Obituary: Betsy Rodgers

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The Independent Online
ALWAYS self-effacing and tremendously loyal to her husband, a Conservative MP, founder of the magazine History Today and later chairman of Radio Luxembourg, Betsy Rodgers managed to remain a free spirit in spite of being born in an era which so often denied women the right to their own fulfilment.

Born in 1907 and brought up in Gloucestershire into what she always described as the "rural bourgeoisie", she acquired many of the characteristics of her background, retaining throughout her life an old-fashioned courtesy, a great love and deep knowledge of the countryside, gardens, dogs and horses - especially the latter. She continued to hunt until she was 75. However her independent character together with a high intelligence led her to reject many of the conventional values of her class. She was to achieve intellectual distinction and develop a deep social conscience and concern for the welfare of people. It is for these that she will be remembered.

Betsy Aikin-Sneath, her maiden name, was the only girl to pass the University Entrance from her school in Eastbourne and went up to Oxford, to St Hugh's College, in 1926, somewhat to her father's dismay. There she read French and German - also unlikely to have pleased her father, who disliked the Germans. She became fluent in French, German and Spanish and later gained a PhD from London University. Her thesis was published by the Clarendon Press in 1936, as Comedy in Germany in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century. Later she confessed to having doubts about the significance of her chosen subject.

While at Oxford she met and married John Rodgers, a penniless, idealistic fellow undergraduate from Yorkshire whose father had been a railway clerk. She also joined the Labour Party; yet another blow to her parent. On going down from Keble her husband went to work for the Mary Ward Settlement in London and then briefly became a university teacher. Soon however he exchanged social work for commerce, by joining the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson. Throughout his life his ambitions were fuelled by the fear of reliving the poverty of his childhood.

In 1939 Betsy was adopted Labour candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Chelsea. However the Second World War intervened and she never had the chance to fight an election. Instead she spent the war years as a County Welfare Officer, bringing up her two sons, while her husband worked in the Ministry of Information.

After the war John Rodgers was adopted as Conservative candidate for Sevenoaks - the constituency he represented from 1950 to 1979 - and Betsy became a Tory wife. She was able to be reconciled to this as her husband's conservatism was of the "liberal" and "One Nation" variety which did not inhibit her concern for social reform or threaten the Welfare State. She became a respected, hard-working figure in his constituency and a magistrate, and also kept up her academic work.

She published two more books of social history, Cloak of Charity: studies in eighteenth- century philanthropy (1949) and Georgian Chronicle: Mrs Barbauld and her family (1958), centring on a kinswoman, the miscellaneous writer and dissenting radical Anna Letitia Barbauld, nee Aikin. These works revealed her deep commitment to her subject and she regarded them as her most important achievement.

She was also the unacknowledged researcher and part- author of her husband's three books for Batsford, The Old Public Schools of England (1938), The English Woodland (1941) and English Rivers (1948). She passed her love of reading on to her two sons, the elder of whom, Tobias, was an antiquarian bookdealer who, tragically, died one year before her.

Susan Lasdun

Betsy Aikin-Sneath, historian: born Paignton, Devon 29 August 1907; married 1930 John Rodgers (Bt 1964, died 1993; one son and one son deceased); died Groombridge, Kent 23 May 1998.