The politician and social reformer Beatrice Serota (1919-2002) both studied and taught at LSE and later became an Honorary Fellow. She is best known for her career in government, championing an inclusive approach to social policy. LSE Curator Gillian Murphy introduces LSE Library’s archive collection covering Beatrice Serota’s working life.

Beatrice Serota was born on 15 October 1919 in London. She attended Clapton county secondary school and then went to LSE to study economics. She was taught by Harold Laski, Professor at LSE from 1926 to 1950, and this gave her a long-time enthusiasm for politics and the Labour Party. Beatrice also taught Social Policy and Administration at LSE during the 1970s, becoming an Honorary Fellow in 1976. Here are her notes for a course on the role of the social worker in 1973 on House of Lords headed paper.

Beatrice Serota's notes. Credit: LSE Library

Beatrice Serota’s notes on House of Lords headed paper. Credit: LSE Library

Beatrice Serota had a long career in local government at Hampstead Borough Council, at the London County Council and then at the Greater London Council, including the Inner London Education Authority. In 1967 she was made a life peer for her work with children, especially those deprived of a normal home life. In 1969 she became Minister of State for Health and the first woman Minister of State in the House of Lords. She was a JP, married with two children: Judith and Nicholas.

LSE Library holds her archive which covers her working life. There are letters and speeches, notes and reports relating to the various positions she held on commissions and advisory bodies, for example the Latey Commission on lowering the age of consent from 21 to 18 in 1967. There are also many papers regarding Serota’s interest in social reform and welfare issues including child welfare, healthcare, crime and social services. The following are some extracts from those papers.

A copy of her interview for Woman’s Hour in 1969 reflected on her work in local government as being “a practical area of work” commenting,

“I always think my greatest achievement in life, and certainly in Hampstead Borough Council, was in the very snowy winter of 1947, when I was pushing a pram myself, to get a handrail up on a very steep hill with a sharp bend on it where mothers were going up and down to the nursery school and old people were coming from an old people’s home. It’s that kind of practical achievement that I think is extremely rewarding.” (Serota/4/5)

Her papers show her genuine concern for people. In a speech at a conference in 1971 she said,

“Surely the major test of any society which prides itself on being “advanced” and compassionate, and its humanitarian concern for all its members, is the provision it makes for those who can contribute little to production and who require extensive care from others.” (Serota/7/6)

Beatrice Serota (left). Credit: LSE Library

Beatrice Serota (left). Credit: LSE Library

Her main concerns were for children, young offenders, the chronically sick, the mentally ill, and single parents who were marginalised in Beveridge’s welfare state. Her approach to social policy was more inclusive and her views helped to modernise welfare provision in the 1960s and 1970s.

Beatrice sat on many Advisory Bodies and lamented their demise in an interview the 1990s. She saw them “as a buffer between government and public…they had a great value in that sense, both in educating the public if you like, and in educating government.” (Serota/2/13)

She maintained an active voice as deputy speaker of the House of Lords in 1985 and was active in many charities: vice-president of the National Council for One-Parent Families from 1971 until her death, and even lobbying the government on behalf of Family Service Units in 2000.

Her son, Nicholas, became Director of the Tate and is now with the Arts Council England.

Contributed by Gillian Murphy (Curator for Equality, Rights and CitizenshipLSE Library)

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LSE library holds Beatrice’s archive and the Women’s Library collection contains the archives of One-Parent Families.

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