Women who made history
Mary Barbour (1875-1958)
Mhairi MacLennan, People Officer
Mary Barbour, now known as a Scottish political activist, was perhaps not the most obvious campaigner from the get-go. Born in Kilbarchan at the end of the 19th century, she was, until her forties, a ‘typical working-class housewife’. But at age 40, she became the leader of a movement.
With street meetings, drums, bells and trumpets, she stopped at nothing to bring women out in arms. In 1915, she led the South Govan Women’s Housing Association during the Glasgow rent strikes. She actively organised tenant committees and eviction resistance, so much so that the protestors became known as "Mrs Barbour's Army".
From there, she founded the Women’s Peace Crusade in June 1916; a grassroots socialist movement whose central aim was to spread a ‘people’s peace’, a negotiated peace settlement to World War I, and she later moved into politics in 1920 as a Labour candidate, becoming one of Glasgow’s first woman councillors. She didn’t stop there; she was Chair of the Glasgow Women’s Welfare and Advisory Clinic where she worked with others to establish a clinic – manned only by women nurses and doctors – which became the first site offering advice on birth control in Scotland.
Throughout her career, Barbour worked relentlessly on behalf of the working-class people of her constituency, serving on numerous committees covering the provision of health and welfare services. There is now a statue paying homage to her at Govan Cross, Glasgow.
Wendy Mitchell (1956-present)
Sylvia Forshaw, OPAL
Currently creating Women’s History, Wendy Mitchell, is a blogger, author and activist who is breaking down barriers for people with a dementia diagnosis. She showed the first symptoms of dementia herself aged 56 while working as an NHS Manager and has been diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Post-diagnosis, Wendy was shocked by the lack of awareness, both in the community and clinical world, so she now campaigns relentlessly to raise awareness and encourage others to embrace her passion for research.
Wendy has written two books: Somebody I Used to Know (a Sunday Times bestseller) and What I Wish People Knew About Dementia; demonstrating how the diagnosis of dementia is not a clear line that a person crosses; they have an illness for which at the moment there is no cure, but they are still one of us. It is the stigma and the loneliness surrounding the disease makes it so difficult to endure.
Wendy now takes part in research, is part of the Three Nations Dementia Working Group, talks at conferences, is a “dementia blogger” offering advice, encouragement and hope to others; wherever she goes, she speaks out about the illness. Dementia “strips away your sense of value” and of having a place and purpose in the world, but talking about it, writing about it, facing the truth, has become her life’s work for as long as she is able to do it.