Mary Brooksbank

15 December 1897 - 16 March 1978

 Revolutionary, Poet and Songwriter

Mary Brooksbank (nee Soutar) was born in Shiprow, Aberdeen. Mary was one of ten children of Sandy and Rosie Soutar. It was said that the Soutar family was effectively blacklisted in Dundee because of their trade union activities.

As well as being born into a slum, Mary was born blind but recovered her eye sight at 14 months. Aged 8, she and the family moved by boat from Aberdeen to Dundee. Despite her diminutive stature and alleged deafness, Mary's experience in the jute factories gave her a lifelong drive to improve the working conditions of her community, and she did this through her Communist convictions, her poetry and songs. She was an active spokesperson for the working class in general and the jute mill workers in particular.

Mary seems to have become a socialist during World War One and was arrested on several occasions (presumably for anti-war activities) and eventually sentenced for breach of the peace on Armistice Day to Perth jail in 1919 After her release, she founded the Working Women Guild to fight for better health and social services in Dundee, securing a membership of over 300. She also became active in the Women's Railway Guild (the women's section of the main railway workers union).

Ever active, in 1927 Mary was imprisoned again for heckling. In late 1931, a welcome home march of several hundred for Bob Stewart led to six, including Bob, being arrested, The working class of Dundee, incensed by his treatment, fought back for over a week, culminating on the 25th September 1931 with a huge demonstration being brutally baton charged by the police on horse back.

Along with the large band of dedicated Communists in Dundee, Mary was heavily involved, in October 1934, with the National Unemployed Workers Movement county march to Forfar, to lobby the County Council. Mary's later interest in Scottish nationalism lead her into conflict with the Communist Party, as did the manner of her condemnation of the excesses of Stalin, which lead to her expulsion from the Party.

A fragmented autobiography was started by Mary called No sae Lang Syne - a tale of this City (1971). Mary Brooksbank died 16th March 1978 (not 1980 as sometimes stated elsewhere) aged 82, and after her death a library was named after her. When the library was closed, a new premises, the Brooksbank Centre was named after her. Mary also had a song dedicated to her The Bawbee birlin, written by Michael Marra and Rod Paterson. Mary Brooksbank has become the first woman (and the first Communist) to be quoted on walls of Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament.

Music was an important aspect of Mary Brooksbank life. She played the violin and sang. When she gave up work in 1948 to look after her ailing mother, Mary Brooksbank also started writing poetry and lyrics in earnest. She was published for the first time in 1966. Her songs were political and included those about Dundee; life in the textile mills; women’s issues; major political events; and, historical and literary milestones.


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