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Glass [née Lazarus; other married name Durant], Ruth Adelefree

(1912–1990)

Glass [née Lazarus; other married name Durant], Ruth Adele (1912–1990), sociologist, was born on 30 June 1912 in Berlin, Germany, the second of three daughters (there were no sons) of Eli Lazarus, described on her marriage certificate as a factory burner, a member of a distinguished Jewish family with a long rabbinical tradition, and his wife, Lilly Leszczynska. She embarked on a degree in social studies at the University of Berlin, and published a study of youth unemployment in Berlin in 1932 (reprinted in Clichés of Urban Doom, 1989), but following the rise of the Nazis she left Germany in 1932 before completing her degree. She studied at the University of Geneva and in Prague before arriving in London in the mid-1930s, where she resumed her sociological studies, at the London School of Economics. Watling, a study of a new London county council cottage estate in Hendon, on the outskirts of London, published in 1939, established her reputation as a social scientist. Meanwhile, in 1935 she had married Henry William Durant, statistician and pioneer of public opinion surveys, and son of Henry William Durant, foreman in a grain mill. They were divorced in 1941, and in 1942 she married David Victor Glass (1911–1978), demographer, the son of Philip Glass, journeyman tailor. There were one son and one daughter of this second marriage, which was a very close one.

From 1940 until 1942 Ruth Glass was senior research officer at the Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University, New York, and was awarded an MA degree, but she returned to Britain in 1943 and became involved in town planning, as lecturer and research officer at the Association for Planning and Regional Reconstruction. From 1947 to 1948 she was a research officer for PEP (Political and Economic Planning), and she then spent two years (1948–50) at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, in charge of the new towns research section. She returned to academic life in 1950, to University College, London, which remained her academic base for the rest of her life. Her husband had become professor of sociology at the London School of Economics in 1948, and together they became known at the University of London as the Heloïse and Abelard of sociological research. For many years they edited jointly a series entitled Studies in Society.

In 1951 Ruth Glass became director of the social research unit at University College, working under William Holford, professor of town planning, and she founded the Centre for Urban Studies in 1951, becoming director of research in 1958, a post she retained until her death. In addition, she was visiting professor at University College (1972–85), and at the University of Essex (1980–86). She was chairman of the urban sociology research committee of the International Sociological Association (1958–75). She was also on the editorial board of several journals, including Sage Urban Studies Abstracts and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

During the earlier part of Ruth Glass's career her interests centred on town planning, and The Social Background of a Plan: a Study of Middlesbrough, based on a survey done in 1944, appeared in 1948. She was always concerned with the social aspects of town planning, constantly anxious that planners should not forget human needs, especially those of people being rehoused because their homes had been destroyed during the Second World War. She studied housing problems in London, editing London, Aspects of Change in 1964, and publishing London's Housing Needs (1965) and Housing in Camden (1969). She gave evidence to several government committees and inquiries, most notably the royal commission on local government in Greater London (1957–60). She invented the term ‘gentrification’ in 1962, giving warnings about the squeezing of the poor out of London and the creation of upper-class ghettos.

Ruth Glass became interested in the consequences of immigration and the position of minorities in British society. In Newcomers: the West Indians in London (1960) she started from the premiss that racial discrimination is an intolerable insult both to the human dignity of an individual, and to the dignity of the society in which it is practised. She did a study of the Notting Hill riots of 1958, and in the 1960s she campaigned against the new immigration laws. She was also concerned with social change in the ‘third world’. In 1968 she set up a one-year postgraduate course on urbanization in developing countries. She was particularly drawn by India, which she visited for two months every year from 1958 onwards.

Although she was a key figure in establishing urban sociology as an academic discipline, publishing Urban Sociology in Great Britain in 1955, Ruth Glass opposed the idea of research for its own sake, believing that the purpose of sociological research was to influence government policy and bring about social change, and to this end she involved herself in political debate. A Marxist all her life, she was never a member of the Communist Party, and after the compromises made by the Labour Party over immigration in the 1960s she felt that radicals had no place in any political party in Britain.

Abrasive and confident, with a powerful intellect, Ruth Glass could be devastating in argument, especially where she detected sloppy thinking. She had no time for jargon and clichés. She had a passion for justice and fought hard for those she believed to be oppressed. She was a distinctive figure, very short, always dressed in blue, with a strong German accent. She was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1972 and was awarded an honorary LittD by Sheffield in 1982. She never recovered from her husband's death in 1978, and in the last ten years of her life, although she continued to lecture and to work, she became increasingly lonely. Her final few years were marred by illness. She died on 7 March 1990 in Willow Lodge Nursing Home, Sutton, Surrey.

Sources

  • The Independent (13 March 1990)
  • R. Glass, Clichés of urban doom and other essays (1988)
  • K. Leech, The birth of a monster, 2nd edn (1990)
  • The Times (9 March 1990)

Likenesses

  • photograph, repro. in The Times

Wealth at Death

£609,907: administration, 20 Dec 1990, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]