Cole, Max and Dorothy

Max and Dorothy (née Barnard later Wedderburn) Cole

Dorothy Enid Barnard was born on 18th September 1925 as in Walthamstow, north-east London, the youngest child of Frederick Barnard, a class-conscious trade unionist carpenter and his wife, Ethel Lawrence, who had left school at 13 to earn her living in service. Both parents were the children of blacksmiths. Perhaps because of (rather than despite!) this background, both Dorothy and her brother George became significant academics.

In 1943 she went to Girton College, Cambridge to study economics where she, in common with her brother and many others joined the Communist Party.  There she met William Alan (W A, not as some sources have it “A N”) “Max” Cole.

Born in 1926, Max Cole came from a Quaker background. Along with about thirty others, including the Barnards, Cole joined the Cambridge student branch of the Party the same year as Dorothy. 

After a period at the Board of Trade, in 1947 Dorothy and Max married. He was not able to complete his undergraduate history course at Cambridge University until 1950 due to National Service. A PhD followed and then research work at Cambridge, which Dorothy joined Max in, taking them both much to the end of the 1950s. By the end of the decade, Dorothy Cole had spent most of the 1950s as research officer at Cambridge. With the beginning of an end to the Cold War, a virtual embargo on Communist academics in British universities was thawing and she began to lecture.  Around the same time, also the time when her marriage broke up, she quietly let her Party membership lapse.

Dorothy always claimed not to recall the moment of lea)ving and this is probably due to the low key nature of her departure. As Dorothy Cole, she had become noted as a New Left authority on pensions policy. She wrote a piece on this for The New Reasoner in its Spring 1959 number. Those behind NR had already left the Party and, as likely as not, she went along with this publication knowing that both her branch and herself would simply avoided the question of a membership card being issued in 1960 as a result. In all probability, Max Cole took a similar decision at the same time, since he refers to spending “15 years” in the Party, although he continued to still claim to be a Marxian socialist even as he retired many years later. (Max Cole retired as Professor and Head of the Department of Economic History at University College Swansea in the late 1980s.)

Yet this period seems to mark a decisive break of some sort going beyond merely leaving the Party. Max and Dorothy’s marriage also ended in 1960 and, two years later, she married the mainstream labour lawyer Bill, later Lord, Wedderburn. That marriage also ended in divorce in 1968, althouugh she retained the married name from then onwards.

She rose in sociological academia from lecturer to professor of industrial sociology (1977-81), head of a department of economic and social studies and the principal of a university college but retained a basic commitment to socilaist principles all through.

Dorothy Wedderburn (Pictured) died on 20th September 2012

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