Clara Collet (1860–1948) was pivotal in effecting many reforms which greatly improved working conditions and pay for women (and some men) during the early part of the twentieth century. Perhaps the most important thing that she did for posterity was her collection of statistical and descriptive evidence of life for working women and the underprivileged in London and elsewhere in England.
Her Unitarian father sent her to the North London Collegiate School London close to where she lived which was one of the most liberated schools for girls at that time. On leaving school she worked as a school mistress at Wyggeston Girl's School in Leicester. This was later to become Regent's College. However, she did not find this work fulfilling enough and after seven years she left to return to London and commence a Master's degree at University College London.
After completion of this degree she commenced work for Charles Booth helping in his great investigative work on the conditions prevailing in late nineteenth century London. To this end she took up residency in the East End during the autumn of 1888. She was working on a chapter on Women's Work in Booth's masterpiece 'Life and Labour of the People of London'. As part of this investigation Collet interviewed prostitutes and wrote a section covering their conditions and reasons for choosing such 'work'. This was at the time Jack the Ripper killed at least five prostitutes.
Collet was probably George Gissing's closest friend during the last ten years of his life, providing the intellectual stimulation he lacked in his marriage. She may have been in love with him, although this does not appear to have been reciprocated. She oversaw the education of his children after Gissing's death. At this time she also became engaged in a long disagreement with H G Wells over the foreword of Gissing's posthumously published novel Veranilda.
Collet worked as a civil servant working with the Board of Trade during which time she helped introduce many reforms including the introduction of the Old Age Pension and Labour Exchanges. During these years she worked with well-known politicians such as David Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, William Beveridge and Winston Churchill.
- 'McDonald, Deborah, 'Clara Collet 1860-1948: An Educated Working Woman', Woburn Press 2004 ISBN 978-0-7130-4060-9
- McDonald, Deborah, 'Clara Collet' - gives full bibliography of Collet's work
- Booth, Charles, 'Life and Labour of the People of London' Vol I
- Diary of Clara Collet, Warwick University Modern Record's Office
- McDonald, Deborah, 'Clara Collet'
- Diary of Clara Collet held at Warwick Modern Records Office