Throw Back Thursday

#TBTMightyWomen - Mary Barbour

Magistrate, local councillor and bailie are just a few titles that define this week’s #TBTMightyWomen profile. Mary Barbour started her journey as a political activist through the Kinning Park Co-operative Guild, leading to her spearheading the South Govan Women’s Housing Association at the time of the Glasgow Rent Strikes in the early 20th century.

In response to a 25% rent increase, proposed by private landlords, Barbour organised both eviction resistance protests and tenant committees. Here, she joined left-wing groups, like the Independent Labour Party and the Socialist Sunday School Movement. Barbour’s work quickly generated a lot of support which led to formation of ‘Mrs Barbour’s Army’[1].

Mary Barbour (Image Credit: The  Pearce Institute )

Mary Barbour (Image Credit: The Pearce Institute)

Alongside Agnes Dollan and Helen Crawfurd, Barbour [2] created the Women’s Peace Crusade (WPC) in 1916, at the Great Women’s Peace Conference. The group primarily campaigned for a negotiation settlement to WWI, with open air meetings that was unfortunately hindered through the development of a coalition government led by Lloyd George. WPC began to branch, and spread from Glasgow to all over Scotland, as well as England, campaigning until the end of the war.

In formal politics, Barbour assumed the position as the first women Bailie on Glasgow Corporation, alongside Mary Bell, as well as being appointed one of the first women Magistrates. Barbour was the Labour candidate for the Fairfield war in Govan, elected to Glasgow Town Council (one of the first woman councillors too!), and appointed as the Justice of the Peace commissioner for the City of Glasgow. Phew.

In between all of these incredible roles, Barbour also chaired the Glasgow Women’s Welfare and Advisory Clinic! This centre was the first of its kind in Scotland as it offered advice on birth control for women[3]!

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Moving to the modern day, Glasgow Women’s Library with Sharon Thomas created a monument in honour of Barbour, resulting in a resurgence of interest in her extensive work. Remember Mary Barbour Association then formed and campaigned for the creation of a statue in Barbour’s honour, which was completed in March last year (making it the fourth statue of a woman in the entirety of Glasgow…).

Check out these links:

-        https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/

-        http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2017/03/02/mary-barbour-dangerous-woman/

-        https://party.coop/2018/03/08/mary-barbour-honoured-on-international-womens-day/


[1] http://www.acumfaegovan.com/govan-history/mary-barbour

[2] The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2007. p. 2

[3] Birth Control Local Clinic Opens for Married Women". The Govan Press. 1926-08-13

#TBTMightyWomen - Maria Fyfe MP

Born in The Gorbals, in 1938, Maria Fyfe grew up in Pollok, Glasgow. After gaining her degree in Economic History as mature student, she went on to lecture in Further Education in Falkirk, soon going on to become a senior lecturer on TUC courses for union reps at Central College, Glasgow.

From 1980 to 1987, Maria stood as a Councillor in Glasgow, including roles as convener of Personnel Committee, and deputy treasurer for the city council. It was in 1987 that she went on to be elected as Labour MP for Glasgow Maryhill. At the time, she was the only female Labour MP from Scotland, going on to hold her seat in UK Parliament until 2001.

In her biographical profile, provided by the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, her list of titles, experience, and accolades is extensive - and inspiring! Including:

MariaFyfe_MP
  • Appointed deputy shadow minister for women, later Scottish front bench spokesperson on Health, Education and Arts.

  • Chaired Scottish Group of Labour MPs.

  • Chaired Scottish Constitutional Convention working party on equal representation of women in planned Scottish Parliament.

  • Other parliamentary work included international development, making preparations for the Good Friday Agreement, and membership of the Council of Europe, advancing human rights issues.


Throughout Maria’s career, she has been an incredible force for Human Rights advocacy in policy making - both nationally, and internationally. A major passion being her involvement in equal rights for women campaigns, which earned her an Honorary Doctorate from Glasgow University.

When asked about her first days in UK Parliament, in a 2014 interview with The Evening Times, she recalls a scene of incredible lacking with regards to women’s representation:

"When I actually got to the House of Commons there were around 23 women, and only three from Scotland… I was thinking, this has got to change, we've got to have more women in parliament, and I was determined to be part of achieving that."

It was a time when the voices of women were close to excluded in policy making, even on topics which may normatively and/or reasonably be seen as requiring women at the forefront of discussions. Maria, however, never accepted doors being closed on these discussions, nor the gender-biased ways in which women were portrayed - from Parliament and media, to workplaces, education, the home, and even prisons.

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Maria Fyfe campaigned tirelessly throughout her career, well up to the present day - through her writing, public speaking, and activism. Including spearheading the recent campaign which saw the famous Mary Barbour - one of the first female Councillors in Glasgow’s City Chambers - finally being honoured, with a statue in Govan.

A significant figure in Scottish politics, Maria Fyfe’s hard work and support of others is a fantastic inspiration - “Rebel Maria” indeed!


You can find out more about Maria’s life and career in her book, “A Problem Like Maria”. As well as in some of the truly insightful interviews she has given:

'Rebel' Maria Fyfe tells of her time as an MP, the barriers she faced and the highlights of her career - by Caroline Wilson of the Evening Times

Just met a rebel named Maria As she prepares to retire from Westminster at the next election - By Jennifer Cunningham of The Herald


Listen to the official British Library recording of Maria Fyfe’s interview for The History of Parliament Oral History Project,
available here.






#TBTMightyWomen - Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the British House of Commons.

 

Constance Markievicz was a socialist suffragette, revolutionary and served as Minister for Labour in the early 20th century, as well as a Member of Parliament for Dublin St Patrick, and served as a Teachta Dála (an assembly delegate- similar to a Member of Parliament).

Not only was she a founding member of Fianna Éireann, and the Irish Citizen Army, she was also the first woman elected to the British House of Commons in 1918 [1]. Although she rejected her seat at Parliament in Britain, she continued to be incredibly influential through less formal routes, grassroots campaigns, and sustained intellectual critique of political structures.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz, gun in hand.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz, gun in hand.

 "I would never take an oath of allegiance to the power I meant to overthrow"

[Quoted in Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p241]

It was in 1908 when Markievicz became politically active, first by joining a revolutionary feminist movement named Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland)[2]. Her political activism was also performatively genius- during a campaign against Churchill’s election (who opposed women voting), Markievicz rode into the constituency in a carriage drawn by four white (one of the suffrage’s colours) horses to promote her political ideology, only to be heckled (classic) by a man asking whether she could cook dinner. Markievicz responded this hilarious and well-thought out (see:sarcasm) comment with ‘…yes. Can you drive a coach and four?’ – personally, I doubt he could do either.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz.

The rebel Countess endured repeated bouts in prison for working towards an alternative reality, one that went against the norm. Although time incarcerated didn’t stop her from being elected into the House of Commons, Markievicz preferred to be at rallies, working in slums, providing food for protesting union workers, and arming herself to fight for suffragist ideals and anti-imperialist agenda[3].

 

Markievicz lived her life by the rules she set herself and not within the confines of society at the time- she was a proficient mechanic, she opted to wear trousers instead of skirts (and was heavily teased for this), she knew how to load and shoot weapons, and was elected to positions of power directing huge groups of people to a more feminist future. And this future was one considering the intersectional nature of identity. This Irish badass recognised that ‘the first step on the road to freedom is to realise ourselves as Irishwomen – not as Irish or merely as women, but as Irishwomen doubly enslaved and with a double battle to fight” (Markievicz, 1909).


[1] Countess Markievicz—'The Rebel Countess'" (PDF). Irish Labour History Society

[2] Countess Markievicz (Constance Markievicz)"Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics.

[3] McKenna, Joseph (2011). Guerrilla Warfare in the Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921. McFarland. p. 112. ISBN 0786485191.

#TBTMightyWomen - Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl

Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl - the first woman elected to represent a Scottish seat at Westminster.

The ‘Red Duchess’, Katherine Stewart-Murray MP.

The ‘Red Duchess’, Katherine Stewart-Murray MP.

Yesterday we celebrated centenary of The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act which allowed some women to stand for election to Parliament in the UK. It took five more years for the first Scottish woman to be elected. Katharine “Kitty” Murray, the Duchess of Atholl, joined the House of Commons in 1923 after winning the seat of Kinross and West Perthshire for the Conservatives. Her story is quite extraordinary and what we know of her and her political journey seems so full of contradictions that I would love to have her over for a tea and a natter!

 She maintained that a woman’s place was at home with her family, and she was one of the key speakers at an anti-suffrage meeting in Glasgow arguing that suffrage movement became too militant, and yet she managed to gain a seat at Westminster as one of only eight women there – far away from the comfort of her own home.  She was not afraid to voice her opinions even if they were at odds with her party, and she embraced change too – later in life meeting with prominent suffragettes on a sisterly basis, and even gaining support from Sylvia Pankhurst in her electoral campaign of 1938.  

 She became known for her humanitarian work in 1930s and after a visit to war torn Spain she started her campaign to bring 4,000 children to the safety of Britain. She succeeded, and her efforts were applauded on the international stage, but at home she was accused of being an anarchist and communist and she earned a title she despised – The Red Duchess. Undeterred by all that, a year later she published The Conscription of a People in which she protested the abuse of human rights in the Soviet Union. Her mistrust of Adolf Hitler and his bestselling Mein Kampf led her to commission a more accurate translation of it, which she felt spelled the terrifying message in it more clearly. Not everyone agreed with her.

 Kitty resigned her whip in 1938 as a protest against Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler and prompted a by-election by applying for the Chiltern Hundreds. Her campaign received support from Winston Churchill and Sylvia Pankhurst, but it was dealt a deadly blow by no other than Stalin himself who also publicly endorsed her. Despite Chamberlain’s efforts who mobilised all of the resources of the Conservative Research Department and the Whips office against her she lost by just 1305 votes.

 After losing her seat she still remained an active campaigner for human rights and against totalitarian regimes and as the chairman of the League for European Freedom in Britain she spoke against the Soviet control of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  She also became one of the first British campaigners against female circumcision in Africa.

 “To Socrates they gave hemlock. Gracoleus they killed with sticks and stones. The greatest and best they crucified. Katherine Atholl can hold up her head in good company. Let the victors when they come, when the forts of folly fall, find the body by the wall.”

- Josiah Wedgwood on the result of the 1938 by-election.

 

#TBTMightyWomen feature, selected and written by YWCA Scotland - The Young Women’s Movement Director, Patrycja Kupiec. Follow Patrycja on Twitter @PMKupiec, and @YoungWomenScot.

 

References: 

 Baxter, Kenneth (2011). "Chapter Nine: Identity, Scottish Women and Parliament 1918-1979". In Campbell, Jodi A.; Ewan, Elizabeth; Parker, Heather. The Shaping of Scottish Identities: Family, Nation and the Worlds Beyond. Guelph, Ontario: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph. 

Campsie, Alison (20 June 2017). "The "Red Duchess" – Scotland's first female MP"The Scotsman. Retrieved 19 November 2018.

 Quigley, Elizabeth (2 March 2010). “From political maverick to historical footnote”. BBC Scotland.  Retrieved 19 November 2018.

 (No author). Katherine Marjory Murray (Kitty) later Duchess of Atholl ~ Politician and Scotland’s First Woman MP. Made in Perth. Retrieved 19 November 2018.