MR. SEEBOHM ROWNTREE
Philanthropist and Sociologist
Mr. Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, C.H., chairman of Rowntree and Co. Ltd., from 1925 to 1941, and well known as a philanthropist and sociologist, died yesterday at his home at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He was 83.
The second son of the late Joseph Rowntree, founder of the cocoa and chocolate firm at York, he was born on July 7, 1871, and was educated at Bootham, the Quaker School at York, and at Owen's College, Manchester. The atmosphere of broad religious and social interests and of enlightened philanthropy in which he grew up was eminently conducive to the development of the social betterment schemes and inquiries with which his name is associated.
Inspired by his father's work and by Charles Booth's investigations into "life and labour" in London, Rowntree's first essay in similar directions was his book Poverty: A Study in Town Life, published in 1901. This was a survey of social conditions in York based on visits by investigators to every working-class household in the city. He promoted a second and more wide-ranging survey of York in 1936, the findings of which, reviewing "the degree in which a typical provincial city has benefited from the efforts put forth during this century to improve social conditions," were published in Poverty and Progress (1941 ).
STUDY OF POVERTY
It is perhaps chiefly for these classic inquiries that he will be remembered, together with their demonstration that poverty was far more widespread in childhood than in adult life and with his own conclusion that no feasible improvements in wages could abolish childhood poverty without the addition of family allowances. It is significant of his influence that virtually everyone of the many social surveys made in Britain between the two world wars used methods of measuring poverty directly or indirectly derived from the "human needs" standard Rowntree devised for his first York survey. A third very summary survey of York in. 1950, Poverty and the Welfare State, and a somewhat heterogeneous study of English Life and Leisure, were both published in 1951.
Other books associated with his name include Land and Labour: Lessons from Belgium (1905), Unemployment: A Social Study (with Bruno Lasker, 1911), How the Labourer Lives (1913), The Human Needs of Labour (1918, revised edition 1936), The Human Factor in Business (1921), The Responsibility of Women Workers for Dependants (with F. D. Stuart, 1921), and Industrial Unrest: A Way Out (1922). He worked in close collaboration for some 20 years, up to 1933, with Mr. Lloyd George. In the later years of this association they were both particularly concerned about questions of housing and unemployment. the quick growth of the York business of which he was vice-chairman for several years before he succeeded his father as chairman in 1925 was in no small degree due to him. He always viewed his work as a sacred trust, and gave as much scrupulous attention to plans for improving the workers' position as to the other details of the business. His great interest in the
Joseph Rowntree Village Trust was not confined to the creation of the garden village at New Earswick, nor were the houses in that village let to employees only. He believed that its chief value was in demonstrating what well planned houses, beautiful in appearance, could be.
What was being done at York, largely under his personal guidance and inspiration, opened a wider sphere of usefulness. After having been a member of the Land Enquiry Committee in 1913-14, Mr. Lloyd George invited him during the 1914-18 War, to become director of the Welfare Department of the Ministry of Munitions, through which reasonable conditions of working were ensured for thousands, especially women. In politics he was a Liberal
and was a member of various reconstruction committees for the Liberal Party.
He participated to a major degree in the work of a number of ad hoc committees, such as these which produced the following books and reports: Britain's Industrial Future (1928, with W. T . Lay ton, E. D. Simon, Lloyd George, J. M. Keynes, and others); The Agricultural Dilemma (1930, with Lord Astor); Are Trades Unions Obstructive? (1935, with John Hilton, J. J. Mallon, Sir Arthur Salter, and others); British Agriculture (1938, with Lord Astor) ; and Mixed Farming and Muddled Thinking (1946, with Lord Astor).
He was a Trustee of the King George's Fields Foundation, of the Nuffield Trust for Distressed Areas, president of the Outward Bound Trust, and chairman of the important old age survey committee set up by the Nuffield Foundation, the report of which was published under the title Old People in 1947. He was also closely identified with the anti-gambling movement and with the movement for obtaining disinterested management of the liquor trade. An active member of the Committee of the National Institute of
Industrial Psychology and of the Industrial Welfare Society, he was the originator of the Lecture Conferences for Works Directors, Managers and .Foremen, started in 1919, and of the Management Research Groups, first started in 1926. Throughout his life he was keenly interested in adult education, and in recent years, in the advances made in this field by Denmark. He was a justice of the peace, and also an honorary LL.D. of Manchester University. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1931.
When he resigned his chairmanship of Rowntree and Co. in 1941 and made his home in Buckinghamshire, he did not cease to be interested in York matters. These included his close interest in the repertory theatre in York, and his chairmanship of the York Citizens' Theatre Trust. He was also director of the Repertory Theatre at Amersham and president of the Conference of Repertory Theatres.
From his Quaker ancestors and the Quaker surroundings of his upbringing, he had learned to look on life as a whole, and he never wished to draw a sharp line of distinction between his activities as being "religious" or otherwise. He was a loyal member of the religious society to which he belonged and took an active part in the extension of Quaker work of all sorts, especially in Yorkshire. He was one of the originators of the Swarthmore Lecture, which precedes the "Yearly Meeting" of the Society of Friends. For a few years, in spite of his many other activities, he undertook the position of "clerk" (i.e., chairman-secretary) of the Industrial and Social Order Council of the Society, putting gladly at its service all the fullness of his own knowledge and experience.
In private life a delightful companion and conversationalist, he was perhaps as much at home as anywhere in group and larger meetings where problems had to be faced and overcome. A man of strong personal opinions, he had the tact, humour and willingness to see the other point of view, which drew out :he best in others, with the result that even if full agreement or solution were not reached, misunderstandings were not left to mar further explorations.
He married Miss Lydia Potter in 1897. She died in 1944. There were four sons and one daughter of the marriage.
(By kind permission of the Editor of "The Times")