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Posts Tagged ‘1900s’

On my research travels I am picking up those events which are ‘1sts’ for Aberdeen. Whether these events were 1st in Scotland or even Britain is another case. Aberdeen was usually late to the party…

  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the city council: 1884, G. Macconnochie and J. Forbes
  • British Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1884
  • Women delegates on Aberdeen Trades Union Council: 1884, Jemima Moir and Mrs Slessor representing the Work-women’s Protective and Benefit Society
  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the school board: 1885
  • Socialist publishing press: 1889, James Leatham
  • May Day march: 1890
  • Anarchist group: 1891, Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, later named Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group
  • Aberdeen South Labour General Election candidate (as Scottish United Trades Councils Labour Party): 1892, Henry Hyde Champion
  • Aberdeen North Labour General Election candidate (as Independent Labour): 1895, John Lincoln Mahon
  • Social Democratic Federation councillor: 1895, William Cooper, Woodside
  • Independent Labour Party General Election candidate: 1896, Tom Mann, Aberdeen North
  • Scottish Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1898
  • President of Scottish Trade Union Congress: 1898, John Keir, President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council
  • Social Democratic Federation General Election candidate: 1906, Tom Kennedy, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen North): 1918, Frank Rose
  • Communist Party General Election candidate: 1928, Aitken Ferguson, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party majority on the city council: 1945
  • Communist Party councillor: 1945, St Clement’s ward, Tom Baxter (although there had been a self proclaimed Bolsehevist, Arthur Fraser Macintosh, in Torry in 1919)
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen South): 1966, Donald Dewar
  • Officer of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (General Secretary/Deputy General Secretary): 1969 – 1975 and 1975 – 1986, James Milne, former President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council, first as Deputy then as General Secretary.

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The research for this blog is highlighting the existence of groups, yet how many members did these groups have? With the lack of archives, evidence is unfortunately fragmentary, and so numbers of active members needs to taken with a pinch of salt it has to be said. Yet, even with the lack of evidence, it is clear that they often had a loud voice and influence on matters, despite their low numbers.

I have been collecting the numbers of members, so far I have:

Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group (1891 – mid/late 1890s)

100 (source: newspaper report (Dundee Courier) of the 3rd Conference of Scottish Anarchists in Aberdeen in January 1895)

Aberdeen Clarion Club (1899 – 1909)

60 (source: club minute book at formation in 1899)

Aberdeen Socialist Club (1909 – 1916?)

50 (source: newspaper report (Aberdeen Daily Journal) on the opening of the new club rooms, June 1909)

Aberdeen Socialist Society (c.1891 – c.1896)

c.120, yet the real number is probably a good deal lower, as presumably some individuals would have been attending as partners or guests of members (source: newspaper report (Aberdeen Daily Journal) on the annual social meeting in 1891). Another source states 30 (source: Aberdeen Labour Elector, 17th August 1893)

National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Aberdeen) (c.1900 – c.1919) (Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Association)

60/70 (source: Aberdeen branch report, noted in The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005)

Women’s Liberation Group (c. 1969 – c. 1979)

c.20 (source: group newsletter ‘Bust-Up’ from the early 1970s.

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A group mentioned in a press report about May Day in 1905. There were Marxian clubs in the rest of Britain around this time, often hosting speakers from the Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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The League was formed nationally in November 1907 after a split from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The split was led by full time organiser Teresa Billington-Greig and Charlotte Despard, who along with many others were concerned about the control the Pankhurst family had over the Union and its local branches. There was also disagreement about the militant actions of the WSPU and the new League favoured non-violent forms of dissent such as non-payment of taxes and refusing to take part in the national census.

The branch in Aberdeen was established following a meeting in May 1908 with activists Teresa Billington-Greig, Amy Saunderson (from Forfar) and Aberdeen socialist Christian Farquharson-Kennedy. It was Kennedy who would become the new branch President, with Miss Third (Vice-President), Miss Scott (Secretary), Lily Lippett (Treasurer) and Miss McLeod (Literature Secretary).

The Aberdeen branch was still operational in 1918. The national organisation was still active as a pressure group until 1961.

Related entries: Women’s Social and Political Union and Christian Farquharson-Kennedy

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London., 2001), The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006), A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland (Leah Leneman, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1991) and Bajanellas and Semilinas: Aberdeen University and the Education of Women 1860 – 1920 (Lindy Moore, Aberdeen University Press, 1991), The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005) and Caroline Phillips: Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist (Sarah Pederson, Aberdeen, 2018).

Sources: Archives of the national body are held at the Women’s Library, London School of Economics.

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The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed nationally in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Adela, Christabel and Sylvia. The WSPU, in comparison to the moral force of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, soon adopted direct action (the Union motto became ‘Deeds not Words’), as their main tactic. Members became known as suffragettes as opposed to the older term which was suffragists.

An Aberdeen branch was formed in the spring of 1907 with Lady Ramsay (wife of Sir William Ramsay, University of Aberdeen Professor of Humanity) as President and Caroline Philipps, journalist with the Aberdeen Daily Journal, as Secretary. The branch headquarters were at 41 ½ Union Street (Crown Mansions). Another interesting connection is that when the Pankhurts and other activists visited Aberdeen, they were hosted by Rev. Alexander Webster, veteran of the socialist movement of the 1880s. It was Rev. Webster as well, who in 1908, during a rather raucous visit by Herbert Asquith as part his University of Aberdeen rectorial installation, spoke in support of Emmeline Pankhurst as she tried to move a motion on women’s suffrage.

Aberdeen for a brief while became notable in the votes for women campaign, and was often visited by member of the Pankhurst family and activists from Edinburgh/Glasgow and London. There were a few reasons for this: firstly, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire was a traditional Liberal heartland and after the Liberals took power nationally in 1906 the WSPU campaign was directed squarely towards the party, secondly, the 1907 South Aberdeen by-election which occurred after the sitting Liberal M.P. vacated his seat thereby triggering an election campaign and thirdly, the 1908 campaign for the University of Aberdeen Rectorship which saw opponent of woman’s suffrage, the Liberal Herbert Asquith, nominated.

Direct actions undertaken in the name of the suffragettes included pouring corrosive liquid into letter boxes, putting letter boxes on fire, smashing windows, and in the specific case of Aberdeen, replacing the flags on Balmoral golf course with WSPU colours and cutting the words ‘Release Mrs Pankhurst’ in 12 foot high lettering in the turf in Duthie Park (this last action was apparently undertaken by male medical students). Aberdeen Train Station was also the scene of a whipping incident in December 1912 when Emily Wilding Davison (later to be killed under the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913), came up from London to protest against Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George who was speaking in Aberdeen. Davison mistook an elderly Baptist Minister for Lloyd George, and whipped him across the face.

The WSPU based in London required militant campaigning. The Aberdeen branch did not appear willing or able to comply with this and Honorary Secretary Caroline Phillips was ousted in January 1909 by the arrival from WSPU in London of Sylvia Pankhurst and activist Ada Flatman. The local branch was now essentially directed by the central office in London and managed by a series of organisers dispatched north.

The national WSPU suffered a major split in 1907, when many of its leaders and members left in protest at the Pankhurst family autocracy and militant tactics, to form the Women’s Freedom League. More splits followed, with Sylvia Pankhurst expelled in 1914, and eventually in 1917 the organisation was eventually disbanded.

Related entries: Women’s Freedom League (Aberdeen) and Rev. Alexander Webster.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2001), The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006), A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland (Leah Leneman, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1991), Bajanellas and Semilinas: Aberdeen University and the Education of Women 1860 – 1920 (Lindy Moore, Aberdeen University Press, 1991), The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005) and Caroline Phillips: Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist (Sarah Pederson, Aberdeen, 2018).

Sources: Correspondence of Caroline Philipps (Watt Collection) is held at Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums. Archives relating to the national body are held at the Women’s Library, London School of Economics.

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The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed in 1897 as an umbrella organisation for all the suffrage societies in England, Scotland, and Ireland. It formed from fellow organisations which had previously been a part of the earlier National Society for Women’s Suffrage (formed in 1867), and which had split in the intervening years. The leading light was Millicent Garrett Fawcett (sister of pioneering woman doctor Elizabeth Garret Anderson).

An Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Association (with around 60 and 70 members) was active in around 1900 (and was a continuation of the earlier National Society for Women’s Suffrage branch), but did not actually affiliate to the National Union until 1905 (Edinburgh and Glasgow affiliated a couple of years before). As well as the usual activities of meetings and campaigning, the group was active in trying to get more women elected to the School Board. The President was Mrs Trail (a veteran of the earlier National Society Branch), Vice-President was Mrs Clegg and Honorary and Secretary/Treasurer was Miss H.E.G. Smith. Later secretaries included: LM Murray (1909), Dorothy Tait (1910) and Mrs Firth (1913) and a later President, from 1908, was pioneer of female education, Louisa Innes Lumsden. The branch headquarters (1913) was 214 Union Street. Like the national Union, many supporters were also part of the Women’s Liberal Associations, and Aberdeen was no different, with Aberdeen liberals such as the Mrs Black (President) and Mrs Allan (Honorary Secretary) active members. The Suffrage Association also had variants of their name – Aberdeen Association for Women’s Suffrage (Non-Militant) and then another variant (Law-Abiding).

At a national level, in 1919, the NUWSS renamed itself as the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship.

Related entries: National Society for Women’s Suffrage (Aberdeen).

References: Aberdeen Journal/Aberdeen Daily Journal, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2001), The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006), A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland (Leah Leneman, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1991) and Bajanellas and Semilinas: Aberdeen University and the Education of Women 1860 – 1920 (Lindy Moore, Aberdeen University Press, 1991), The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005) and Caroline Phillips: Aberdeen Suffragette and Journalist (Sarah Pederson, Aberdeen, 2018).

Sources: Archives of the national body are held at the Women’s Library, London School of Economics.

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William Leslie was born in Elgin and his father Alexander was a shoemaker. Prior to World War One, from 1908 – 1913, he was a professional footballer playing for Elgin City and Manchester City. He was a carpenter by trade, later becoming an active trade unionist in the Elgin area.

During World War One he was a conscientious objector appearing before a Military Service Tribunal in July 1916. He left Elgin for Glasgow in September 1916, presumably driven out for his anti-militarist views and for not signing up for non-combatant work. He went to Glasgow in 1917, working in John Brown’s shipyard, and it is possible he was then imprisoned for ignoring the decision of the tribunal.

Leslie was a member of the Independent Labour Party, No-Conscription Fellowship, Socialist Labour Party (from September 1918 until September 1919) and then he was one of the founders of the Aberdeen Communist Group in September 1919. He was also actively involved in the ‘Hands of Russia’ campaign in Aberdeen, co-ordinated by Aberdeen Trades Council.

In July 1920 Leslie set off for Moscow, via Finland and Petrograd, as a stowaway and without a passport, to attend the Third Comintern Congress. He declared himself to be a British delegate of the British Communist Party, along with Sylvia Pankhurst. It is not clear though whether he was in fact an ‘official’ delegate, like Pankhurst.

He left to return to Scotland via Norway but was arrested and imprisoned. After a hunger strike, he made it back to Scotland, and in November 1920 spoke to an audience about his adventures at the Aberdeen Picturedrome.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Group, Aberdeen Communist Party and Socialist Labour Party.

References: Conscientious Objectors Register 1914 – 1918 at Imperial War Museum website, ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001) and Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Sources: Letters from Leslie are housed in Moscow in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History.

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