Mary Barbour – Honoured on International Women’s Day

On 8 March 2018, International Women’s Day, a statue will be unveiled to honour Mary Barbour, who led the Govan Rent Strike in 1915 and campaigned throughout her life to improve living standards for the working classes in Glasgow.


I was named after my Auntie Margaret. My childhood memories of her include card games, three tier cake stands, and a £5 postal order in my birthday card every year. I regret now not asking her about her childhood – Auntie Margaret grew up in Govan in the 1910s, a labourer’s daughter, moving around every year to a different rented flat. It was for families like this that Mary Barbour fought, both as a campaigner and a councillor.

Best known for her role in the Govan rent strikes, Mary Barbour began her political life in the Co-op. She was a member of the Kinning Park Co-operative Guild, the first women’s co-op guild to open in Scotland. This gave women a social space to come together and talk about politics and social reform, and to organise themselves to campaign on these issues. It was one of the first organisations of working class women, campaigning on matters that affected their day to day lives.

Mary Barbour went on to become one of the first women elected to Glasgow City Council for the Independent Labour Party, sitting in the chamber where I now sit as a Labour and Co-op councillor. She continued to work to improve housing and living conditions for the working classes in Glasgow.

She oversaw the opening of the Elder Park Child Welfare Association, which was, as she said: “not merely a child welfare centre, but an institution for ‘mother-craft’ – and ‘father-craft’, too” And perhaps more controversially, she supported the first family planning clinic in Glasgow, seeking to give access to birth control to working class women.

Claire McCarthy, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, said

“The history of the co-operative movement shows that women with a passion for change, can’t sit on the sidelines. Mary Barbour, Margaret Bondfield and Joyce Butler were just the kind of strong women, restless for change, that Donald Trump would disapprove of. If you don’t like the increasingly reactionary, intolerant, and frankly unco-operative nature of our political discourse in Britain, then get involved and be a part of changing it.”

The statue of Mary Barbour, only the fourth statue of a woman in Glasgow, is a great tribute to her work. But even better would be for more women with a passion for change to get involved, carrying on the work of Mary Barbour.