FRESH insights about Mary Barbour and the women who campaigned alongside her to stage the 1915 rent strikes in Glasgow’s Govan are to be revealed as part of an International Women’s Day event to celebrate their memory.

The discoveries – made through painstaking archival research by the Strong Women of the Clydeside research group, led by artist and researcher Tara S Beall – have further evidenced the activism of the women, who also include suffragettes Agnes Dollan and Helen Crawfurd, long before the rent strikes took place.

READ MORE: Photographer puts focus on equality to mark International Women’s Day

Barbour – a political activist, councillor and latterly bailie then magistrate, born in 1875 – campaigned for better housing alongside prominent suffragettes. Though there have been many attempts to better highlight all their achievements in recent years, many of their stories are largely untold.

The National:

Now, after trawling through minutes, meeting papers, newspaper cutting and photographs, the Govan group has fleshed out the daily lives of Barbour and her fellow campaigners.

Papers and pictures linked them to socialist Sunday schools, the Women’s Peace Brigade, the Glasgow and Govan Women’s Housing Associations and local women’s cooperatives, where their views on equality would have been shaped and moulded.

Little known names such as Mary Jeff and Mary Burns Laird have emerged as part of a concerted effort to put names and faces to the campaigning housewives who are often known only as “Mary’s army”.

READ MORE: Oscar nominations suggest a big year for queer women ... just not big enough

Details about where they lived, shopped and socialised have been pulled out, giving depth to hidden histories of significant campaigners, that Beall insists, would be widely known if these working-class activists had been male.

Stories of Barbour’s first home in Govan have emerged, and though her involvement in the city’s first family planning clinic are already clear, her championing of a West Govan Child Welfare Clinic just a few streets from her home, has also been unearthed.

Newspaper searches have revealed quotes from speeches that show that these were articulate women of words as well as deeds, who inspired their community with rousing rhetoric on the need not only for decent housing, but for women to be treated as equal to men.

THE ongoing research, which Beall and the group are hoping to eventually have published, will this Saturday form the basis of an updated walking tour and performance starting at Govan Cross, where the Mary Barbour statue was unveiled a year ago following a determined campaign by the Remember Mary Barbour committee.

The National:

“It’s a celebration for International Women’s Day and of the first anniversary of the statue of Mary Barbour, which was a genuine achievement by the Remember Mary Barbour committee,” said Beall.

The walking tour will tell the story of how the rent strikes and protests eventually led to the introduction ing.” Ian McCracken, a retired Govan High School librarian and group member, said tracking down the detail has been “a bit like doing crosswords”.

He and others have followed-up references to relatives and organisations to find untapped materials.

Research into former Glasgow Lord Provost Patrick Dollan led him to archive material about his wife Agnes Dollan, which often also featured Helen Crawfurd.

READ MORE: Scotland urged to better protect women’s rights amid Brexit threat

He also found evidence of the campaigning work of the women many years before the rent strikes started.

“We had just one poster for a Rent Strike meeting at Morris Hall and it was chaired by Mary Burns Laird but none of us knew much about her, so that’s been one of my hobby horses,” he added.

“We found a few years prior to the rent strikes she had given five detailed pages of her evidence to the Royal Commission on Housing on poor of a Parliamentary Bill to roll back rent rates to pre-war levels and freeze increases.

The group will use the chalking techniques used by Suffragettes to create pavement images including a timeline of Barbour’s life. They will read from speeches, carry banners and rename the streets to reflect the importance of the women’s legacy as part of the one-day event.

“We know that Barbour was part of an important network of women and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to map the connections,” Beall added. “We wanted to find out who was in what room on what day and find out what they said – we wanted to recover the voices of these remarkable women.

“We’ve found lots of fresh quotes and images that help bring them to life. Sometimes it has been assumed these women were doers rather than say-ers and our research shows that is 100% untrue. They did both and they were amazingly articulate and inspirhousing.

These women were campaigners for a long time and worked together on related campaigns where they learned from each other.”

Maria Fyfe, chair of the Remember Mary Barbour Committee, welcomed the new discoveries, claiming that Govanites had taken Barbour into their hearts.

Another women’s day event will also see members of the Govan Remembrance group lay flowers at the statue.

Fyfe claimed locals have also added hat and scarfs to the head of the women and children featured on the statue on cold winter days.

“The community sees her as their own,” she said. “More and more is being found out about her and I really think that needs written up.

“It’s important because it not only marks the work she and other women did during the rent strikes but it shows people that anyone can fight injustice.”


The National:

Mary Barbour’s first home: 5 MacLeod Street

Mary Barbour and her husband David lived in Dumbarton in 1897, and the family was still there two years later. By 1901 Mary, David and their son James were living in MacLeod Street. Maps of this area show there were three tenements and number 5 would have been closest to the river’s edge. The group believe from their research that it was after her move to Govan that Mary became more politically active. She joined the Kinning Park Co-operative Women’s Guild, became a member of the Independent Labour Party, and attended the Socialist Sunday Schools.


The National:

Morris Hall, Shaw Street

In the 1910s, Govan had several halls where meetings could be held. The Rent Strike protesters favoured Morris Hall, in Shaw Street, which was owned by the Independent Labour Party, of which Barbour became a member. Many of the meetings were organised by the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association - Helen Crawfurd (pictured above) was the secretary, and Agnes Dollan, the treasurer while Barbour, Mary Jeff and others would have attended. A poster for a meeting on February 16, 1915, aimed “to bring together women of all political parties into the agitation and drive for better housing in Glasgow”.


The National:

Arklet Road, West Govan Child Welfare Clinic

In 1926, the new West Govan Child Welfare Clinic was opened by Lady Helen Graham. The Govan Press published the picture above of those attending the opening, including Bailies Mary Barbour and Violet Mary Craig Roberton – two of the six women who were elected to Glasgow Town Council. It is thought Barbour was actively involved in establishing this centre, which was near her home in Uist Street. She had a lifelong focus on the health and welfare of working-class families, particularly women and children. This building is still an NHS clinic.