A forgotten Newport heroine.
Margaret Haig Mackworth or Lady Rhondda was a remarkable woman who has sadly been largely forgotten in South Wales.
In her lifetime Margaret was indisputably one of the most influential women in the country. She played a crucial role in the suffrage movement, conquered the business world, survived the sinking of the Lusitania, orchestrated part of the War effort and even had the time to found Time and Tide magazine .
Her greatest achievement however was her ultimately successful plight to allow women to sit in the House of Lords. A feat that is now recognised with a portrait that hangs in the House.
So who was Lady Rhondda? Here’s a brief timeline of her impressive life.
Shortly after her marriage to Humphrey Makworth, Margaret took up the cause of Women’s Suffrage. She joined Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union and organised their first meeting at Newport, much to the disapproval of her fox-hunting husband.
Margaret ran the full gamut of suffrage activities. She organized public meetings, inviting down great speakers, and she herself spoke from public platforms on many occasions, often to hostile audiences.
During the general election of 1910, following the militant policy of harassing cabinet ministers, she broke through a police cordon and jumped on to the running board of Prime Minister Asquith's car.
In July 1913 Margaret was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to blow up a letter box with a home-made bomb. The letter box can still be found on Risca road in Newport. On being sentenced she refused to be bailed out by her husband, she went on hunger-strike and was eventually released after five days without food.
Surprisingly for a woman of the time Margaret was heavily involved in her father’s many businesses, at her peak she was a director of thirty three companies in an assortment of industries varying from newspapers to coal.
Her finesse in bargaining and selling saw her and her father sent to the United States during the First World War to oversee the purchase of munitions. On their return they were aboard the infamous Lusitania when it was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. They were incredibly lucky to have survived.
This near death experience did not quell Margaret but spurred her onwards. Following the Lusitania she was appointed as commissioner of women's national service in Wales, as controller of women's recruiting and, before the war ended, to the Women's Advisory Council of the Ministry of Reconstruction, which was concerned with issues on which she felt strongly.
She was committed to the idea that women should remain an integral part of the post-war workforce, and to that end she set up the Women's Industrial League in 1918 to campaign for the rights of women workers.
When Europe was at peace she fulfilled her life ambition and founded a magazine in 1920. Time and Tide magazine was amongst other things a great platform to launch her feminist vision. In 1921 she launched the Six Point Group, which focused on what she regarded as the six key issues for women (mainly relating to child custody, equal pay, and equal opportunities); and in 1926, along with other feminists, she set up the Open Door Council to campaign against ‘protective’ legislation for women. Time and Tide also provided an outlet for major writers such as George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence.
Her father died in July 1918 and, having no male heir, Margaret inherited his property, his commercial interests and his Viscount title. Lady Rhondda demanded that she be allowed to take her seat in the House of Lords, what she regarded as ‘the last feudal assembly in Europe’ But although in 1922 she seemed to have won, when the committee of privileges accepted her plea for admission, the decision was reversed in May 1922 after a remarkable piece of skulduggery by the lord chancellor, F. E. Smith. Her campaign to enter the Lords was based less on a desire for any personal aggrandizement than on the sense of obligation she felt to the feminist cause to pursue discrimination wherever she encountered it and to promote the cause of equal rights.
She fought for the rights of women throughout her life. Less than a month after Lady Rhondda's death in 1958, women entered the Lords for the first time thanks to the Life Peerages Act 1958; five years later, with the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, hereditary peeresses were also allowed to enter the Lords.
Lady Rhondda was an incredible woman who never forgot her Welsh roots. She was president of the University College of Wales, Cardiff, from 1950 to 1955 and was awarded the honorary degree of doctor of law in 1955.
She is fully deserved of a portrait in the House of Lords and I believe deserved of more recognition in our history.