Looking for Mary Barbour

There will be a Mary Barbour statue.*

The Remember Mary Barbour Association is formally up and running. We can now begin applying for funding to raise a statue in lasting memory of Mary Barbour, social campaigner and key leader of the Rent Strike during the First World War.

I am still looking for Mary Barbour amid the archives. The Govan Press has probably been the most fruitful source of information, perhaps not surprising as Mary Barbour lived and was politically active in Govan, representing the Govan Fairfield ward on the Glasgow Corporation from 1920 until 1931.

Most recently I’ve been checking on what I can find in the pages of Glasgow-based newspapers and journals such as The Glasgow Herald, The Bailie and The Bulletin.

These three papers were not in the habit of lavishing praise on Labour politicians, however. When Mary Barbour first stood as an Independent Labour Party (ILP) council candidate in 1920 a “Special Correspondent” for The Glasgow Herald listed her among the “Red Flag” candidates.

The reporter wrote: “Apparently in the opinion of the ILP, the ability to pour forth a spate of words at a street-corner meeting is a supreme qualification for the office of a Town Councillor.”

Yet one of Mary Barbour’s first interventions on the Corporation won praise from The Bailie, a Conservative-inclined satirical magazine:

“At the Town Council meeting on Thursday, I heard two of our lady Councillors speak. One read her speech; the other spoke impromptu. The lady who read is a middle-class Moderate; the second lady was a working class representative. Surely a sign showing that if there is any class inarticulate it is not the working class.”

The reference is to what the Govan Press described as “a very effective speech” by Mary Barbour on the question of the Corporation employing women to wash stairs and closes:

“Mrs Barbour said that this was a subject that had engaged her attention, as a tenement dweller, for some time. It would provide employment for women out of work and would take work from women who were already over-wrought … In concluding a very able speech she said, ‘I support this measure as a mother who likes to keep her stair clean and who has still to wash it. It is my turn to-day.’ On resuming her seat she was loudly applauded by friends and opponents alike. Unfortunately, however, her eloquence was unavailing, and when, after further protracted discussion, the vote was taken, the proposal was defeated by 58 votes to 36.”

Mary Barbour served on the Glasgow Corporation until stepping down in 1931. Her work as a councillor spanned many firsts, from being one of Glasgow’s first female councillors and its first fully fledged woman magistrate through her pioneering social reform including the establishment of the city’s first family planning centre.

*As long as we raise enough money! Please help us by donating to the Mary Barbour Campaign.

Catriona Burness would like to acknowledge permission to quote from texts and papers held in the National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh) and Glasgow Libraries Collection (@CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: the Mitchell Library, Special Collections; and Glasgow Elder Park Library).

1 thought on “Looking for Mary Barbour

  1. Pingback: Major milestone for the Remember Mary Barbour Campaign | Remember Mary Barbour

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