Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl

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The Duchess of Atholl
Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl.jpg
Member of Parliament
In office
6 December 1923 – 28 November 1938
Preceded byJames Gardiner
Succeeded byWilliam McNair Snadden
ConstituencyKinross and West Perthshire
Personal details
Katharine Marjory Ramsay

6 November 1874
Died21 October 1960
Political partyScottish Unionist Party
SpouseJohn Stewart-Murray, 8th Duke of Atholl
ParentSir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet
Alma materRoyal College of Music

Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl, DBE (née Ramsay; 6 November 1874 – 21 October 1960), known as the Marchioness of Tullibardine from 1899 to 1917, was a British noblewoman and Scottish Unionist Party politician whose views were often unpopular in her party.

Early life and education[edit]

Katharine Marjory Ramsay was born in Edinburgh on 6 November 1874, the daughter of Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet and Charlotte Fanning Ramsay (née Stewart). She was educated at Wimbledon High School and the Royal College of Music. During her school years she was known as Kitty Ramsay. On 20 July 1899, she married John Stewart-Murray, Marquess of Tullibardine, who succeeded his father as 8th Duke of Atholl in 1917, whereupon she became formally styled Duchess of Atholl.

Political career[edit]

Known as "Kitty", Stewart-Murray was active in Scottish social service and local government and in 1912 served on the hugely influential "Highlands and Islands Medical Service Committee" (authors of the Dewar Report) that has been widely credited with creating the forerunner of the National Health Service. She was the chairman of the Consultative Council on Highlands and Islands [1]

As the Marchioness of Tullibardine she was an opponent of female suffrage, with Leah Leneman describing her as 'a key speaker at the most important Scottish anti-suffrage demonstration', which took place in 1912. In 1913 she became vice-president of the branch of the Anti-Suffrage League based in Dundee.[2] Despite this opposition to women gaining the right to vote in parliamentary elections, she went on to be the Scottish Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1923 to 1938, and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education from 1924 to 1929, the first woman other than a mistress of the robes to serve in a British Conservative government. She was the first woman elected to represent a Scottish seat at Westminster.[3]

The historian William Knox has argued that, like other early female MPs in the UK, "she literally inherited" her seat from her husband, but Kenneth Baxter disputes this, noting that her husband had stood down from the former West Perthshire seat in 1917 when he succeeded to the dukedom and that it had been won by a Liberal candidate in 1918 and 1922.[4][5] Moreover, Baxter claims her victory in 1923 was not seen as "a foregone conclusion".[5] The fact that, prior to 1918, Atholl had been opposed to women's suffrage led to her being criticised in parliament by her Conservative colleague Nancy Astor.[6][7]

DBE insignia

She resigned the Conservative Whip first in 1935 over the India Bill and the "national-socialist tendency" of the government's domestic policy. Resuming the Whip, she resigned it again in 1938 in opposition to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler and to the Anglo-Italian agreement. According to her biography, A Working Partnership she was then deselected by her local party. She took Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds on 28 November 1938. She stood unsuccessfully in the subsequent by-election as an Independent candidate.[8]

She argued that she actively opposed totalitarian regimes and practices. In 1931, she published The Conscription of a People—a protest against the abuse of human rights in the Soviet Union. After reading the German edition of Mein Kampf she also condemned Nazi Germany.[9] In 1936, she was involved in a long-running battle in the pages of various newspapers with Lady Houston after the latter had become notorious for her outspoken support of Benito Mussolini. Stewart-Murray had taken issue with Houston calling in the pages of the Saturday Review on the king to become British dictator in imitation of the European interwar dictatorships.[10]

According to her autobiography Working Partnership (1958), it was at the prompting of Ellen Wilkinson that in April 1937 she, Eleanor Rathbone, and Wilkinson went to Spain to observe the effects of the Spanish Civil War. In Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid she saw the impact of Luftwaffe bombing on behalf of the Nationalists, visited prisoners of war held by the Republicans and considered the impact of the conflict on women and children, in particular. Her book Searchlight on Spain resulted from the involvement, and her support for the Republican side in the conflict led to her being nicknamed by some the Red Duchess.[11] Her role in the Spanish Civil War, however, was years later criticized by George Orwell, who saw the Duchess as the "pet of the Daily Worker", and someone who "lent the considerable weight of her authority to every lie the Communists happened to be uttering at the moment. Now she is fighting against the monster that she helped create. I am sure that neither she nor her Communist ex-friends see any moral in this."[12]

Shortly before or even during 1938, she travelled to Romania where she visited "Satu Mare Romanian Women Association" in the city of Satu Mare, aiming to support the Romanian cause to preserve the state borders established in 1918, and to keep Hungary from regaining the territory that it lost in the Treaty of Trianon.[13]

She campaigned against the Soviet control of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as the chairman of the League for European Freedom in Britain from 1945. In 1958, she published a description of her life with her husband entitled Working Partnership.

Other work[edit]

She was also a vice-president of the Girls' Public Day School Trust from 1924 to 1960. She was also a keen composer, setting music to accompany the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. In 1927 she opened the new wing at Clifton High School, Bristol with the head Ms Glenday and the architect Sir George Oatley

She was closely involved in her husband's regiment The Scottish Horse and composed the melody "The Scottish Horse" to be played on bagpipes.


She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1918 Birthday Honours.

As Dowager Duchess of Atholl she took over the appointment of Honorary Colonel of The Regiment of Scottish Horse from 1942,[14] until she relinquished it in 1952.[15]


Katharine, Duchess of Atholl, died in Edinburgh, aged 85, in 1960.[16]


  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of, ed. (1908), Military History of Perthshire (1660–1899) and (1899–1902), Perth: R A & J Hay (2 Volumes)
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1931), Conscription of a People
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1931), Women and Politics, Philip Allen
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1933) Main Facts of the Indian Problem.
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1938), Searchlight on Spain, Middlesex: Penguin 1st, 2nd & 3rd editions
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (c. 1958), Working partnership: being the lives of John George, 8th Duke of Atholl, and of his wife, Katharine Marjory Ramsay, London: Arthur Baker Ltd

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Highlands and Islands. The Major Health Services". The Herald. Glasgow. 2 July 1923. p. 10. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  2. ^ Leneman, Leah (1995). A Guid Cause. The Women's Suffrage Movement in Scotland (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Mercat Press. p. 272. ISBN 1-873644-48-5.
  3. ^ Baxter, Kenneth (2011). "Chapter Nine: Identity, Scottish Women and Parliament 1918–1979". In Campbell, Jodi A.; Ewan, Elizabeth; Parker, Heather (eds.). The Shaping of Scottish Identities: Family, Nation and the Worlds Beyond. Guelph, Ontario: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-88955-589-1.
  4. ^ Knox, William W. J. (2006). The Lives of Scottish Women. Women and Scottish Society 1800–1980. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 167. ISBN 0-7486-1788-4.
  5. ^ a b Baxter, Kenneth (November 2013). "'The Advent of a Woman Candidate Was Seen . . . As Outrageous': Women, Party Politics and Elections in Interwar Scotland and England". Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. 33 (2): 265–66. doi:10.3366/jshs.2013.0079. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  6. ^ Baxter, Kenneth (2011). "Chapter Nine: Identity, Scottish Women and Parliament 1918–1979". In Campbell, Jodi A.; Ewan, Elizabeth; Parker, Heather (eds.). The Shaping of Scottish Identities: Family, Nation and the Worlds Beyond. Guelph, Ontario: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-88955-589-1.
  7. ^ Viscountess Astor, MP for Sutton (15 May 1935). "NEW SCHEDULE.—(Provisions as to Franchise.)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. col. 1793.
  8. ^ Financial Times (subscription required)
  9. ^ Bouverie, Tim (2019). Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War (1 ed.). New York: Tim Duggan Books. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-451-49984-4. OCLC 1042099346.
  10. ^ Griffiths, Richard (1983). Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933–39. Oxford University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-19-285116-1.
  11. ^ Masters, Brian (1988). The Dukes. London, UK: Frederick Muller. ISBN 0-09-173700-1.
  12. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2002). Why Orwell Matters. New York: Basic Books. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-465-03050-7.
  13. ^ Maria A. Demian, Asociaţia Româncelor Sătmărene, in AFIRMAREA, editată de despărţământul ASTRA din Satu Mare an III, nr.1-2, Jan–Feb 1938, p. 10 (BCU Cluj-Napoca). (in Romanian)
  14. ^ "No. 35595". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1942. p. 2642.
  15. ^ "No. 39553". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 May 1952. p. 2941.
  16. ^ Campsie, Alison (20 June 2017). "The "Red Duchess" – Scotland's first female MP". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 September 2017.


Primary sources[edit]

Records relating to Atholl can be found at:

Source: "Murray, Katharine Marjory Stewart (1874–1960) née Ramsay, Duchess of Atholl, Conservative MP GB/NNAF/P151487". National Register of Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 5 July 2007.

Published sources[edit]

  • Maitland, Frank (1937), Searchlight on the Duchess of Atholl, Edinburgh: Revolutionary Socialist Party
  • Cowling, Maurice (1975), The Impact of Hitler - British Politics and Policy 1933–1940, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 403, ISBN 0-521-20582-4
  • Stobaugh, Beverly Parkers (c. 1978), Women and Parliament, 1918–1970, Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, ISBN 0-682-49056-3
  • Hetherington, Shelia (1989), Katharine Atholl 1874–1960, Aberdeen University Press
  • Knox, William (2006), "Chapter 8: Katherine, Duchess of Atholl: The Red Duchess?", Lives of Scottish Women. Women and Scottish Society, 1800–1980, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-1788-4
  • MacLeod, Douglas (2005), Morningside Mata Haris: how MI6 deceived Scotland's great and good, Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 978-1-84341-021-8

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Kinross & West Perthshire
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Honorary Colonel of the
Scottish Horse

May 1942–May 1952
Succeeded by