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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
Lady Aberdeen


THE Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair is the youngest daughter of Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, First Baron Tweedmouth, and was born March 14, 1857. Her family can trace its descent back to King Robert the Bruce. Her father, raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1881, was the senior partner in the famous Coutts Bank and was as noted for his literary and artistic tastes as for his business enterprise.

Mr. Gladstone often visited the Highland home of the Marjoribanks, in Inverness-shire, and young Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, the future Marchioness, was proud to mount her little pony to accompany Mr. Gladstone on his rides, when the great statesman, who knew how to talk to children, conversed freely with this little girl on subjects that many might have thought beyond her girlish understanding. There can be no question, when we review the life work of this energetic woman, that these conversations with a man of rich mind and ripe experience made a deep and lasting impression, and have since borne generous fruition in many directions.

One evening in the summer of 1868, a young sportsman lost his way in the wild district around and begged shelter at Guisachan, the home of Sir Dudley Marjoribanks. The sporting owner of the house gave this stranger a Highland welcome, and presently it transpired that the youthful sportsman was the Earl of Aberdeen, who had recently succeeded to the earldom. This romantic meeting led to an attachment between Lord Aberdeen and Miss Marjoribanks, and in 1877, as Lady Aberdeen, she left her father’s home to go and preside at Haddo House, Aberdeen. From the first the young couple were warm and enthusiastic admirers of Mr. Gladstone, and—what is more— both were resolved to devote their lives to solid, useful work, which should do something for the world.

It is easy to understand the fervent zeal for reform created in the hearts of Lord and Lady Aberdeen when, on their wedding tour in Egypt, they met the late General Gordon, and heard from this man’s own lips many of the cruelties then practised in the African slave-trade. Shortly afterwards, a slave-dealer, coming on board Lord Aberdeen’s boat with some boys for sale, was greatly astonished at the young peer, who, pointing up at the British flag, exclaimed: "Those boys are free! I claim them in the name of the Queen."

Early in her married life Lady Aberdeen started the Haddo House Association, which was founded on democratic principles and aimed at a system of personal self-culture. Her own servants were induced to join and to take part in classes for singing, drawing, and wood-carving, and to attend lectures and concerts arranged especially for them. This social effort gradually spread far beyond the Aberdeen estate, and now, under the title of The Onward and Upward Association, boasts many branches and thousands of members who have received help in looking upward.

While Vicereine in Dublin, during the short term in 1886, the warm heart and ready sympathies of Lady Aberdeen prompted her to many acts of wise benevolence. Notable was her deep interest in the Irish Home Industries. She knew the sore need and poverty of the country, and she used all her energies and all her influence to get a market for the beautiful woven materials, the exquisite laces, and the dainty carvings manufactured in cottages and convents. It was thus the Irish Industries Association was called into life. Shops were opened in London and Dublin and other large provincial towns, and the goods brought to the notice of the public; good prices were obtained, when the profits went straight to the workers without middlemen. And speaking of these Irish industries reminds of a story that is told as belonging to this period of Lady Aberdeen’s career. At a garden party in Dublin, Lord Morris had the honour of taking the Vicereine to tea shortly after her arrival. Lady Aberdeen, in her characteristically quick way, asked:

"Are there many Home Rulers here?" and the reply was not too gracious which said, "There‘s just yerself an’ the waithers, me Lady!"

Previous to taking up their residence in Ottawa, in 1893, Lord and Lady Aberdeen had visited India, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania; and into all the institutions of colonial life in Canada they were able to enter with an enthusiastic cordiality and whole-hearted sympathy which completely won the hearts of even the sturdiest Canadians. The five years of Lord Aberdeen ‘s Governor-Generalship were fruitful years for Lady Aberdeen. On landing in Canada, the Countess thought it would be better not to connect herself directly with any women‘s organization, and so she resolved to watch and learn something of the ways of the new country before attempting any practical effort. The result of this experiment Lady Aberdeen tells in her own words: "Within a month of our landing, a meeting was convened to form a National Council of Women of Canada to bind together in mutual aid and sympathy the workers in connection with every society of national interest in the Dominion, without distinction of religious or political views. Despite my newly formed resolution, I felt impelled to join in organizing the Council, and now I can never be sufficiently thankful for the intercourse which it gave me with noble women of every class, and every creed, who were all labouring for the common weal."

Lady Aberdeen was also the founder of the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada and did much for the education of women in its holiest sense in Canada. In appreciation of her efforts, the Queen’s University at Kingston conferred upon her the degree of LL.D. An extract from her speech, upon the occasion of receiving this degree, gives a keen insight into Lady Aberdeen ‘s aims and purposes of life: "I urge the students of both sexes to remember that culture is only true culture when it affects the whole life, being and character. You may go through college winning prizes and distinctions, but yet go to your careers in the truest sense of the word—uneducated! We know we can obtain from our universities men and women of learning and attainments, but let us obtain also an influence which will leaven with a high transforming power the life of the whole country. For myself, I can only promise that your youngest doctor will do her utmost not to disgrace the name of the university to which she is so proud to belong."

Upon the conclusion of Lord Aberdeen’s term of office as Governor-General of Canada, Lady Aberdeen was presented with an address in the Senate Chamber, June 13, 1898. This took place after the Farewell Address, voted by both Houses to the Governor-General, had been replied to by His Excellency. To this the names of the twenty-nine Senators and seventy-three members were attached. A magnificent dinner service was presented to Lady Aberdeen, which was the work of the Women ‘s Art Association of Canada. Lady Aberdeen’s reply was characteristic: "If I say I am overwhelmed by this wonderful surprise which you have prepared for me, I am but faintly expressing the truth. I wish I could tell you all that is in my heart; but, at least, please let me assure you that this mark of spontaneous, warm friendship is, and ever will be, very, very precious to me and to my husband and my children, and—may I add—to our mothers, too.

"As to the splendid gift itself, you could not possibly have chosen anything which we would have valued more; for this collection of works of art, beautiful in themselves, could not but have a special value to me as being the handiwork of a number of those Canadian women workers with whom I have so many cherished associations of affectionate sympathy and mutual co-operation for the common aims and common work. But, apart from this, the places and subjects depicted will be a constant living memory of the surroundings intimately connected with those various Canadian homes which have become so dear to us. As we look at these pictures and call on our guests to admire them at our high festivals, our thoughts will fondly travel again to the great Dominion, and will wander from East to West, fondly lingering on remembrances brought afresh to our minds by scenes from city and country life alike.

Again we shall hear the sweet notes of the Canadian robin and bluebird heralding the spring in the woods of Rideau Hall. We shall hear the whirr of the wild geese sweeping over our lovely British Columbia lakes and mountains; and again our sportsmen will be pursuing the canny brown prairie chicken across their vast domains. His Excellency will once more find himself landing a salmon on the Restigouche, and our children will be loading their boats with spoils from the waters of the Pacific or the Atlantic. How often shall we long for the exhilaration of a toboggan slide on a brilliant Canadian winter ‘s day! How we shall listen for the splash of the paddle as the canoe glides up a stately river amidst sunshine and beauty! And now we shall be speeding over the myriad-hued prairies, and anon we shall find ourselves in deep woods, amidst the haunts of the wild flowers, whose loveliness we see delineated before us.

"But, after all, was it kind of you to give us such vivid pictures of scenes which have grown so closely around our hearts, and from which we must be severed? I can scarcely answer that now. I will tell you better when you come and see us over there, as I hope you will from time to time, in that Old Country, to which I trust we shall return stronger and better fitted for duties new and old because of what we have learnt here.

"Our time here has been a very rich chapter in our lives, and its very richness must cause us many heart-pangs as we turn over the last page.

"I have spoken of the voices of forest and prairie, of river, lake and mountain, which will haunt us in our Scottish home; but there will be a deeper undertone of voices speaking of the human love and friendship, of the generous confidence and encouragement which has allowed us to come so near the heart and inner life of this country. These voices will form the choir invisible which will make the truest music in our souls as we think of Canada, and of all that that one word means to us, and of all that we pray it will mean more and more to the world.

"Gentlemen, I wish that I could convey personally to every one of the members of the Senate and the House of Commons who have combined in this conspiracy, some adequate expression of my grateful thanks—I wish there were opportunities of seeing much more of you each and all, but it cannot be— but please believe that I am only saying what I feel when I say that you have strengthened and beautified my whole life by your action this day. May I say, ‘God bless you, my friends’?"

After leaving Canada, Lady Aberdeen resumed her active home life in Scotland. This is a comprehensive expression, for it included not only the family and domestic duties, and the social demands to be met by the mistress of the household of the Lord-Lieutenant of a large county and the owner of a large estate, and also the mother of a young lady making her debut in society, but in addition, those avocations devolving upon one taking a leading share in movements of patriotism and philanthropy.

For, soon after returning from Canada, Lady Aberdeen was re-elected to the presidency of the Women’s Liberal Federation of England (a very large and effective organization) and also that of the Scottish Women’s Liberal Federation, and in connection therewith there was much travelling to various places in order to be present at the conventions and public meetings, in which, with her husband, Lady Aberdeen was called upon to take part.

In the year 1899 the International Council of Women met in London, England (this being their first meeting in Europe). This remarkable organization is composed of the representatives of the National Councils of Women of twenty-two different countries. A general meeting of the Council is held every five years; and at the most recent of these quinquennial council meetings, which took place at Rome in the spring of 1914, Lady Aberdeen was for the fourth time unanimously re-elected president, having thus occupied this office for more than fifteen years.

At the beginning of the year 1906 Lady Aberdeen returned to Ireland, Lord Aberdeen having been appointed, for the second time, Viceroy. It would not be possible within our available space to give any detailed description of the different branches of work with which Lady Aberdeen’s name and influence are identified in Ireland; but an indication of the scope and character of these may be given by some mention of the Women’s National Health Association, of which Lady Aberdeen was the main founder and of which, ever since its foundation in 1907, she has been the active president. Around this, central organization there have grown up and clustered a number of beneficial agencies. The first and foremost of these consisted of a vigorous and wide-spread campaign against consumption. A decline in the mortality from tuberculosis began to be manifested immediately and when the crusade had continued for seven years, viz.: in 1914, the official statistics of the country showed that the number of deaths from that disease in Ireland had decreased by 2,500 per annum. A very gratifying testimony to the value of this association‘s campaign was furnished by the fact that on the occasion of the International Tuberculosis Congress held at Washington, D. C., in the year 1908, in connection with which a prize of $1,000.00 was offered for the voluntary society which had done the best anti-tuberculosis work, this was awarded jointly to the New York Charity Organization Society and the Women’s National Health Association of Ireland.

Amongst the other sections of work initiated by the Association we might mention the Peamount and Rossclare Sanatoria, and the Sutton Preventorium, accommodating altogether over 300 patients; also the after-care of sanatorium patients in their own homes, Child Welfare Work, Infant Mortality Work, Babies’ Clubs, School Children’s Dental Clinics, Maintenance of Visiting Nurses, Playgrounds and School Gardens, Folk Dancing, Health and Housing Exhibition, Child Welfare Exhibition, Food Exhibition, Publication and Distribution of Health Literature, Health Lectures sent to Local Districts, Lectures illustrated by lantern slides sent on hire, Local Milk Depots, Meals for School Children, Special Work undertaken during the war such as: Distress Workrooms, Clothing and Comforts Depot, Classes for First Aid and Emergency Nursing.

In view of the value of such ministrations as the above, the continuance of which was threatened with extinction through the effect of the war, it is not surprising that Lord and Lady Aberdeen felt impelled to come to this country for the purpose of obtaining practical sympathy and help which would avert such a catastrophe.

Lady Aberdeen was elected President of the International Council of Women in 1899 and has held the office since that time. She is President of the Irish Industries Association, the Onward and Upward Association, the Women’s National Health Association of Ireland, and the Scottish Women ‘s Liberal Federation. She is Chairman of the Dublin Juvenile Advisory Committee and the Labor Exchange. She is the author of Through Canada with a Kodak, and editor of The International Council of Women, 1909-1914, and Ireland’s Crusade against Tuberculosis, three volumes, 1908. Lady Aberdeen’s addresses are: Haddo House, Aberdeen, and House of Cromar, Tarland, Aberdeenshire; and Ely House, Dublin.


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