Margaret Bright Lucas

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Margaret Bright Lucas (1818–1890) was a temperance activist and suffragist.


Early life[edit]

Margaret Bright was born on 14 July 1818 at Rochdale, Lancashire. Her father was Jacob Bright (1775–1851), a cotton mill proprietor, and her mother, his second wife, Martha Wood (1788–1830).

A member of a well known Quaker family, several of her ten siblings, including John Bright, Priscilla Bright McLaren and Jacob Bright, became prominent in politics, activism and reform. Educated by the Society of Friends, she commented: ‘I developed slowly for we were strictly brought up and told that “children should be seen and not heard”’.

Margaret married Samuel Lucas (1811–1865) on 6 September 1839. Samuel, a fellow Quaker, was a London corn exchange merchant. The couple went to Manchester in 1845, when Samuel became involved in a cotton mill. The family moved back to London in 1850. Margaret became interested in politics during the anti – corn laws protests in 1845. She aided her husband with the organisation of meetings and the raising of finances. Until her husband's death in 1865, however, her main burdens remained within the family, including the rearing of her two children, Samuel, a deaf mute, and Katharine. By 1870 both children had married, Katharine to John Pennington Thomasson (later MP for Bolton).

Early political activism[edit]

Now relieved from her family duties, Lucas was now free to seek a clear plan to fit her Quaker moral ambitions. In1870, suffering from a chest infection, and feeling she needed a change of climate, she travelled to Halifax, North America to visit a cousin, Esther Blakey. Lucas easily mixed in the trans-Atlantic reform society that included strong Quaker involvement. Many suffragists and temperance reformers in the north-eastern United States warmly welcomed her as 'John Bright's sister'. She would later reciprocate the same level of hospitality when American reformers came to Britain.

The American visit was a focal point in Lucas' public temperance career. There she was able to experience 'the advanced views and institutions of a less trammelled social system', influences she found 'congenial'. Having signed the temperance pledge at the age of sixteen, she joined the American Independent Order of Good Templars in 1872, and became a grand worthy vice-templar in 1874. The Good Templars organised the British tour of 'Mother' Eliza Stewart, whose participation in the protests against saloons in the Women's Crusade led to the creation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874.

Temperance and Suffrage[edit]

Lucas and Thompson spoke at a meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1876 which stimulated the founding of the British Women's Temperance Association (BWTA). Lucas was elected BWTA president in 1878, but she also supported peace and anti-prostitution work, and served on the executives of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Her main concern being temperance, she remained BWTA president until her death. In 1885 American WCTU leader Frances Willard selected Lucas as first president of the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union. This emphasised the organisation's global commitment. Consequently, Lucas crossed the Atlantic again in 1886 to attend the WCTU convention in Minneapolis, at which she was warmly received.

Lucas embodied the phase of women's temperance that saw the movement's power as being primarily in the home and in the superiority of women's moral virtues. In her fourth annual report she commented: ‘I believe (that) in the household, women have a greater power over men, than men have over women, in inducing abstinence from intoxicating drinks’. During the 1870s, she also made increasingly conservative assessments of the reality of the British position regarding social protest. British women would not, Lucas believed, emulate the American crusade marches. ‘It is hardly likely we can go through the streets and kneel at the doors of the gin palaces’, she reasoned, but temperance women could in Britain hold processions and assemblies. They could also lobby, and in 1879 she presented the first women's petition in favour of Sunday closing to the House of Commons.

By 1883–4 it was becoming clear that the general failure to convert men to temperance required a more radical conclusion: ‘The conviction grows upon me that while Petitions educate the workers and the people something more is needed to make them effectual’. Had not ‘the time come’, she wondered, ‘when it becomes a duty to claim the right to vote on the side of Temperance?’. In spite of this, the BWTA remained only one of several women's temperance organisations, and it did not enter its major period of expansion until after her death.


She died from tuberculosis on 4 February 1890 at her London home, 7 Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury, and was buried in Highgate cemetery with her husband.[1]

Friends and colleagues described Lucas variously as a 'homely British matron', 'well-preserved, erect and vigorous', an 'earnest speaker', and 'tall and stately'. She had an impressive shock of silvery hair when into her sixties. The BWTA achieved greater success under her successor, Lady Henry Somerset, but ultimately British temperance was destined to achieve less than its American counterpart. Lucas was however, an important link in the Anglo-American women's reform networks as well as being a pioneer in British women's temperance. In 2007, her grave was honoured by the English Heritage for her work in the anti-slavery movement and women's reform.[2]


  1. ^ "Highgate (Western) Cemetery (tomb no. 13876), Camden, London Listed Grade II in 2007". Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Associated Press (20 December 2007). "Anti-slavery landmarks honoured". BBC News. Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies

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