Mary Barbour

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Mary Barbour

Mary Barbour (née Rough, 22 February 1875 – 2 April 1958) was a Scottish political activist, local councillor and magistrate who was closely associated with the Red Clydeside movement in the early 20th century.[1]


Barbour was born in the village of Kilbarchan, the third of seven children, to her father James Rough, a carpet weaver. In 1887, the family moved to the village of Elderslie and Mary gained work as a thread twister, eventually becoming a carpet printer. She married David Barbour in 1896 and the couple settled in Govan.

She died aged 83, in 1958, at the Southern General Hospital, Glasgow.[1] Her funeral took place at Craigton Crematorium in Govan.

Political activism[edit]

Barbour first became politically active after joining and becoming an active member of the Kinning Park Co-operative Guild. Her political activism began in earnest during the Glasgow rent strikes of 1915, when she actively organised tenant committees and eviction resistance. The protestors became known as "Mrs Barbour's Army".[2]

In 1920 she stood as the Labour candidate for Fairfield ward in Govan, and was elected to Glasgow Town Council, becoming the one of the city's first woman councillors. At the 1920 municipal elections a pioneering group of five women were elected including Mary Barbour and Eleanor Stewart (Maryhill) as the first Labour women councillors.[3]

In 1925, Barbour helped create the first family planning centre in Glasgow - the Women's Welfare and Advisory Clinic.[1] Until her retirement from the Council in 1931, she worked relentlessly on behalf of the working class of her constituency, serving on numerous committees covering the provision of health and welfare services.

From 1924-27 she served as Glasgow Corporation's first woman Baillie and was appointed as one of the first woman magistrates in Glasgow.[4]

Influence and recognition[edit]

The song Mrs Barbour's Army by Alistair Hulett is about Mary Barbour's organisation of the 1915 rent strike.[5] Mary Barbour was the subject of one of the Not Forgotten series of documentaries on Channel Four in 2007.[6]

In 2012 the BBC Radio 4 programme Woman's Hour ran a profile about Mary Barbour following the writing of a poem about her by Christine Finn for an exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.[7] The poem was called Mary Barbour's Rattle and can be viewed on the Museum's website.[8]

In 2013 the Scottish Parliament and both Renfrewshire Council and Glasgow City Council gave their support to a campaign to build a monument in honour of Mary Barbour. [9]


  1. ^ a b c Audrey Canning, ‘Barbour , Mary (1875–1958)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 14 Feb 2014
  2. ^ "Mary Barbour 1875-1958". acumfaegovan. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Govan Press, 5 November 1920, p3.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Nick Martin, "Interview with Alistair Hulett 1 April 2002"
  6. ^ Women on Red Clydeside
  7. ^ "Mary Barbour and the Glasgow Rent Strikes". Woman's Hour. 29 November 2011. BBC. BBC Radio Four. 
  8. ^ Finn, Christine. "Govan rent strike rattle". National Museum of Scotland. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Wilson, Caroline. "Statue to Mary Barbour gets go-ahead". Evening Times. Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 

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