Mary Barbour

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Mary Barbour
Mary Barbour
Born Mary Rough
(1875-02-20)February 20, 1875
Died April 2, 1958(1958-04-02) (aged 83)
Southern General Hospital, Glasgow
Nationality Scottish
Occupation Political activist, local councillor, magistrate
Known for Glasgow Rent Strikes

Mary Barbour (née Rough) (20 February 1875[1] – 2 April 1958) was a Scottish political activist, local councillor and magistrate. She was closely associated with the Red Clydeside movement in the early 20th century and especially for her role as the main organiser of the women of Govan who took part in the rent strikes of 1915.[2]


Barbour was born on 20 February 1875 at 37 New Street, Kilbarchan to Jean Gavin and James Rough, a handloom carpet weaver.[1] She was the third of seven children. Barbour attended school until she was fourteen years old.[3] In 1887, the family moved to the village of Elderslie and she gained work as a thread twister, eventually becoming a carpet printer.[4] On 28 August 1896, she married engineer David Barbour (2 May 1873 - 13 November 1957)[5][6][7] at Wallace Place, Elderslie.[4] The couple settled in Govan.

Prior to her death, Barbour lived at 34 Cromdale Street, Glasgow.[7] She died at the age of 83 in the Southern General Hospital, Glasgow.[2] and her funeral was held at Craigton Crematorium in Cardonald, near 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 leading the South Govan Women's Housing Association 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".[8]

Women's Peace Crusade[edit]

Barbour was a founder of the Women's Peace Crusade (WPC) at the "Great Women's Peace Conference" in June 1916, with Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan.[9]

The WPC campaigned throughout June and July 1916 for a negotiated settlement to World War I. They did this predominately through open air meetings in Glasgow, Clydeside and Edinburgh. The possibility of a negotiated settlement became less likely with the formation of a new coalition government in December 1916, led by Lloyd George.[10]

Both the Russian Revolution and the Irish Easter Rising provided a catalyst for renewed peace activism in Scotland, including the work of the WPC.[11][12] The 1917 annual May Day celebration in Glasgow Green brought together 70,000 people. Women peace activists, including Barbour, Dollan and Mary Laird, were prominent among the speakers. This type of activity inspired the re-launch of the Women's Peace Crusade in July 1917. This took place on Glasgow Green and saw 10,000 people taking part.[13] Other branches of the WPC were then established throughout Scotland and England. Their campaign continued until the end of World War I.[14]

Political career[edit]

Govan Fairfield election address

In 1920 Barbour 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. Barbour is often, erroneously, credited as being 'the first Labour woman councillor in Glasgow';[9][15] an error now attributed to Patrick Dollan.[16] However Barbour was only one of a pioneering group of five women who were elected in 1920 which included Eleanor Stewart (Maryhill) as the other Labour women councillor,[17] and Jessica Baird-Smith, Mary Bell and Mary Anderson Snodgrass all respectively elected as Moderate councillors.[16]

From 1924-27 Barbour served as Glasgow Corporation's first woman baillie and was appointed as one of the first woman magistrates in Glasgow.[18]

Role in family planning[edit]

In 1925, Barbour helped create the first family planning centre in Glasgow - the Women's Welfare and Advisory Clinic.[2] Until her retirement from the Council in 1931, she worked relentlessly on behalf of the working class people of her constituency, serving on numerous committees covering the provision of health and welfare services.

Influence and recognition[edit]

Mary Barbour in popular culture[edit]

Chris Hannan's play Elizabeth Gordon Quinn was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on 29 June 1985.[19] It was directed by Steven Unwin. The play is set during the rent strike in Glasgow, 1915. Although Barbour does not feature as a character, the play reproduces a famous Barbour incident from the rent-strike. The most important thing in the Quinn household is the piano.[19] In Part One Scene Two, the piano is sequestrated by sheriff officers in lieu of owed rent. The Quinns, at this point, are not rent-strikers but are instead simply unable to pay their rent because of their poverty. In Part One, Scene Four William Quinn (Elizabeth's husband) narrates how he, aided by fifty women rent-strikers, and with the assistance of shipyard workers simply walked into the factor's office and asked for it to be returned.

The factor was afraid of us

— William Quinn, Part 1 Scene 4


Helen Crawfurd in her unpublished memoir recounts how during the rent-strike factors would try to collect the rental increases by resorting to the blackmail of social humiliation. The ploy was to dupe individual household tenants into believing that everyone else in the close had paid up. Upon one of these occasions Barbour drafted in men from Govan's shipyards, led them to the factor's office and demanded the amount of the increase be returned. 'Faced with thousands of black-faced workers the factor handed over the money' Crawfurd recalls.[20]
The song Mrs Barbour's Army by Alistair Hulett is about Mary Barbour's organisation of the 1915 rent strike.[21] Mary Barbour was the subject of one of the Not Forgotten series of documentaries on Channel Four in 2007.[22] 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.[23] The poem was called Mary Barbour's Rattle and can be viewed on the Museum's website.[24]

Mrs Barbour's Daughters is a play by A.J. Taudevin.[25] It was first produced in October 2014 in Oran Mor, Glasgow in association with the Traverse Theatre. The play is set in a tenement flat in Govan where the lead character's memories come back to life in a series of flashbacks. The play is divided into eleven sections, and although Mrs Barbour is a recurring presence in the play, she only appears as a character in the penultimate section where she makes a speech set during the period of the rent strike. A review in The List concluded that "Mrs Barbour's Daughters is a concise and moving sketch of the feminist tradition and makes its point using sweet harmony, not rabble rousing."[26]

The original cast included; Mary-Anna Hepburn played Grace, Gail Watson played Joan and Libby McArthur Mrs Barbour. The director was Emma Callander assisted by Andy McNamee.

Mary Barbour was also the inspiration behind the character of Agnes Calder in J David Simons' novel The Liberation of Celia Kahn (Five Leaves 2011, re-printed Saraband 2014). Also featured in the novel are the Glasgow women's involvement in the Rent Strikes and the events leading up to the foundation of the first birth control clinic in Govan, Glasgow.[27]

Call for Statue[edit]

In 2013 a campaign was started by the Remember Mary Barbour Association (RMBA) to commemorate her achievements with a statue placed in Govan. The campaign has garnered support from Glasgow City Council,[28][29][30] Nicola Sturgeon,[31] the Scottish Parliament[32] and Alex Ferguson.[33][34]

In September 2015 five sculptors were shortlisted[35] to produce a maquette to convey their vision of a fitting statue. Public showings of the set of five maquettes were scheduled to take place from November 2015 through February 2016, at various locations commencing at the Pierce Institute in Govan.

Although having secured about £56,000 through public donations, approximately half of the funding needed to build the statue, the RMBA's application to Creative Scotland was rejected in November 2015 based on an apparent lack of community engagement.[36] In order to meet the shortfall and raise the money to complete the project, the RMBA planned several events including a gala concert to be held in the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow.[37]

The Kilbarchan Cairn[edit]

In May 2015, Renfrewshire Council agreed to fund a commemorative cairn in Barbour's home village of Kilbarchan. The Council estimated the cost of the cairn to be £6,000 which was funded from the Renfrewshire Citizens Fund following a recommendation from the council’s Johnstone and the Villages Local Area Committee.[38][39] The cairn was installed in New St, where Barbour was born, and was unveiled on 21 November 2015 by the Provost of Renfrewshire, Anne Hall, in the presence of Barbour's descendants.[40]

Mary Barbour Cairn

Renfrewshire Council also agreed[41] to establish and fund a Mary Barbour Prize to be awarded annually to a school pupil at Kilbarchan Primary School.[38]

Clutha Bar Mural[edit]

Detail of Mary Barbour on the Clutha Bar mural

Mary Barbour is one of two women included in the Clutha Bar mural, and her image is based on the photograph of her in Bailie's robes, c.1924. The Clutha Bar was the site of the Glasgow helicopter crash on 29 November 2013. The mural, coordinated by Art Pistol, features work by a number of artists including Bob McNamara, who is also known as Rogue One, and Danny McDermott, known as EJEK.[42] The mural pays homage to the history of the area, and shows a variety of people who have visited this location.[43]


  1. ^ a b "SR Birth Search for Mary Rough (Statutory Births 568/00 0059)". Scotland's People. 
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ "Mary Barbour". Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  4. ^ a b "SR Marriage Search David Barbour Mary Rough (Statutory Marriages 559/03 0076)". Scotland's People. 
  5. ^ "SR Birth Search David Barbour (Statutory Births 559/03 0133)". Scotland's People. 
  6. ^ "SR Death Search David Barbour (Statutory Deaths 644/10 1248)". Scotland's People. 
  7. ^ a b "SR Death Search Mary Barbour (Statutory Deaths 644/10 0448)". Scotland's People. 
  8. ^ "Mary Barbour 1875-1958". acumfaegovan. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  9. ^ a b The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2007. p. 29. ISBN 9780748632930. 
  10. ^ Duncan, Robert (2015). Objectors and Resisters: opposition to conscription and war in Scotland 1914 - 18. Common Print. pp. 135, 136. ISBN 9780993096518. 
  11. ^ Taudevin, A J (2015). Mrs Barbour's Daughters. Oberon Modern Plays. p. 67. ISBN 9781783199846. 
  12. ^ Duncan, Robert (2015). Objectors and Resisters: opposition to conscription and war in Scotland 1914 - 18. Common Print. pp. 136, 137. ISBN 9780993096518. 
  13. ^ Duncan, Robert (2015). Objectors and Resisters: opposition to conscription and war in Scotland 1914 - 18. Common Print. pp. 137, 138. ISBN 9780993096518. 
  14. ^ Smyth, J J (2000). Labour in Glasgow 1896 - 1936: socialism, suffrage, sectarianism. Tuckwell Press. p. 177. ISBN 186232137X. 
  15. ^ BBC (9 March 2012). "International Women's Day celebrates the life of Mary Barbour". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  16. ^ a b Burness, Catriona (2015). Gall, Gregor; Phillips, Jim, eds. "Remember Mary Barbour". Scottish Labour History. The Scottish Labour History Society. 50: 90. ISSN 1472-6041. 
  17. ^ Govan Press, 5 November 1920, p3.
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Hannan, Chris. Cameron, Alasdair, ed. Elizabeth Gordon Quinn. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN 1-85459-017-0. 
  20. ^ Craig, Maggie (2011). "Mrs Barbour's Army: The Rent Strike of 1915". When The Clyde Ran Red. Edinburgh: Mainstream. pp. 111–112. ISBN 978-1-84596-735-2. 
  21. ^ Nick Martin, "Interview with Alistair Hulett 1 April 2002"
  22. ^ Women on Red Clydeside
  23. ^ "Mary Barbour and the Glasgow Rent Strikes". Woman's Hour. 29 November 2011. Event occurs at 10:00. BBC. BBC Radio Four. 
  24. ^ Finn, Christine. "Govan rent strike rattle". National Museum of Scotland. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  25. ^ Taudevin, A.J. (2015). Mrs Barbour's Daughters (A Glasgow Rent Strikes Centenary ed.). London: Oberon Books. p. 1353. ISBN 978-1-78319-984-6. 
  26. ^ Irvine, Lorna (10 October 2014). "A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Mrs Barbour's Daughters". The List. Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Glasgow Young Scot, 20 Trongate. "Lord Provost to launch Remember Mary Barbour Fund". Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  29. ^ Glasgow Young Scot, 20 Trongate. "Statue salutes Glasgow's first female councillor". Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  30. ^ "Statue to Mary Barbour gets go-ahead". Evening Times. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  31. ^ "First Minister hails tribute to forgotten leader of tenants' revolt". dailyrecord. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  32. ^ Report, Official. "Official Report". Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  33. ^ Glasgow Young Scot, 20 Trongate. "Sir Alex Ferguson donates to Remember Mary Barbour Fund". Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  34. ^ "Sir Alex Ferguson supports fund for Mary Barbour statue". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  35. ^ "MARY BARBOUR STATUE UPDATE". Remember Mary Barbour. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  36. ^ Tufft, Ben (29 November 2015). "Anger as Creative Scotland snubs statue to feminist icon Mary Barbour". The Herald. Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  37. ^ Wilson, Caroline (27 December 2015). "Glasgow to host major gala concert to celebrate the life of social reformer Mary Barbour". Evening Times. Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  38. ^ a b "Cash pledged towards Mary Barbour cairn". The Gazette. Newsquest Clyde & Forth Ltd. 30 August 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  39. ^ "Kilbarchan to unveil Mary Barbour cairn". The Gazette. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  40. ^ "Pioneering social activist Mary Barbour honoured in her home village". Paisley Scotland. Retrieved 2016-01-09. 
  41. ^ Council, Renfrewshire (21 May 2015). "Mary Barbour". Renfrewshire Council. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  42. ^ Weldon, Victoria (23 May 2015). "Famous faces immortalised on the walls of the Clutha". The Herald. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  43. ^ "City Centre Mural Trail". Glasgow City Council. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 

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