Albert Mansbridge (1876-1952): Life & Labour

Life and Labour sums up Albert Mansbridge very well. ‘His promising academic career stopped abruptly at the age of fourteen when he was forced to leave school to supplement the family income’ (Thompson, 1989, 8). Giving up the prospect of higher education was a hefty blow for Mansbridge and, though he never expressed any desire otherwise, he was perpetually hindered in his academic conquest by the shackles of finance.

Albert never forgot his passion for academic equality and, even when facing difficult career decisions, life came before labour. As Jennings explains in his biography of Mansbridge:

His twenty-first birthday found him employed in a dead-end job by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, consoled by the outlet for his idealism which he had found in the wider co-operative movement. He spoke at meetings, contributed to co-operative journals, taught a co-operative class in industrial history, and became recognized as a promising young activist (Jennings, 2004, n. pag).

Mansbridge was always aware that the Co-operative Wholesale Society would never harbour the career path that he wanted, nor the educational outcome he longed for, but he used it for all that he could. Mansbridge set up educational sessions and lectures within the society and used it as a stepping stone for his later positions and works. Albert would eventually leave this position, but he would still face financially difficulty in the future – even at the peak of the WEA‘s success.

The constant struggle for finance which Albert and and his wife Frances faced would mould and maintain their burning passion for academic equality. In an effort to push the reputation of the WEA Mansbridge devoted himself even more to his cause:

I had given up all my teaching work, so was fee to devote my evenings, as well as week-ends and even holidays, to the new Association [to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men, later to become the WEA]’ (Mansbridge, 1940, 62).

This drive to promote the WEA and to challenge the (then) current education system was clearly never about money. Though Albert and Frances struggled to find funding in the beginning, their yearning for an equal and fair education system surpassed the necessity for economic capital. Albert understood that hard work brought equal reward and so he never faltered in his working mentality.

If we can learn anything from the life and labours of Albert Mansbridge, it is that no matter how difficult finance and work got, he never stopped. Mansbridge never failed to find a way:

The restriction of freedom is apparent in the world of business, with which I have been concerned all my life, and I view with concern the increasing tendency to turn men and women into mere automata by methods of centralization (1940, 273)

This passage may seem somewhat encrypted, but Mansbridge is evidently trying to declare his opposition to succumbing to the classist brutality of wealth and greed. Mansbridge has always struggled to find his own path, but he has always been successful – with or without financial fortune. By succumbing to the pressure of finance, Mansbridge claims that we lose our very humanity and become ‘automata’. Firmly believing in this, Mansbridge persistently furthered the WEA and his own academic reputation – crafting his legacy as one of the most important influences in modern education.



Mansbridge, Albert. The Trodden Road. London: Temple, 1940.

Thompson, D. ‘Albert Mansbridge and a fresh coat of paint’. History Today, 39. 8 (1989): 7-8

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