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Eunice Guthrie Murray
Her Life and Times

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 Independent.

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 Christabel Pankhurst.

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 women’s protests.

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 wrote:

“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 the vote.

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 neighbours.

“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 and education.

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 suffragette movement.

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 recognition.

“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 Scotland.

“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 1999.

“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.

See the full article at The National at:

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