This is the third in a series of posts to celebrate Women’s History Month. We will be featuring amazing, local women who lived locally 100 years ago, campaigning for women’s suffrage and supporting the war effort.
Margaret Gladstone MacDonald was a celebrated social reformer and suffragist and the wife of the Labour politician James Ramsay MacDonald. The family rented Linfield in Bois Lane, Chesham Bois.
Margaret Gladstone, the daughter of a chemistry professor, was educated at the Doreck College for Girls in Bayswater and studied political economy under Millicent Fawcett at the women’s department of Kings College. Despite having independent means, she worked as a secretary at a nursing association in East London and volunteered for various organisations there to help the poor. Her experiences led to her becoming a socialist and joining the newly formed Independent Labour Party. In 1895 she met Ramsay MacDonald and campaigned with him in the General Election that year.
After they were married in 1897, Margaret MacDonald was able to finance her husband’s political career from her private income; she served on the council of Millicent Fawcett’s NUWSS; continued her work for social justice; was published widely on women’s issues and was a frequent public speaker on women’s rights. In 1907 she gave a talk in Aylesbury on woman’s suffrage.
The marriage was supposed to be an extremely happy one which produced six children. Sadly, Margaret died tragically young at the age of 41. Ramsay MacDonald remained a committed supporter of women’s suffrage after his wife’s death although he strongly objected to the militant campaign. In
his second minority government of 1929, he set the historic precedent of appointing the first female minister, Margaret Bondfield, the Secretary of the Shop Assistants Union. She had worked as a shop assistant and a journalist and was a suffragist and committed campaigner for equal pay.
Amersham’s Women at War project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.