Mary Barbour


MARY BARBOUR. (Rent Strikes 1915)

Mary joined the Independent Labour Party and the Socialist Sunday School. The Rent Strikes in Glasgow in 1915 at the height of the First World War brought her to the forefront of local political activity. Because of large rent increases by the Landlords, the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association was established in 1914. It was in Govan that the first active résistance to rent increases appeared. Mary Barbour was instrumental in forming the South Govan Women’s Housing Association. As a working class housewife with two young children and her husband an engineer in the shipyards she was well qualified to be energetically engaged in all its activities from the organising of committees to the physical prevention of evictions and the hounding of the Sheriff’s Officers. As may be seen in the photograph taken at 10 Hutton drive, Linthouse, Govan where Mary is seen to the front left of the picture. The defiance of the Govan tenants spread throughout Glasgow. On the 17th of November 1915 thousands of women marching with thousands of shipyard and engineering workers paraded through the streets of the city to the Glasgow Sheriff Court where the demonstration was near riot proportions. This defiant stand sent shockwaves all the way to the House of Commons in Westminster London. The Government fearful of revolution and of mutiny by its soldiers on the frontline passed legislation to protect tenants rights to a fair rent. The Rent Restriction Act 1915 heralded a major change in the housing system of the city of Glasgow. The act also benefited tenants across the country. Mary’s involvement in this struggle had made her a working class hero in Govan and beyond.


First Woman Labour Councillor.

In 1920 Mary was nominated to stand as one of three candidates for the Fairfield Ward of Govan, and was duly elected to the Glasgow Town Council as its first woman Labour Councillor. It was mainly the women’s vote that gave her the 4,701 votes that marked her success. During her term as a Labour Councillor she fought for many causes to help the poorest in the community. The range of policies that she pushed for covered a very wide spectrum but all for the benefit of the working class community. Among them were such things as washhouses, laundries and public baths, free milk to school children, child welfare centres, play areas, pensions for mothers, home helps and municipal banks, she also pushed for a campaign against consumption.

First Woman Baillie

In 1924 the Lord Provost appointed Mary Barbour as a Bailie of Glasgow Corporation, making her the first ever woman Baillie serving for the 1924-1927 term of office. She was also appointed as one of the first woman Magistrates in Glasgow. Her council work allowed her to develop her commitment to the welfare of women and children. In 1925 she was chairperson of the Women’s Welfare and Advisory Clinic, Glasgow’s first family planning centre. Mary worked continuously and energetically to raise funds to support its team of women doctors and nurses.

Mary Barbour retired from the council in 1931 but never relented on her work load in committees for welfare and housing and remained energetically involved in Co-operative Committees. In her later years she continued her commitment to the welfare of the poor by organising trips to the seaside for children of the poor. Mary passed away on the 2nd of April 1958 at the age of 83. Her funeral took place at Craigton Crematorium in Govan.

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