Public Service – Eunice Guthrie Murray MBE

Eunice Guthrie Murray MBE – Suffragist, Political Activist, Historian, Author and first woman to stand in a parliamentary election in Scotland

Eunice Guthrie Murray was born on the 21st January 1878 at Moore Park, Cardross, the youngest daughter of three to David Murray, a Glasgow lawyer (who with David Maclay and John Spens founded the Glasgow law firm Maclay Murray and Spens), and Frances Porter Stoddard, the daughter of an American family living in Port Glasgow.

She was educated at St Leonard’s School, St Andrews and in the late nineteenth century Eunice Murray became involved in philanthropic activities. She was active in the local branch of the League of Pity, volunteered regularly at a local settlement, and was an advocate for temperance. On 9 November 1896 she recorded reading about the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, commenting: ‘I should like to join such a society for the question of the emancipation of my sex is a stirring one and leads to vital matters’.

Along with her mother and her sister, Sylvia Murray, she joined the Women’s Freedom League. The WFL had a strong presence in Scotland, and from 1909 onwards Murray was the secretary for ‘scattered members’—all those who did not live in Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Dundee. Eunice was one of the three Scottish members on the WFL’s national executive committee and in 1913 was described as president for Scotland of the WFL.

It was hardly surprising that Eunice would become politically actively involved in woman’s rights, given the influence of her parents. Eunice’s father David had himself been an active campaigner on feminist issues, helping to found the Glasgow Ladies Higher Education Association in 1876.

It was during the late 1860s that Scotland’s first Suffrage groups appeared. Suffragists demanded justice and equality for all women, using legal tactics to try to win support by discussion and debate. They sent petitions to Parliament, wrote letters to MPs, distributed leaflets and organised meetings. During this period, Eunice wrote several suffrage leaflets including The Illogical Sex, Prejudices Old and Liberal Cant, all of which were published by the Scottish Council of the Woman’s Freedom League.

The Scottish Suffragettes movement became more militant during the early 1900’s, as a result of frustration at the lack of votes for woman, and direct action included chaining themselves to railings, and setting fire to important buildings such as Leuchars Railway Station, Ayr Racecourse and the Whitekirk in East Lothian.

In 1917, Eunice was herself arrested for obstruction after attempting to address a meeting near Downing Street, following her return from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance conference in Budapest. During this same year, Eunice published a novel, The Hidden Tragedy, which centres on its heroine’s struggles during the suffrage movement.

In 1918, women in Britain finally won their right to vote and stand in general elections, if they were over 30 and met minimum property qualifications, and Eunice was quick to take advantage of this major breakthrough.

In 1918 Eunice became the first woman to stand in a parliamentary election in Scotland, as an independent candidate in Glasgow for the Bridgeton constituency, although she was unsuccessful, coming third. The results being Coalition Liberal Alexander MacCallum Scott 10,887, Labour James Maxton 7,860 and Independent Eunice Murray 991.

Despite her defeat , Eunice was to continue to champion woman’s rights throughout her life, either through her writing or in person, for example in 1938, she chaired a Status of Woman conference in Glasgow, at which Helen Fraser was one of the speakers (Helen was one of the leading lights in the national suffragette movement along with Emmeline Pankhurst). Eunice was the author of many works including Scottish Women of Bygone Days (1930); A Gallery of Scottish Women (1935).

In 1923 she was elected on to Dunbartonshire county council, and in the same year she became the first president of the local Scottish Women’s Rural Institute. It was during this tenure that Eunice made an impassioned plea for Scottish folk museums which she saw as an essential feature of a peaceful and civilised society, and being familiar with Continental folk museums, regretted their absence in Scotland. But she did not restrict herself to campaigning on local issues, for she was involved with the National Trust for Scotland soon after its inception, serving on its council and executive committee from 1931, and donating generously to many of its appeals. Eunice issued her final publication in 1950, “The Old School of Cardross, A Chapter in Village Life.”

Eunice left an indelible impression on all who met her, particularly the woman of all ages, creeds and religions that she fought so hard to represent. She is often quoted, with perhaps her most famous quote being: “Women have a two-fold calling, for not only are we as wives and mothers the guardians of the future, but we are also the custodians of the past.”

Eunice Murray, who never married, was appointed MBE in 1945. She died on 26 March 1960 from a stroke brought on by cardiovascular degeneration, at the family home, Moore Park in Cardross.

Please note: the image used to illustrate this article is not of Eunice Murray. An image has been located and will accompany this biography soon.

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