The focus of the Library’s 2019 Michaelmas exhibition was the appointment of one of the School’s most famous former Directors, William Beveridge.
Beveridge’s time in charge (1919-1937) marked a period of significant change for the School reflected also by the broader turbulence of the 1920s and 30s. The exhibition therefore had one eye on Beveridge’s role in moulding the School but also another which drew attention to his work in the context of the wider world.
The exhibition’s first focus was Beveridge’s attempts to establish a department of Social Biology. Beveridge was a eugenicist, like many of his intellectual contemporaries, and his firm belief in the empirical basis of the natural sciences led him to founding the department which it was hoped could lead to insights and bridge the gap between natural and social sciences.
In the second part of the exhibition we focused on Beveridge's role in establishing the Academic Assistance Fund at LSE in 1933. The fund pooled donated money from teaching staff at the School to help support 'non Aryan', predominantly Jewish, academics who were being expelled from teaching positions as the Nazi's took power in Germany. The Fund became the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and went on to help hundreds of people escape totalitarian regimes.
William Beveridge had already featured in our 2017 exhibition about the Welfare State but there was still plenty to say about him. His time as head of the School was full of fascinating stories and there were myriad directions that could have been taken his time here.
I wanted to attempt to reflect more deeply on Beveridge’s time here and included topics that were sensitive and controversial rather than a simple chronological overview rehashing his achievements. I think it worked and I’m happy that the stories in the exhibition allowed us to reach out to others who have also been reflecting on the role of eugenics in British history. It also allowed us to show something more of the human side, warts and all, of one of the previous century’s key figures.