February 20, 1875
|Died||April 2, 1958
Southern General Hospital, Glasgow
|Occupation||Political activist, local councillor, magistrate|
|Known for||Glasgow Rent Strikes|
Mary Barbour (née Rough) (20 February 1875 – 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.
Barbour was born on 20 February 1875 at 37 New Street, Kilbarchan to Jean Gavin and James Rough, a handloom carpet weaver. She was the third of seven children. Barbour attended school until she was fourteen years old. In 1887, the family moved to the village of Elderslie and she gained work as a thread twister, eventually becoming a carpet printer. On 28 August 1896, she married engineer David Barbour (2 May 1873 - 13 November 1957) at Wallace Place, Elderslie. The couple settled in Govan.
Prior to her death, Barbour lived at 34 Cromdale Street, Glasgow. She died at the age of 83 in the Southern General Hospital, Glasgow. and her funeral was held at Craigton Crematorium in Cardonald, near Govan.
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".
Women's Peace Crusade
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.
Both the Russian Revolution and the Irish Easter Rising provided a catalyst for renewed peace activism in Scotland, including the work of the WPC. 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. Other branches of the WPC were then established throughout Scotland and England. Their campaign continued until the end of World War I.
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'; an error now attributed to Patrick Dollan. 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, and Jessica Baird-Smith, Mary Bell and Mary Anderson Snodgrass all respectively elected as Moderate councillors.
Role in family planning
In 1925, Barbour helped create the first family planning centre in Glasgow - the Women's Welfare and Advisory Clinic. 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
Mary Barbour in popular culture
Chris Hannan's play Elizabeth Gordon Quinn was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on 29 June 1985. 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. 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.
The song Mrs Barbour's Army by Alistair Hulett is about Mary Barbour's organisation of the 1915 rent strike. Mary Barbour was the subject of one of the Not Forgotten series of documentaries on Channel Four in 2007. 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. The poem was called Mary Barbour's Rattle and can be viewed on the Museum's website.
Mrs Barbour's Daughters is a play by A.J. Taudevin. 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."
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.
Call for Statue
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, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Parliament and Alex Ferguson.
In September 2015 five sculptors were shortlisted 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. 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.
The Kilbarchan Cairn
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. 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.
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. The mural pays homage to the history of the area, and shows a variety of people who have visited this location.
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