A project celebrating the life and work of Mary Barbour has been launched as part of International Women’s Day.
Barbour was a housewife who roused thousands of women to protest at steep rent increases for living in Glasgow tenements during WWI.
Mary Barbour’s leadership was responsible for a new rent restriction law.
She also became the first female Labour Councillor elected to Glasgow Town Council.
Mary Barbour was born in 1857, the daughter of a Kilbarchan carpet weaver.
When she was 21 she married her husband David and she settled in the Govan Burgh. She joined and became an active member of the Kinning Park Co-operative Guild, the first to be established in Scotland.
The Rent Protests
Mary became a member of the Independent Labour Party and the Socialist Sunday School. But it was the Glasgow rent strike during the first world war that brought her to prominence.
It was in Govan that the first opposition to rent increases appeared. Mary Barbour was instrumental in forming the South Govan Women’s Housing Association.
As a working class housewife with two sons and her husband an engineer in the shipyards, she was involved across its activities from setting up committees to the physical prevention of evictions.
This type of protest was soon seen across the whole of the Clydeside area.
The situation reached a peak on the 17th of November 1915 with one of the largest demonstrations in Glasgow’s history.
Thousands of women marching with thousands of shipyard and engineering workers paraded through the streets of the city to the Glasgow Sheriff’s Court where the demonstration was near riot proportions.
As a result of this action the “Rent Restriction Act” was enacted heralding in a change in Glasgow’s housing system.
The Move into Politics
In 1920 Mary stood as a candidate in a Govan council Ward. She was successfully elected to Glasgow Town Council as its first female Labour Councillor.
She served as Glasgow Corporation’s first woman Baillie from 1924 to 1927 and was appointed as one of the city’s first female magistrates.
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 retired from politics in 1931 but she remained active in the Co-operative Committees. In her later years she organised trips to the seaside for children of the poor.
She died in 1958 at the age of 83.
Sharon Thomas, a Glasgow-based artist is part of the project to document and honour Mary. She will paint gather an aural history of Mary which she will use in an artwork for the Women’s Library.