Margaret Macfarlane

Margaret McFarlane

Margaret Macfarlane was born in Scotland in 1888. A trained nurse she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and in 1911 became secretary of its Dundee and East Fife branch.

In the summer of 1911 Emmeline Pankhurst made a tour of Scotland and organised the St Andrews meeting on 18th August. Her speech included the comments: "Taxation without representation was unfair, and that grievance, so far as women were concerned, was a growing one. The House of Commons had now voted itself a salary all round. If men liked to pay Members of of Parliament a salary let them in common decency do it themselves, and not expect voteless women to help them find the money. At any rate, if Members of Parliament were going to take out of the taxes paid by women salaries for themselves, let first of all make themselves subject to the woman's power of election, as well as that of the men." (1)

Margaret Macfarlane moved to London and in November 1911, she was charged with breaking one of the largest windows in London at the office of the Hamburg America Line at Cockspur Street, valued at £104, and sentenced in March 1912 to four months in HM Prison Holloway. On her release she wrote about going on hunger strike and being force-fed. In an article entitled Personal Experiences published in Votes for Women, she wrote about the way she was treated in prison.

"People imagine that there is a nurse sitting kindly by the bedside stroking the prisoner's forehead, and the prisoner is sipping from the feeding-cup. Instead of that, I was lifted into a chair and tied with a strong sheet to the back of the chair. As far as I can remember, my arms were held on each side on the arms of the chair. There was a wardress with a feeding cup (this wardress was 5 ft. 10½ in height, and very strong) and one behind my chair, making a gag for the mouth with her fingers. Another held my knees. I told them that I would not swallow a drop of the gruel voluntarily. When they found that I did not retain any of the food, the one who was gagging me egged the others on to tickle me, to hold my nose to make me swallow, and to grip me on the throat, which to me is the most cruel. The pressing of the throat to make one swallow gives a fearful feeling of suffocation. When they got my feet up, my head was hanging right over the back of the chair, which added to the choking sensation... When the doctor came to pay an official visit afterwards. I made a strong complaint to him on the way I have been treated. I asked him if he thought I was going to gain by those two thimblefuls of gruel that I had taken after having a quarter of an hour's horseplay from four wardresses?" (2)

Despite this unpleasant experience Macfarlane continued with her protests. In January 1913 she was charged with breaking a window of the Home Office and doing damage worth £2. She was ordered to pay the damage and a fine of 40 shillings or in default fourteen days. Also charged that day were Sylvia Pankhurst, Mary Neal and Mary Pearson. (3)

Margaret Macfarlane clearly did not pay this fine because the following month she was in Holloway Prison. Soon after her arrival surveillance photographs of Margaret were taken from a van parked in the prison exercise yard. Margaret appears with Margaret Schenke, Jane Short and Olive Hotkin. The images were compiled into photographic lists of key suspects, used to try and identify and arrest Suffragettes before they could commit militant acts. (4)

Margaret Scott, Jane Short, Margaret McFarlane and Olive Hotkin exercising in the yard of Holloway prison (1913)
Margaret Schenke, Jane Short, Margaret Mcfarlane and Olive Hockin
exercising in the yard of Holloway prison (February 1913)

It is not known what happened to Margaret Macfarlane after this date.


Primary Sources

(1) Margaret Macfarlane, Votes for Women (5th July, 1912)

On Wednesday at 2 pm we were forceibly fed - all of us. I was fed three times. The first time was at 2 pm on Wednesday afternoon. When the doctor came to pay an official visit afterwards. I made a strong complaint to him on the way I have been treated. I asked him if he thought I was going to gain by those two thimblefuls of greul that I had taken after having a quarter of an hour's horseplay from four wardresses?

People imagine that there is a nurse sitting kindly by the bedside stroking the prisoner's forehead, and the prisoner is sipping from the feeding-cup. Instead of that, I was lifted into a chair and tied with a strong sheet to the back of the chair. As far as I can remember, my arms were held on each side on the arms of the chair. There was a wardress with a feeding cup (this wardress was 5 ft. 10½ in height, and very strong) and one behind my chair, making a gag for the mouth with her fingers. Another held my knees. I told them that I would not swallow a drop of the gruel voluntarily. When they found that I did not retain any of the food, the one who was gagging me egged the others on to tickle me, to hold my nose to make me swallow, and to grip me on the throat, which to me is the most cruel. The pressing of the throat to make one swallow gives a fearful feeling of suffocation. When they got my feet up, my head was hanging right over the back of the chair, which added to the choking sensation.

(2) Votes for Women (31st January, 1913)

Miss Margaret Macfarlane was charged with breaking a window of the Home Office, daoing damage and a fine of 40s, or in default fourteen days.

(3) Kitty Dinshaw, The Birth of Surveillance Photography (20th March, 2018)

Modern day surveillance photography started in Britain in 1913 with an unassuming prison van parked in the exercise yard of Holloway Prison. We only know the occupant of the van as Mr. Barrett, a professional photographer who had been employed by Scotland Yard to snap paparazzi-style shots of the women in the yard. His long-lens photography equipment - the purchase of which was authorised by the then Home Secretary - was rudimentary, but effective.

And who were these women Barrett was photographing? Members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), also, and perhaps better, known as the suffragettes. Suffrage campaigns were ongoing in both Europe and the United States in the early part of the 20th century, with Finland being the first country to grant women the right to vote and stand for office in 1906.


References

(1) Votes for Women (1st September, 1911)

(2) Margaret Macfarlane, Votes for Women (5th July, 1912)

(3) Votes for Women (31st January, 1913)

(4) Kitty Dinshaw, The Birth of Surveillance Photography (20th March, 2018)