IWD Collection: Lady Rhondda by Lara Stace
Margaret Haig Thomas, also known as Lady Rhondda: feminist, suffragette, businesswoman, journalist, and all-round inspiration. With roots in South Wales, Lady Rhondda came to boast a wonderfully full, radical and progressive life.
Lady Rhondda’s firmly held principles, of equal-rights feminism, ran through her life’s work. As a suffragette, Lady Rhondda jumped onto the car of then Prime Minister Asquith, set fire to a post box, and went on hunger strike in prison. She brought Emmeline Pankhurst to Wales, and set up and led the suffrage campaign in Newport.
In May 1920, Lady Rhondda established the ground-breaking Time and Tide magazine. It was the only woman-produced publication of its kind, which covered politics, social issues, literature and the arts, and featured work by authors including Virginia Woolf and George Orwell.
The daughter of Liberal MP and businessman, David Alfred Thomas, she was employed in his business, a conglomerate of coal, shipping and publishing interests. Here, Lady Rhondda played a leading role, taking control when her father went abroad. She came to sit on the board of 33 companies, chairing seven, and became the first female President of the Institute of Directors.
During the First World War, Lady Rhondda was heavily involved in the recruitment and treatment of female workers. In 1917 she became the commissioner of Women’s National Service for Wales and Monmouthshire, responsible for recruiting women to work in agriculture. Then, in 1918, she took up the role of Chief Controller of women’s recruitment in the Ministry of National Service.
Lady Rhondda, although she inherited the peerage from her father, never sat in the House of Lords because women peers in their own right were not entitled to sit and vote. In 1920 she petitioned against this and the case was found in her favour by the Committee for Privileges. However, the Lord Chancellor opposed the admission of women to the House of Lords and re-constituted an enlarged Committee for Privileges, which reversed its original decision. Lady Rhondda did live to see the passage of the Life Peerages Act in 1958, but died before the first women took their seats as life peers.
If you want to understand Lady Rhondda’s legacy, it is visible each time we go to work, cast a ballot and protest our rights. No one person is responsible for an entire tide of change, but Lady Rhondda’s remarkable contribution currently goes unmarked. She needs to commemorated with an emblem which best fits her achievements – a statue, to remind us of the struggle needed for women to take their rightful place in society and inspire further progress.
The Monumental Welsh Women campaign wants to recognise the contribution of women to the history and life of Wales, and Lady Rhondda is among the five women it seeks to commemorate. The campaign has set up a Go Fund Me to raise the £75,000 needed, of which it has raised over half. If you are able, consider it among the many worthwhile campaigns to support when marking International Women’s Day.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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