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Chartist Ancestors
What did your family do in the revolution?

Millions signed the three great Chartist petitions of 1839 to 1848. Thousands were active in those years in the campaign to win the vote, secret ballots, and other democratic rights that we now take for granted.

Chartist Ancestors lists many of those who risked their freedom, and sometimes their lives, because of their participation in the Chartist cause. The names included on the site are drawn from newspapers, court records and books of the time, from later histories and other sources.

I would like to thank the many historians, researchers and the descendents of those associated with Chartism who have helped with this site since it was launched in 2003.

Mark Crail, Editor


History research toolkit
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Chartist timeline - 1836-60

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© Mark Crail

Chartist lives
Women Chartists in Scotland

This page briefly outlines the political activities in which Chartist women took part, examines the extent of Female Chartist Associations in Scotland, and lists women known to have participated in Scottish Chartism

Women played a significant part in Chartism. The Chartist movement was renowned for its social life, and within the family there was much over which women had control – for example, in the way children were cared for and brought up – which helped to define the politics of Chartism.

However, women were also highly visible, at least in the early years of Chartism, in public politics, in Scotland as in England and Wales. Jump to list of Women Chartists in Scotland.

There are few histories of the Chartist movement in Scotland and there has been no major book on the subject in nearly 40 years; histories of women's involvement in Chartism are fewer still, and it is only in recent years that historians have paid any attention to this topic in general Chartist histories.

Nevertheless, there were at least 23 Female Chartist Associations in Scotland at one time or another between 1838 and 1852 (see map), and this undoubtedly understates women's involvement as membership of the National Charter Association, set up in 1840, was open to men and women alike.

In addition to setting up and running these organisations, women:

* collected money for Chartist funds, collected signatures for petitions both on directly Chartist concerns and on wider issues, for example in opposition to the New Poor Law;
* organised and attended soirees and other social events which combined entertainment and political speeches;
* attended rallies either as individuals or as delegations from female suffrage organisations, and were often asked to make presentations to famous speakers;
* were found in the pews of Chartist churches;
* took part in strikes;
* were involved in rioting, for example during the general strike of 1842 and following the Bradford rising of 1848;
* joined the Chartist Land Company as individuals; and
* contributed to the Chartist press (one of the most noteworthy contributors to the Red Republican being Helen Macfarlane, who provided the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto) and in a handful of known cases became Chartist lecturers.

Many also signed the great national Chartist petitions. Although there is no authoritative record of the number of women signing the first petition in 1839, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Carlisle and Wednesdbury, the proportion was as high as 20%.

Little is known specifically about Scottish Female Chartist Associations, but Jutta Schwarzkopf in her book on Women in the Chartist Movement (St Martin's Press, 1991) outlines what is known of the organisation of such associations more generally.

FCAs had a committee consisting of a president , chairwoman (a term used by Chartists), secretary and treasurer. They held weekly meetings, sometimes at a member's house or Chartist meeting rooms, to enrol members, discuss national and local issues and activities, and to pass resolutions.

Additionally, general meetings were held, sometimes jointly with the Working Men's Association, which were open to non-members and where the tenets of Chartism could be explained and guest speakers heard. FCAs routinely took part in Chartist demonstrations with their own banners.

Some FCAs could be substantial organisations. A group of female radicals founded at Kirriemuir was reported by the True Scotsman newspaper (22 December, 1838) to have 330 members, while the FCA at Hawick had 168 (True Scotsman, 9 March, 1839). Continued...

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If it is difficult to find information on women's activities collectively in Scottish Chartism, then finding out about individual Chartist women can be harder still.

All too often, newspapers reported male speakers (and even chairs) at female Chartist association events but failed to name a single woman. Where women are named, a first name is seldom recorded - making it difficult to confirm their identity from other sources or to be sure whether a "Mrs Smith" speaking at two events is the same individual.

Even so, a substantial start on the work of identifying women Chartists in Scotland has been made by Sue John. The results of her trawl through newspapers and other sources are shown in the table below.

Women Chartists in Scotland
This table was compiled by Sue John, and is reproduced here with her kind permission. Email Sue John.

Surname

First name or initial

Organisation

Area

Source

Comments

Aitken
(Miss)

 

 

Glasgow

Jones, David, (1983), “Women and Chartism”, History: the Journal of the Historical Association , Vol. 68 No. 224, p.19

Provided the reading at a soiree held at the Glasgow Chartist Church

Angus
(Mrs)

 

 

Female Radical Association

Aberdeen

The True Scotsman , 11th May 1839

Spoke at the meeting of Female Radical Association, held on 29th April 1839 at the Temperance Hotel, Aberdeen

Barclay (Mrs)

 

Female Political Union

Montrose

The True Scotsman , 30th March 1839

Chairwoman of the FPU, letter published in The True Scotsman

Collie

(Mrs)

 

 

Dunfermline

Scots Times , 11th November 1840

Addressed a ‘physical-force' meeting in honour of White, Collins et al, delivered a speech and sang. Interpreted as an incitement

Colville (Mrs)

 

Female Political Union

Kirriemuir

The True Scotsman , 16th February 1839

Chaired a ‘soiree'

Cullen
(Mrs)

 

Female Chartist Association

Gorbals

The True Scotsman , 3rd October 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800

Donald
(Mrs)

 

Female Radical Association

Paisley

Paisley Advertiser. 4 May 1839

Information from Dr Malcolm Chase, Reader in Labour History, University of Leeds

 

Nominated for FRA presidency and elected

400 women present

Edwards (Miss)

M.

Female Radical Association

Aberdeen

The True Scotsman , 11th May 1839

Chairwoman of the FRA

Erskine
(Mrs)

 

Female Chartist Association

Gorbals

The True Scotsman , 3rd October 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800

Findlay (Miss)

M.

Female Radical Association

Aberdeen

The True Scotsman , 11th May 1839

Secretary. Spoke at the meeting of Female Radical Association, held on 29th April 1839 at the Temperance Hotel, Aberdeen

Fraser
(Misses)

 

 

Edinburgh

Briggs, Asa, (ed), (1967), Chartist Studies. London , Macmillan

The True Scotsman , 2nd May 1840, 30th May 1840, 27th March 1841

Daughters of John Fraser, radical and Chartist. The ‘Misses Fraser' sang at musical lectures given by their father, regularly reviewed by the Chartist press

Graham (Miss)

Mary

Female Chartist Association

Gorbals

The True Scotsman, 3rd October 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800

 

Gunn

Isabel

Female Radical Association

Bridgeton

The True Scotsman, 29 th June 1839

Referred to as their ‘indefatigable, virtuous and intelligent chairwoman' at a meeting on 17th June 1839

 

Hardie (Mrs)

 

Female Political Union

St, Ninians, Stirling

The True Scotsman , 2nd February 1839

 

Secretary

Hay
(Miss)

C.

Female Radical Association

Sinclairtown

The True Scotsman , 9th March 1839

Addressed a meeting, aged17, introduced as one ‘who eats, or rather earns, her bread by the sweat of her brow'. Born c.1822

 

Henderson
(Mrs)

 

 

Kirkcaldy

Scots Times, 11th November 1840

Presented richly embroidered silk scarves to Mr Collins and Mr Lovell on behalf of the females of Kirkcaldy, 1,000 people attending

 

Horne
(Miss)

Ann

 

Alloa

Scots Times , 11th November 1840

 

Presented a tartan plaid to Mrs Collins

Hunter

Elizabeth

 

Clackmannan

Wright, Leslie C., (1953), Scottish Chartism. Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd Ltd.p.148

A collier, imprisoned for 6 months for her role in instigating and leading disturbances in Clackmannan. Related to James Hunter, whose arrest led to these disturbances

 

Johnston
(Miss)

M.

 

Female Radical Association

Aberdeen

The True Scotsman, 11th May 1839

Chaired and spoke at the meeting of Female Radical Association, held on 29th April 1839 at the Temperance Hotel, Aberdeen

 

Legge
(Mrs)

 

 

Aberdeen

The Voice of Radicalism (University of Aberdeen)

Mrs Legge led a small group of female Chartists who wanted votes for all adults, and not just for men. Wife of James Legge, stonemason, first chairman of the Aberdeen Charter Union

 


Lennox
(Miss)

Agnes

Female Chartist Association/ Female Universal Suffrage Association

Gorbals

Glasgow Constitutional , 20th November 1839; Scottish Patriot, 14th and 21st December 1839; 11th and 27th January 1840; 2nd May 1840

Chairwoman of the Gorbals FCA. Denounced as ‘Miss Impudence' and ‘a Brazen-faced Jade' in the Glasgow Constitutional.

In the Scottish Patriot, she was praised and reported as chairing meetings, signing petitions and singing the Chartist song of liberty. See Ewan, Elizabeth, Innes, Sue and Reynolds, Sian , (eds) (2006), The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women: From the Earliest Times to 2004. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press

Lennox
(Miss)

Helen

Female Chartist Association

Gorbals

The True Scotsman , 3rd October 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800

Lindsay (Miss)

 

Female Chartist Association

Calton and Mile End

The True Scotsman , 3rd October 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800

McDonald
(Miss)

 

 

Glasgow

Jones, David, (1983), “Women and Chartism”, History: the Journal of the Historical Association , Vol. 68 No. 224, p.19

Provided the songs at a soiree held at the Glasgow Chartist Church

McHutchen
(Miss)

Helen

 

Alloa

Scots Times , 11 th November 1840

Presented a tartan plaid to Mr George White

 

McKay
(Miss)

 

Female Chartist Association

Calton and Mile End

Scots Times , 30th December 1840

Address delivered on 9th December 1840

McNicol
(Mrs)

 

Female Radical Association

Paisley

Paisley Advertiser. 4 May 1839

Information from Dr Malcolm Chase, Reader in Labour History, University of Leeds

Nominated for FRA presidency

400 women present

McWhirter
(Miss)

 

 

Kirkcaldy

Scots Times, 11th November 1840

Presented a richly embroidered silk scarf to Mr White on behalf of the females of Kirkcaldy, 1,000 people attending

Morrison

Jane

Female Political Union

Kirriemuir

The True Scotsman, 22 December 1838

Chaired the first meeting, with 330 members attending

Muir
(Miss)

 

Female Chartist Association

Calton and Mile End

The True Scotsman , 3rd October 1840

Scots Times , 18th November 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800

Long speech delivered on 11th November 1840

Ogilvie (Mrs)

 

Female Radical Association

Aberdeen

The True Scotsman , 11th May 1839

Treasurer of the FRA

Pawson

Ann

FCA (?)

Alva

Scottish Patriot, 20 July 1839

Information from Dr Malcolm Chase, Reader in Labour History, University of Leeds

Secretary

Signed congratulatory address to Dr John Taylor

Robertson
(Miss)

Margaret

Female Political Union

Montrose

The True Scotsman , 30th March 1839

Treasurer

Ross
(Miss)

 

Female Chartist Association,

Gorbals

The True Scotsman, 3rd October 1840

Represented a deputation to a ‘soiree' in honour of Collins, McDouall and White in Glasgow, held at the Chartist Christian Church on 21st September 1840, with a crowd of 1,800. Daughter of George Ross, Treasurer of the Universal Suffrage Central Committee for Scotland, 1839-1842

Shields
(Mrs)

 

Female Radical Association

Paisley

Paisley Advertiser . 4 May 1839

Information from Dr Malcolm Chase, Reader in Labour History, University of Leeds

Nominated for FRA presidency

400 women present

Smith

Catherine

 

Clackmannan

Wright, Leslie C., (1953), Scottish Chartism . Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd Ltd. p.148

A collier, imprisoned for 6 months for her role in instigating and leading disturbances in Clackmannan

Smith
(Mrs)

W.

Female Political Union

Kilmarnock

The True Scotsman , 20th April 1839

President

Thompson
(Miss)

Elizabeth

 

Alloa

Scots Times , 11th November 1840

Presented a tartan plaid to Mr Abram Duncan

Thomson
(Miss)

Jessie

 

Markinch

Scots Times , 11th November 1840

Presented a silk handkerchief and pair of gloves to Mr John Collins on behalf of the females of Rothes Paper Mills

Watson
(Mrs)

 

 

Edinburgh

Jones, David, (1983), “Women and Chartism”, History: the Journal of the Historical Association , Vol. 68 No. 224

Known as one of the keenest fundraisers for the Chartist cause

Watson
(Miss)

Mary

 

Alloa

Scots Times , 11th November 1840

Presented a tartan plaid to Mr John Collins

Watts
(Mrs)

 

FCA (?)

Alva

Scottish Patriot, 20 July 1839

Information from Dr Malcolm Chase, Reader in Labour History, University of Leeds

Chairwoman

Signed congratulatory address to Dr John Taylor

Wife of Charles Watts

Wilson
(Mrs)

 

 

Markinch

Scots Times, 11th November 1840

Presented a silk handkerchief and pair of gloves to Mr White on behalf of the females of Balgonie Bleachfield

Yuill

Helen

 

Clackmannan

Wright, Leslie C., (1953), Scottish Chartism . Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd Ltd. p.148

A collier, imprisoned for 8 months for her role in instigating and leading disturbances in Clackmannan

More about Chartism in Scotland on this website
Scottish delegate conference, 1839
Scottish convention, 1842
Scottish Chartists - biographical details

More maps showing Chartism in Scotland
Chartist Associations in Scotland
Female Chartist Associations, Chartist Churches and Chartist Co-operative Societies

Find out more about Chartism on this website, or browse the Chartist Ancestors Bookshop.


 

 

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