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 August of that year along with Helen Fraser she helped organize a meeting at Charleton House addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst. (1)

In 1912 Macfarlane became involved with Jessie Stephen in organizing maidservants in Glasgow into a branch of the Domestic Workers' Union that had been established in London by Kathlyn Oliver a cook who worked for Mary Sheepshanks, a leading member of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. (2)

Margaret Macfarlane moved to London and in March 1912 and took part in a demonstration with Sarah Carwin, Olive Wharry, Ada Wright, Helen Craggs and Kitty Marion. Macfarlane was "charged with the wanton destruction of private property" valued at £104. In court Constable Herbert Tipple, testified: "He found a large plate glass window smashed at 15 and 16, Cockspur Street, the premises occupied by the Hamburg American Line. There was also a very large plate glass window smashed at No 17 and 19. He entered 15 and 16, and found the defendant (Margaret Macfarlane) being detained by Captain Bax. In the presence of the defendant Captain Bax said. "I saw this woman with a hammer in her hand. I saw her break both the windows." According to Tipple when the hammer was taken she said, "I have broken the window as a protest against the Government." (3) Macfarlane was found guilty and sentenced to four months in prison. (4)

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?" (5)

On 28th January 1913, Macfarlane took part in an attempt to discuss women's suffrage with David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Organised by Flora Drummond and Sylvia Pankhurst, Macfarlane was apparently representing the demands of the Domestic Workers' Union. As Votes for Women explained: "Mrs Drummond led a deputation of working women from the Horticultural Hall to demand a further interview at the House of Commons with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  The interview was refused, and the women were treated with violence by the police. Mrs Drummond herself was knocked down and injured shortly after her emergence from the hall. Persisting, however, in her mission, she and a number of other women, including Miss Sylvia Pankhurst were taken into custody... Of the window-breakers. Miss Mary Neil was fined and ordered to pay the damage, or in default fourteen days; Miss Margaret Macfarlane was similarly dealt with, or in default fourteen days." (6)

On 20th March 1913, Macfarlane was arrested and charged with breaking two windows at the Tecla Gem Company, Ltd, Old Bond Street, Miss Margaret Macfarlane sentenced to five months in the second division. (7) The Suffragette reported that the Domestic Workers' Union held protest meetings about this sentence: "At a meeting organised by the Domestic Workers' Union of Great Britain in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, a resolution was unanimously carried, protesting against the sentence of five months imprisonment passed on Miss Margaret Macfarlane for her actions on behalf of domestic servants, and calling upon the government to release her immediately." (8)

Soon after her arrival at Holloway surveillance photographs of Margaret were taken from a van parked in the prison exercise yard. Margaret appears with Margaret Schenke, Jane Short and Olive Hockin. The images were compiled into photographic lists of key suspects, used to try and identify and arrest Suffragettes before they could commit militant acts. (9)

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

Margaret Macfarlane was released on 27th July, 1913. (10) This was the last time she was sent to prison. In December she had posted an advert in The Suffragette offering her services as a chauffeuse. She claimed she had been taught by the Royal Automobile Club. (11) This was apparently not very successful because a few months later she was advertising the same service in Glasgow. (12)

After the outbreak of the First World War she found work at the Scottish Women's Hospital Staff of Fife and Kincross District Asylum. Macfarlane was still interested in women's suffrage and it was reported that in December, 1915, she made a donation of £2 7s 6d. to the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. (13)

Margaret Macfarlane remained involved in nursing and The Common Cause reported in September, 1921, that she had produced an academic paper, "Vocal Fitness among mental Defectives". (14)

Primary Sources

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

Mrs Pankhurst's Scottish Tour started with a well-attended meeting in the Queen of the Lakes Pavilion, Keswick, on August 18. Miss Zimmerman was in the chair, and the proceedings opened with the singing of "The March of the Women," by Lady Sybil Smith…

The next day Mrs Pankhurst spoke at Charleton House at an At Home given by Mrs Anstruther. People motored from far and near; many had never been to a Suffrage meeting before, and the result was a great sale of literature. The St Andrews meeting, admirably organised by Miss Fraser Smith and Miss Macfarlane was crowded. Mrs Findlay, secretary of the St Andrews NU presided and Mrs Anstruther proposed the vote of thanks.

(2) Votes for Women (8th March 1912)

Constable Herbert Tipple, 405c said that at 5.45 he was in Pal Mall, at the junction of Cockspur Street. He found a large plate glass window smashed at 15 and 16, Cockspur Street, the premises occupied by the Hamburg American Line. There was also a very large plate glass window smashed at No 17 and 19. He entered 15 and 16, and found the defendant (Margaret Macfarlane) being detained by Captain Bax. In the presence of the defendant Captain Bax said. "I saw this woman with a hammer in her hand. I saw her break both the windows… When the hammer was taken she said, "I have broken the window as a protest against the Government."

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

On Wednesday at 2 pm we were forcibly 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.

(4) Votes for Women (31st January 1913)

The demonstration of the Women's Social and Political Union was postponed until Tuesday evening, (28th January 1913) when Mrs Drummond led a deputation of working women from the Horticultural Hall to demand a further interview at the House of Commons with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  The interview was refused, and the women were treated with violence by the police. Mrs Drummond herself was knocked down and injured shortly after her emergence from the hall. Persisting, however, in her mission, she and a number of other women, including Miss Sylvia Pankhurst were taken into custody.

At the same time, many windows were broken, both in Government offices and in private shops, and for these actions a further number of women, including Mrs Cobden Hirst, the well-known social worker and granddaughter of Richard Cobden, were taken into custody. Brought up at Bow Street on Wednesday, Mrs Drummond was charged with obstruction and sentenced to fourteen days' in the second division; with the option of a fine…

Of the window-breakers. Miss Mary Neil was fined and ordered to pay the damage, or in default fourteen days; Miss Margaret Macfarlane was similarly dealt with, or in default fourteen days.

(5) Votes for Women (28th March, 1913)

At the London Sessions, charged with breaking two windows at the Tecla Gem Company, Ltd, Old Bond Street, Miss Margaret Macfarlane sentenced to five months in the second division.

(6) The Suffragette (25th April 1913)

At a meeting organised by the Domestic Workers' Union of Great Britain in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, a resolution was unanimously carried, protesting against the sentence of five months imprisonment passed on Miss Margaret Macfarlane for her actions on behalf of domestic servants, and calling upon the government to release her immediately. Miss Macfarlane was sentenced on March 20, and her protest took the form of breaking windows in Bond Street.

(7) 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.

(8) The Suffragette (19th December, 1913)

Member wants post as Chauffeuse, running repairs, etc. Taught by Royal Automobile Club. Lady Expert. Apply Margaret Macfarlane, I Kingly Street, Regent Street, London.

(8) The Common Cause (19th June, 1914)

Member wants post as Chauffeuse, running repairs, etc. Taught by Royal Automobile Club. Lady Expert. Apply Margaret Macfarlane, Redpath, 110 New City Road, Glasgow


References

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

(2) Laura Schwartz, Kathlyn Oliver: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (9th April 2020)

(3) Votes for Women (8th March 1912)

(4) Votes for Women (29th March 1912)

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

(6) Votes for Women (31st January 1913)

(7) Votes for Women (28th March, 1913)

(8) The Suffragette (25th April 1913)

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

(10) The Suffragette (25th July, 1913)

(11) The Suffragette (19th December, 1913)

(12) The Common Cause (19th June, 1914)

(13) The Common Cause (17th December 1915)

(14) The Common Cause (2nd September 1921)