Mary Rough, as she was then, was born on 22 February 1875 in Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire. I’m sure neither she, nor her family were aware at that time that she would go on to have such a profound effect on the men, women & children of Glasgow in her later life.
Mary, my 1st cousin 3 x removed, shares her Grandfather (my 3 x) with me as our common Ancestor.
She was the third of seven children born to carpet weaver James Rough and his wife Jane Gavin. In 1896 she married David Barbour from Johnstone and the couple settled in Govan, at the time a burgh outside Glasgow, where Mary became politically active, joining the . I’m sure at the time it would have been impossible NOT to have strong political feelings, BUT, for a woman of the time to go on and put them into action was something else.
Because of large rent increases by unscrupulous Landlords, which had a severe impact on predominately women who’s husbands had just gone off to War and it comes as no surprise to me that it was in Govan that the first active resistance to rent increases appeared and Mary was instrumental in forming the South Govan Women’s.
As a working class housewife, with her two sons James & William and her husband David an engineer in the shipyards, she was well able and very soon engaged in all manner of activities from the organising of committees to the physical prevention of evictions and the hounding of the Sheriff’s Officers. The Story goes that when the Sherriff’s Officers were seen coming the local women would ring the alarm by clanging pots and pans out of the windows, thus assembling ‘Mrs Barbour’s Army’ of Govan housewives to stand against them and this form of resistance soon spread to the whole of the Clydeside. (as immortalised in song by the late Alaistair Hulett)
The climax was on the 17th of November 1915 with unarguably one of the largest demonstrations in Glasgow’s history. Thousands of women joined by thousands more shipyard and engineering workers marched upon . Soon after the Rent Restriction Act came into effect, forever changing the housing system & benefiting tenants Countrywide.
This was only the beginning of Mary’s struggle for the people of Govan & Glasgow.
Together with Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan, Mary, in June 1916, was instrumental in founding the Women’s Peace Crusade in Glasgow. She was a frequent and regular speaker at its many rallies on Glasgow Green.
In 1920 Mary stood as the From 1924 until 1927 Mary served as the first woman Bailie on Glasgow Corporation and was appointed one of Glasgow’s first women magistrates. As a supporter of birth control for married women, Mary pioneered the city’s first family planning centre, the Women’s Welfare and Advisory Clinic in 1925, and also chaired its first committee, raising sufficient funds to maintain its staff of women doctors and nurses.for Fairfield ward in Govan, gaining 4,701 votes and was duly elected to as their first Labour woman councillor. Mary campaigned on and supported numerous issues including the introduction of municipal banks, wash-houses, laundries and baths; a pure milk supply free to schoolchildren, child welfare centres and play areas, home helps, and pensions for mothers.
Mary retired from her council work in 1931, but still continued her activities on a range of housing, welfare and co-operative committees. In 1953 she was guest speaker in Glasgow at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish National Assembly of Women.
died on 2 April 1958 aged 83, and her funeral was held at Craigton crematorium in Glasgow.
Excuse the pun, but, there’s something about Mary. To spend a lifetime fighting for equality & Social Justice is laudable enough, but let’s think on when her awakening began, in a time of War and ever increasing hardship that was until recently extremely difficult to comprehend.
It’s ancestors like Mary that make me want to write this blog and encourage me to keep trawling through Library’s, registry office and graveyards in search of more information on my long lost ancestors.
In my next blog I hope to introduce you to a branch of my family who were leading lights in founding & spreading the Methodist Church worldwide and a relative who was a contemporary of the Wesley Brothers themselves.