Cardross born Suffragette became first woman to stand for a Scottish Parliamentary Seat
One hundred years ago today, Tuesday February 6, Parliament passed the Representation of The People Act which gave the franchise to property-owning women aged over 30 (8 Million). and all men the right to vote, it was not until 1928 that all British women gained the same voting rights as men.
One key, oft overlooked, woman who was at the heart of this sea change was Cardross born Eunice Guthrie Murray.
When we look back at the 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.
Eunice Guthrie Murray was born on the 21st January 1878 at Moore Park, Cardross, the youngest daughter of three to David Murray, a Glasgow lawyer (who with David Maclay and John Spens founded the Glasgow law firm Maclay Murray and Spens), and Frances Porter Stoddard, the daughter of an American family living in Port Glasgow. She was educated at St Leonard’s School, St Andrews and in the late nineteenth century Eunice Murray became involved in philanthropic activities. She was active in the local branch of the League of Pity, volunteered regularly at a local settlement, and was an advocate for temperance.
Along with her mother and her sister, Sylvia Murray, she joined the Women’s Freedom League. The WFL had a strong presence in Scotland, and from 1909 onwards Murray was the secretary for ‘scattered members’—all those who did not live in Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Dundee. Eunice was one of the three Scottish members on the WFL’s national executive committee and in 1913 was described as president for Scotland of the WFL.
Her suffrage activities took her not only to England but as far afield as Budapest in Hungary. She was arrested for speaking outside 10 Downing Street and during the period produced pamphlets, spoke regularly at public events and kept a series of diaries which provide us with an invaluable first hand account of the period.
In 1913 the Glasgow Herald printed a letter from a male correspondent suggesting that if only more people, particularly cabinet ministers, could hear Eunice Guthrie Murray speak, “the vote would be won without delay.
In 1918 Eunice became the first woman to stand in a parliamentary election in Scotland, as an independent candidate in Glasgow for the Bridgeton constituency, although she was unsuccessful, coming third. The results being Coalition Liberal Alexander MacCallum Scott 10,887, Labour James Maxton 7,860 and Independent Eunice Murray 991.
The bravery and determination of women such as Eunice must never be forgotten. 100 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.