Commemorative Mary Barbour statue unveiled on International Women’s Day

Mary Barbour

A statue of political activist Mary Barbour has been unveiled in Govan today to mark International Women’s Day.

Mary Barbour was a leading campaigner during rent strikes in 1915 that led to a change in government legislation, prohibiting unscrupulous landlords from raising rents and evicting residents who couldn’t afford to pay.

The activists led months of protests which culminated in a large demonstration outside Glasgow Sheriff Court and the city chambers.

Within a month munitions minister Lloyd George changed the law to reduce rents to pre-war levels across the UK.

The mobilisation of ‘Barbour’s Army’ saw thousands of women march alongside shipyard and engineering workers to protest at the prosecution in Glasgow’s small debt court of 18 tenants for non-payment of a rent increase.

The campaign attracted ministerial intervention, the cases were dismissed and the Rent Restriction Act was enacted, heralding a change in Glasgow’s housing system.

Campaigner Anna Stuart receiving the inaugural Mary Barbour Award from Lord Provost Sadie Docherty in 2016.

Barbour went on to maintain her vision and determination to deliver better policies for women and children across the city.

At the 1920 local elections she and four other women were the first women elected to Glasgow Corporation.

In 1924 Mary Barbour marked other milestones for women in public office when she became both a Bailie and ‘the first fully fledged woman magistrate of the City of Glasgow’. More controversially she was a leading mover in establishing Glasgow’s first birth control clinic to give advice to married women on family planning.

In 1931 she stood down as a councillor at the age of 56 stating that she felt ‘the difficulties ahead required young and strenuous fighters’.

When she died in 1958 her obituary in the Govan Press said that ‘there was never a more revered and loved local leader than she was in the heyday of her active life’.

In particular, her role in the 1915 rent strike ensures that she continues to inspire today.

2017 Mary Barbour Award winner Sadie Gordon (left) with Anna Stuart

Sixty years after her death, Andrew Brown’s sculpture of rent strikers led by Mary Barbour captures the remarkable events of November 1915.

The Remember Mary Barbour Association (RMBA) led the fundraising efforts with Parkhead Housing Association, Linthouse Housing Association, Elderpark Housing Association and ng homes among the organisations to have assisted the campaign.

In 2016 Parkhead Housing Association launched an inaugural award which recognises the contribution women who follow in the footsteps of Mary Barbour.

Housing activist Anna Stuart, who founded the Castlemilk East Housing Co-operative in 1984, was crowned the first recipient of the Mary Barbour Award with Sadie Gordon, vice chair of Queens Cross Housing Association, winning the award last year.

Rutherglen and Cambuslang Housing Association founder Geraldine Baird MBE (tartan skirt) joins activists at the statue unveiling

Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Mary Barbour is a hero to many and completely deserves this accolade. She inspired a community and ultimately a Prime Minister to take the action she and her followers wanted to stave-off crippling rent increases on tenants in wartime Glasgow.

“I hope this statue helps to keep the story of her achievements alive and acts as an inspiration to future generations to take action against housing injustice in their communities.”

Share icon
Share this article: