Late Victorian and Edwardian social reform has been studied in recent years in order to clarify that important transitional era when new state resources were being called upon to help redress the most glaring abuses which comprised the condition-of-England question. Most of these studies have emphasized the politics of social policy and have also subsumed the tangled and competitive world of philanthropy. But philanthropists were prominent in the politics and practice of social welfare. In his study of Edwardian social policy, Bentley Gilbert distinguishes three organizations as characteristic of “scientific social reform”: settlements (inspired by Canon Samuel Barnett), the Fabians, and the Charity Organization Society. His analysis of each concluded that “professionally-minded social work,” as represented by the C.O.S., least typified the transition from old to new attitudes about social policy. David Owen's examination of English philanthropy supports Gilbert's conclusions concerning the C.O.S., and less detailed surveys of social policy also cite that agency as representative of a philosophic individualism which rejected the policies necessary for reform. All agree that the charitable community called attention to many defects in the British social system, but they leave readers with the impression that it generally opposed state sponsored remedies for those ills.
It is the concern of this essay to show that the “professionally-minded” world of Edwardian philanthropy was, like the state, developing new agencies and reorganizing its resources to help meet the massive and diverse welfare needs of the twentieth century.