Notes for teachers

The different areas of Joseph Rowntree’s life mentioned in the biography

Joseph Rowntree led a full and active life and was:

•  A successful businessman
•  An entrepreneur
•  A Quaker
•  A philanthropist
•  A social reformer
•  A political reformer
•  A provider of good quality housing
•  An internationalist
•  A campaigner for temperance reform

Primary sources: condolence letters
They all agree that Joseph Rowntree led a valuable life of exemplary service. Depending who they are from, they focus on different aspects of his life. For example, the Mayor focuses upon his contribution to the life of the City. The letters from the Cadburys are from the famous Quaker chocolate making family of Bourneville, Birmingham.

Rowntree’s views on enquiring into social reform
These views would have upset members of society with more conservative views; people who supported the status quo. In Britain, there was a strong culture of charitable giving to help the poor. What Rowntree is saying is that the reasons why people were poor should be explored to stop social problems and disasters continuing and recurring. Such enquiries usually lead to recommendations for fundamental change; this can be disconcerting for people who do not like change and can lead to people who are doing well out of society as it is losing some of their power and status. The organisations that Joseph Rowntree set up still raise difficult questions; for example see Throughout history, individuals and organisations that campaign for such change have often been very unpopular with people in power.

Rowntree’s views on helping
Rowntree believed that there were many people with good ideas about change that was needed who needed funding to carry out their good ideas. This motivated him to set up the charitable organisations he established in 1904.

Temperance reminiscences
Rowntree was first influenced by his father’s views and then visitors to York who supported the temperance movement. He was also driven by his firm belief that alcohol caused much misery in society. He thinks the matter so important he is writing notes for his grandchildren. (The reminiscences go on to say that when his brother became Lord Mayor he banned alcohol from the Mansion House, as previously banquets had been drunken affairs, with the City surveyor frequently ending up under the table!) As well as setting an example to his grandchildren, he firmly states that his work to persuade people to temperance and abstention would be in vain if he drank.

What is a good citizen?
Rowntree probably would fit this definition. However, he was also independent minded in a way that made him unafraid to say what was unpopular and ‘speak truth to power’. This definition provided here is only partially adequate. If a government takes over which is against human rights then being law-abiding could clash with other elements and independence and courage would become very important; for example as happened in Germany and Austria in the 1930s.

Activity 1: motivation diagram.
Rowntree’s Quaker faith was probably the most important influence on the way he chose to lead his life. However, he also appears to be motivated by living up to the example of his father, the evidence of social need that he perceives around him, the ideas around during his day about how to solve that need, the big political issues of his day, a need to work hard and make a difference. There is, of course, an overlap between these.

Activity 3: Persuading York City Council
A useful website with tips about how to write to persuade is Englishbiz.