29-year-old William Hewins became LSE’s first Director in 1895 and remained in post until becoming Secretary to Joseph Chamberlain’s Tariff Commission in 1903. LSE Archivist Sue Donnelly describes how Hewins came to accept the Directorship at LSE and the enormous part he played in setting up the early School.
On 24 March 1895 Sidney Webb wrote to a young Oxford academic:
It is now a matter of serious import whether the scheme can be carried through. I am still keen on it, and if it should be possible for you to help to a greater extent than we contemplated it might still be done.
On 30 March after meeting the Webbs the academic, William Hewins, replied:
You will be glad to know that I accept [the Trustees’] invitation to undertake the Directorship of the proposed new School and that I will at once set about the work of organisation.
At the youthful age of 29 William Hewins (1865-1931) became LSE’s first Director. He was not Sidney’s first choice – that was the political scientist Graham Wallas – but when he declined, Sidney approached Hewins who had agreed to lecture on economic history. Able and energetic Hewins turned out to be the perfect partner in bringing Sidney’s vision of a “school of economics” to fruition. By the time LSE opened its doors on 10 October Hewins had found accommodation, designed the syllabus, gathered support, published a prospectus and recruited 200 students.
Hewins attended Wolverhampton Grammar School and gained a second class degree in mathematics from Pembroke College, Oxford. More significantly he was involved in founding the Oxford Social Science Club, joined the Oxford Economics Society and developed an interest in historical research. After graduation he lectured in the north of England as part of the university extension movement and in 1892 published on English trade and finance in the seventeenth century. By 1895 his failure either to persuade Oxford to include economic history in its curriculum or to be appointed to a chair at King’s College, London, may have increased his enthusiasm for a new kind of academic project.
Accommodation for the School was found in three rooms at 9 John Street in Adelphi, near Charing Cross Station. Hewins recalled that students found “an almost unfurnished room where there was one bureau and two chairs, on for myself and one for my visitor.” Hewins approached the Society of Arts and the Chamber of Commerce for lecture space. Both were worried that the School’s Fabian connections might influence teaching. Hewins, with no Fabian connections, was persuasive and the School’s lectures where held either at the Society of Arts in John Street, or at the Chamber of Commerce, Botolph House, Eastcheap.
A second task was ensuring the School’s academic credibility. Hewins continued Sidney Webb’s approaches to established scholars such as Halford Mackinder, already Reader in Geography in the University of Oxford, and William Cunningham, Professor of Economic Science and Statistics at King’s College, London or rising stars such as Arthur Bowley in statistics. The first prospectus outlines nine areas of study including economics, commercial geography and political science.
Everything was ready for the students. Hewins wrote to economists and social scientists in Britain and Europe explaining the new project. He also did newspaper interviews about the new endeavour and the prospectus was circulated. 200 full and part time students registered by October 1895 and on 9 November Hewins wrote:
The hope that the School would appeal to various classes of students has been fulfilled. Amongst those who have joined the School are men and women engaged in business, in municipal and public work, graduates of universities (English and foreign), civil servants, teachers (both in secondary and elementary schools), clerks, journalists and working men.
Hewins stressed that “…no differentiation against persons was to be allowed on the grounds of sex, religion, or economic or political views.”
While there was no doubting Hewins work rate or commitment to the LSE project not everyone found him easy to work with – Beatrice Webb described him as “one big paradox” – while he had great energy and organisational capacity when inspired she described him as “dilatory” when his own and the Governors’ views failed to coincide. The School Secretary, Christian MacTaggart, was clear that “he worked far too hard and had too much to do”.
After finding the School its second home on Adelphi Terrace in 1896 Hewins suffered a collapse and Sidney Webb had to take over the work of organising builders and the move into the new premises. But at the end of three years 1,000 students from sixteen countries had registered as students and within five years the London School of Economics and Political Science was ready to join the University of London.
Hewins’ directorship ended abruptly in November 1903 when he accepted the post of Secretary to Joseph Chamberlain’s Tariff Commission and resigned believing that his political views would conflict with the School’s academic freedom. In 1912 Hewins was elected as the Unionist MP for Hereford but after World War One he was less active in politics. In 1929 he looked back on his time as Director:
When I think of the first days of the School of Economics at No. 9 John Street, Adelphi, and contemplate the great organisation which has grown from those beginnings, I can only feel that I was privileged along with my colleagues to take part in a great romance. Difficulties appeared from day to day only to be overcome. Although we represented different schools of thought and were on different sides of politics, I cannot remember any incident which disturbed the harmony of our relations during those early years or which interfered in any way with the rapid progress of our great undertaking.
This post was published during LSE’s 120th anniversary celebrations