[Deborah McDonald [firstname.lastname@example.org] has kindly shared these materials from her Collet website with the Victorian Web. Her biography of Collet was published by Woburn Press in November 2003]
By May 1908, Winston Churchill had been elected the new President of the Board of Trade. Collet had by 1903 been promoted to the post of Senior Investigator with the Board with an emphasis on women's work. Churchill was responsible for the implementation of some wide reaching reforms during his time with the Liberal party. He took the radical stance on every issue confronting his party even including support of female suffrage.
About this era, Clara Collet commented in her diary that she needed to, "put on record at once the complete changes in my official work. On Friday morning I was told that I was to attend a conference in the President's room at 5pm on Wages Boards." Others present were Sidney Webb, Hubert Llewellyn Smith and, of course, Churchill himself. The meeting was called to consider the possibility of producing a Wages Board Bill. The Home Office was opposed to such a measure.
Collet continued her close association with Churchill during his time working for the Board of Trade and at one stage attended a meeting in the House of Commons. It was, "to be held in Sir Edward Grey's room at the House of Commons. It is the first time I had gone there. The police were rather nervous about me but took my word for being authorised to go in." However Collet found the occasion instructive and useful.
On another occasion Collet commented that, "I don't think the Board of Trade loves Mr Churchill, but I confess that he interests me as a human being whatever his faults may be. It is partly because I only know 'intellectuals' or 'thoughtful men' that this type of person governing them appeals to a side of me which might belong to a respectable bohemian." Churchill's attitude towards working with Collet as a woman is also highlighted in her diary. She commented that he
"damned that fellow Carlisle" and then apologised to me for doing so. It is very amusing to contrast the different ways in which they treat me. Mr Askwith aims at treating me like a man with no more respect than a man in the same place; all the others treat me with a little more consideration because I am a woman, but quite rightly don't put themselves out for me & treat me as a colleague. (August 1910)
In 1909/10 Collet worked with Churchill closely over the introduction of Labour Exchanges ensuring that amendments were made to the bill to improve circumstances for women. Churchill was also to be responsible for the introduction of the Trade Boards, which were to fix minimum rates of pay for timework and piecework. Collet spent many of her early retirement years working for various trade boards helping to eliminate the worst of the charlatans paying below the minimum rates of pay. She also worked hard to produce statistics to support the "fair wages bill" and to improve the situation for the employees in "sweated trades" in London.
Thus Collet invaded the hallowed male territory of parliament with pragmatism and stealth. She did not see the need to chain herself to railings in order to push the cause of women further but used the more effective method of simply being there and doing the job well, proving to these influential men that women were just as capable as they. In 1918, after the First World War, when women were finally given the vote in Britain, one can imagine that many of those politicians voting for women's enfranchisement would have had Clara Collet in mind when they cast their "yes" vote.
Collet worked for the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour (as it became known in 1917), for twenty years. After her retirement she continued to sit of various Trade Boards. Such was her enthusiasm and determination, that in 1926, during the General Strike she somehow managed to commission a hearse in which she was driven to work. She was sixty-six years old at this time yet she was still as determined as ever to carry out the job she had been set to do.
Collet's association with Churchill lasted until Churchill left the Board of Trade for the Home Office in February 1910 and although it does not appear that the two of them became more than working acquaintances, her influence must undoubtedly have been felt by Churchill during his time at the Board and it was to her statistics that he would have been drawn when making decisions about women's matters.
Last modified 2000