Russell and the pacifists in the First World War, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981, ISBN 031207705X
  • Wills, David W, Stephen Henry Hobhouse: a twentieth-century Quaker saint, London, Friends Home Service Committee, 1972
  • Zedner, Lucia, The criminological foundations of penal policy: essays in honour of Roger Hood, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN 0199265097

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