Ethel MacDonald

24 February 1909—1 December 1960

Anarchist & Activist

Ethel MacDonald was a Glasgow-based Scottish anarchist and activist and, in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, a propagandist on Barcelona Loyalist radio.

A native of North Lanarkshire, Ethel MacDonald, the fifth of nine children, left home at sixteen, joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and worked at various jobs. In 1925 she met Guy Aldred and, with him, became politically active in the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation (APCF). In 1933 she accepted his invitation to work as his secretary, and joined him in the June 1934 formation of the United Socialist Movement (USM).

In November 1936 MacDonald travelled to Barcelona with Guy Aldred's partner, Jenny Patrick, to represent and show the support of the Scottish anarchist movement for the Republican (Loyalist) side in the Spanish Civil War. In January 1937 she began to transmit regular English-language reports on the war on Barcelona's widely heard Anarchist radio station run by the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) [National Workers Confederation]. In the crackdown following the events of May 1937 she assisted the escape of anarchists wanted by the Communist secret police and smuggled into prison letters and food for fellow anarchists held by regional authorities. Through her activities in helping anarchists escape Spain, she became renowned in the British press as the "Scots Scarlet Pimpernel". Between July and November 1937, she was a national figure in the newspapers, with daily reports and inquiries as to her whereabouts and activities. Eventually she herself was arrested by a faction of the Loyalist forces, but later released. She returned to Glasgow that November, following speaking engagements in France and Amsterdam.

After her return from Spain, Ethel MacDonald worked closely with Guy Aldred, Jenny Patrick, John Taylor Caldwell and other Glasgow anarchists on a shoestring publishing enterprise, The Strickland Press, which published regular issues of the USM organ, The Word. They continued their activities through World War II and the 1950s peace movement, with MacDonald considered as the unofficial manager, bookkeeper and printer of the Strickland Press.

Ethel MacDonald was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in February 1958 and lost her ability to speak. Within three years she died in Glasgow's Knightswood Hospital at the age of 51.


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