LONDON-based suffragists have
traditionally been hailed as leading the battle for the vote for women, but
one Scot was not only at the forefront of the fight but also the first
Scottish woman to stand for parliament. It is 100 years this week that women
– although only those over the age of 30 with property rights – cast their
votes for the first time in a general election and it was a proud moment for
Eunice Guthrie Murray, who contested ’s Bridgeton constituency as an
She polled fewer than 1000 votes, coming a distant third behind Labour’s
James Maxton and Coalition Liberal candidate Alexander MacCallum Scott, but
given that she was the first woman to stand for election in it was a
remarkable achievement and paved the way for those who followed.
success was to come for Murray just a few years later in 1923, when she was
elected as a member of Dunbartonshire County Council.
It was the culmination of years of campaigning for women to have the right
to vote, details of which she outlined in diaries now kept in the Women’s
Library at London University’s School of Economics.
The diaries are seen as an important record of the movement’s triumphs and
disasters and contain intriguing snippets about key figures of the time.
Murray records, for example, her distaste for Winston Churchill, who was the
Liberal candidate in the by-election in 1908.
She heard him speak as she helped the suffrage campaign to keep the Liberals
out and later wrote scathingly:
“I think him a very poor speaker and wonder what all the fuss is about. He
strikes me as fundamentally dishonest and would say or do anything to gain a
point. I should never trust him.” It was then too that she first mentions
meeting prominent suffragists such as Evelyn Haverfield, Annie Cobden
Sanderson, Teresa Billington Greig, Charlotte Despard and Emmeline and
She reveals she was not a fan of the Pankhursts, although she admits to a
grudging admiration of them, particularly after they were all in London in
1908. Murray had gone down to the English capital for a poster-sticking
parade in October when she was horrified to see police using strong-arm
tactics against a Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) demonstration in
Square. She was arrested but later released and attended the magistrates
court the next day to see the women sentenced. “I do not like the Pankhursts
much, but I declare I bow to their spirit; they were in the right today and
the magistrates wholly and lamentably in the wrong.” There is humour in the
diaries too – just one month after her arrest she gives a lengthy verbatim
entry about a wry exchange with an anti-suffragist who disapproved of the
She also marshalls her thoughts about socialism which she encountered in
January 1909 when she attended a labour rally in : “What struck me as I
watched was that if I live I am likely to see some changes in the world, for
these people seem in earnest in their determination to change the world and
so are the suffragettes, so between two such driving forces this country
cannot stand still ... I don’t like socialism as a system but I don’t like
the present conditions under which men and women live and I should like to
see, if not the downing of the capitalist, a great redistribution of wealth.
Murray felt she could not embrace socialism fully and although she believed
in the right of women to vote, her views on men and women reflected
attitudes of the time.
In a pamphlet called Warrior
Women she wrote: “We have always held, and hold now, that it is because men
and women are so different, and not because they are so alike, that we
require the vote. “If man fulfils his duty to the nation — by being ready to
sacrifice even his life for the nation — woman equally fulfils her part by
being ready to sacrifice her life for the producing of life.
Thus each sex fulfils its obligation to the community. Each woman is a
potential mother as each man is a potential defender of his country.” She
later wrote: “Women have a two-fold calling, for not only are we as wives
and mothers the guardians of the future, but we are also the custodians of
the past.” Born on January 21, 1878, it is not so surprising that Murray’s
life took the turn it did as her campaign for the women’s right to vote.
As both her parents believed in the education of women, Murray was sent to
St Leonard’s School in St Andrews, and soon became involved in local
charitable and temperance activities.
She kept her strong bond with her mother and later wrote her memoir while
Frances said of her youngest daughter: “Eunice is courageous, steadfast,
cheerful, able, full of strength and energy on whom I lean.”
It was during the 1860s that Scotland’s first women’s suffrage groups
appeared, demanding justice and equality for all women.
Murray’s interest was kindled in November 1896 when she found out about the
establishment of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She
“I should like to join such a society for the question of the emancipation
of my sex is a stirring one and leads to vital matters.”
Along with her mother and her sister, Sylvia, Murray joined the Women’s
Freedom League and wrote several suffrage leaflets including Prejudices Old
and Liberal Cant, and The Illogical Sex, all published by the Scottish
Council of the Woman’s Freedom League.
She became secretary “for scattered members” — those who lived outwith
Scottish cities — and by 1913 was president of the League in Scotland.
y this time the Scottish suffragists’ movement had become more militant as a
result of frustration at the failure of their peaceful attempts to obtain
Direct action saw them chaining themselves to railings and setting fire to
Ayr Racecourse and Leuchars Railway Station.
Murray was arrested on several occasions, including in 1917 when she tried
to address a protest in . That same year she published a novel, The Hidden
Tragedy, which depicts the heroine’s struggles to win the vote.
Eventually Murray’s suffrage work took her not only to England but as far
afield as Budapest, and she became noted as a speaker, with one male admirer
quoted in the Herald in 1913 as saying:
“If only more people, particularly cabinet ministers, could hear Eunice
Guthrie Murray speak the vote would be won without delay.”
She herself wrote in her diary: “The speaking, now I have embarked, comes
easily and I can hold any crowd, hostile or sympathetic."
To Murray’s disgust, however, she found few sympathisers among her well-off
“My neighbours with very few exceptions disapprove not only of militants,
the wonderful new movement, but even of woman suffrage. With a shrug of the
shoulders they say they don’t want the vote, they have everything they want
– ease, position and wealth.”
The diary entries begin to peter out at the start of the war, although she
does take time to discuss Jane Eyre at length, calling it “the story of a
woman fighting against injustice”.
AFTER the war, Murray went on to play a full part in local government
following her election to the council and was always supportive of anything
that improved the welfare of people in the area, particularly better housing
She became a co-founder of the first branch of the Women’s Rural Institute
in Dunbartonshire in 1922 and was eventually made president. A history of
the branch later stated:
“The minutes go right back to 1922. It’s quite amazing. The first president,
Eunice Murray, was the guiding light. The WRI was very popular. Cardross was
a big farming community. I suppose back then there wasn’t much else to do.”
Murray continued to champion rights for women throughout her life through
talks and writing, with her books including Scottish Women of Bygone Days
(1930) and A Gallery of Scottish Women (1935).
In 1938, she chaired a Status of Women conference in Glasgow, where the key
speaker was Helen Fraser, one of the leading lights in the national
Murray was also keen to see
the establishment of folk museums, similar to ones she had visited on the
continent during her travels. She regretted there were none in Scotland,
believing they were a key feature of a peaceful and civilised society.
She became involved with the National Trust for Scotland soon after its
inception, serving on its council and executive committee from 1931, and
donating generously to many of its appeals.
Remaining unmarried, she devoted herself to her activities and was involved
in many local committees, including the Cardross Trust where she was chair
until she died, aged 82, in March 1960, from a stroke brought on by
cardiovascular degeneration. Murray’s work in the community did not go
unrecognised and she was appointed an MBE in 1945.
Tributes have been paid to her in this centenary year of women finally
winning the vote in the UK.
“Eunice Guthrie Murray was a remarkable woman,” said director of Helensburgh
Heroes, Phil Worms. “When we look back at the suffragist and suffragette
movement and that period in our history we tend to recall the Pankhursts,
Emily Davison or Nancy Astor and we overlook the contribution made,
particularly in Scotland, by Eunice and others. She was an extremely
important and active figure in the movement and one who deserves similar
“One hundred years later and we still have significant areas where
improvement needs to be made in the fight for equality, gender pay gaps
being a very current example, and we owe it to all the suffragettes not to
become complacent but to continue to fight for equal rights.”
Dumbarton Jackie Baillie said that without the efforts of pioneers like
Murray she could not have been elected in 1999 as the first woman to
represent the Dumbarton constituency.
“Eunice Guthrie Murray MBE is an inspiring role model for women,” she said.
“She led the way in campaigning for equal rights, playing a national role in
the suffrage movement and becoming the first woman to stand for election in
“Without the efforts of pioneers like Eunice Guthrie Murray I could not have
been elected as the first woman to represent the Dumbarton Constituency in
“She was one of more than 1000 women across the United Kingdom who were
arrested in a politically-motivated crackdown against the suffrage movement.
We owe them a debt of gratitude as we remember the sacrifices they made for
a cause they knew was right. On the 100th anniversary of the 1918
Representation of the People Act we should celebrate their success and
redouble our efforts to eradicate inequality.“
A century has passed since the first women won the right to vote but there
is still a lot of work to do. The gap between men and women’s earnings at
work is growing and Helensburgh and Lomond has never been represented in the
UK Parliament by a female MP. We should not let another century go by before
women and men are equal in all things.
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