Margaret Hardinge Irwin

13th January 1858 – 21th January 1940

Major pioneer in women's involvement in workplace improvements and in founding the Scottish TUC

Margaret Hardinge Irwin, was born aboard the sailing barque 'Lord Hardinge' (from where she received her middle name). She was the only child of Master Mariner James Irwin and Margaret Cappon, of 3 Pine Terrace, 15 Brook Street, Broughty Ferry, Dundee.

She was educated privately and at Dundee High School and became a student at Dundee University College, part of St Andrews University.  She won a Guthrie Scholarship from St Andrews in 1880 and was awarded the 'lady literate in arts' (LLA) qualification. She went on to take part in University Settlement activities in Glasgow. She later attributed her social awareness to economics lectures she had taken as a student.

In 1891 Margaret was appointed full time organiser for the Women's Protective and Provident League. She became active in campaigns to investigate the conditions of women workers in Scotland and to recruit them into Trade Union organisations. By 1892 she was Scottish Organiser of the Women's Trade Union League and later the same year was appointed a Lady Assistant Commissioner by the Royal Commission on Labour, specifically to focus on working women, one of the first four women ever to be given such a role.

At this time, she was commissioned to write a number of influencial reports including; Women's Industries in Scotland (1896),  Home Work amongst Women and Women's Work in Tailoring and Dressmaking (1900).

In the same year that the TUC expelled Trades Councils, 1895, she became the Secretary of the Scottish Council for Women's Trades, which she led for 44 years. One of the results of the expulsion was the initiative of a number of Trades Councils in Scotland to form a Scottish TUC. Prior to the inaugural STUC Congress, Margaret worked to help draft its first standing orders and is widely regarded as being instrumental in the whole founding process of the STUC.

At their first Congress in 1897, Margaret was elected top of the ballot and appointed Secretary to the STUC's Parliamentary Committee, the forerunner of the General Council. On the final day of the Congress, which ran from 25th to 27th March, Margaret called for; "a direct voice in the making of the laws which so seriously affect them, by extending the parliamentary franchise to women on the same footing as men". She attended Congress a number of times between 1897 and 1910, as a delegate for the Scottish Council for Women's Trades, where she agitated for structures that both reached out to, and articulated, the views of women Trade Unionists. This pioneered the road that led to the creation, in 1926, of what would later become the STUC Women's Committee.

In 1902 she was on the first Executive Committee of the Glasgow & West of Scotland Association for Women's Suffrage and in 1907 represented it in meetings with the Women's Social & Political Union over arrangements for their huge 1909 procession in Edinburgh.

She later became involved in the Women's Freedom League and in 1903 was a witness before the Glasgow Municipal Commission on the Housing of the Poor. After WWI she was active in the Glasgow Women Citizen's Association and the Glasgow branch of the National Council of Women.

Margaret was awarded a C.B.E in 1927 and was made a FRSA. She died 21st January 1940 at her home at 61 Kersland Street, Hillhead, Glasgow.


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