Famous Ayrshire Folk (1): Mary MacArthur

Ayrshire has a long tradition of fesity folk, going back to and beyond William Wallace. Naturally this includes the fair ladies of the shire as well, such as Mary MacArthur, an early feminist firebrand, when there was still some point to being a feminist, and a trade unionist, when there was quite a need for that too — as there is today!

Mary was born in Ayr on the 13th of August, 1880. After becoming radicalized in her early twenties, she became secretary of the Ayr branch of the Shop Assistants' Union. In 1902 she met Margaret Bondfield, who was later to become the first Labour female cabinet member in 1929. The two became close friends and it said by some historians that Bondfield had a bit of a lesbian crush on MacArthur.

In 1903 she moved to London and became Secretary of the Women's Trade Union League. In 1906 she founded the National Federation of Women Workers and participated in the formation of the Anti-Sweating League, set up to improve the conditions in sweatshop industries. In 1911, she married William C. Anderson, chairman of the executive committee of the Labour party.

Through her trade unionism she strongly supported women's pay equality and female suffrage, although this problem was largely solved by market forces, as cheaper pay for women would put men out of jobs and employment would depress male wages to a similar level as female wages.

She was also a pacifist during WWI, a fact that contributed to her defeat when she stood for election as the Labour Party candidate in Stourbridge, Worcestershire at the General Election on 14 December 1919.

Two years later she died of cancer at the early age of 41. Her husband had passed away two years earlier.

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