Margaret Haig Thomas's formal education got off to a slow start. Until the age of thirteen she was taught by French and German governesses from whom, she said, she learned only ' trifles '. She received a sound academic education, but there really never was any serious expectation that a girl of her class would work for a living.
Chaperoned by her long-suffering mother, she endured three successive London seasons. Paralysed by shyness and incapable of small talk, she found this an agonizing experience and she took herself off to Somerville College, Oxford, primarily to escape the horrors of a fourth London season, but gave that up and returned after less than a year —5 to live in the family home at Llan-wern.
Bored by life at home and with no sense of purpose, she drifted into marriage.
She married Humphrey Mackworth —son of Colonel Sir Humphrey Mackworth, sixth baronetfrom neighbouring Caerleon, on 9 July ; he succeeded to his father's baronetcy in For a while at least she enjoyed being mistress of her own home and genuinely sought to fulfil the role of a country landowner's wife. But they were an ill assorted pair and the marriage ended, quite amicably, in divorce in In her youth Margaret was very attractive, with fair curly hair, blue eyes, and a determined jaw and mouth, which was softened by a hint of ready laughter.
Short in stature and quite sturdily built, she was, however, not physically a strong woman and frequently wore herself out with her many commitments to a broad range of interests. Her character was marked by determination, persistence, and an intense focus on achieving the goals which she set for herself. Two events were to change Margaret's life and to save her from the existence of petty futility which she saw stretching before her. The first of these, which occurred within a fortnight of her marriage, was her discovery of the militant women's suffrage movement.
Margaret's introduction to the suffrage movement came through one of her mother's cousins, Florence Haigwho had already been to prison for the cause.
Inspired by Florenceboth Margaret and her mother took part in the great suffrage procession to Hyde Park, London, on 21 July Though she was a firm believer in the justice of the cause, it was the promise of activity Caerleon divorce women for dating excitement which most appealed to her.
At last here was something which brought her to life:. But for me and for many other young women like me, militant suffrage was the very salt of life. The knowledge of it had come like a draught of fresh air into our padded, stifled lives. It gave us release of energy, it gave us that sense of being some use in the scheme of things, without which no human being can live at peace.
She organized public meetings, inviting down such speakers as Emmeline Pankhurstand she herself spoke from public platforms on many occasions, often to hostile audiences. Accompanied by Annie Kenneya star of the WSPUshe addressed the Liberal Club in Merthyr, her father's constituency, where they were both pelted with herrings and tomatoes. During the general election offollowing the militant policy of harassing cabinet ministers, she broke through a police cordon and jumped on to the running board of Prime Minister Asquith's car.
By she felt it was her duty, as secretary of the Newport WSPUto commit arson and thereby give a lead to the others in the branch. She burned the contents of a pillar box on Risca Road, was arrested, tried, and found guilty. Rejecting the offer to pay a fine—to Humphrey's horror—she was sent to Usk gaol, where she proceeded to go on hunger strike but was not forcibly fed; she was released after five days.
The second event which was to change Margaret Haig Mackworth's life and was to bring her into even greater public prominence was her entry into her father's business. Shortly after her marriage her father declared that he needed someone whom he could trust absolutely to assist him in the running of his business empire, a cross between ' a highly confidential secretary and a right hand man ' Rhondda It was her mother who suggested Margaret for this role.
It was a bold and unorthodox decision on his part to employ her since women, particularly young married women, were almost unheard of in business, but Margaret fitted the bill in terms of trustworthiness and she was familiar with the broad outlines of his enterprises, which he had long been in the habit of discussing with her. She attended conferences and board meetings, conducted research into special projects, drafted letters and memoranda, and accompanied D.
She acquired a knowledge of finance, of the workings of the coal and newspaper industries, and learned the arts of negotiation and bluffing. By mid D. By the end of the war she was a director of more than twenty companies.
But despite her efforts to fit into this male world—wearing dark business suits and smoking excessively at board meetings—she felt at a disadvantage by the lack of a business-orientated education and by her exclusion from the informal gossip which the men traded daily, along with coal, at the Cardiff exchange.
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Ironically it was the single most traumatic ordeal of her life which gave her a great boost of confidence. In Mayreturning with D. Rescued after hours in the freezing water, she later reflected that the shipwreck had altered her opinion of herself. Having gone through that and faced death close up, she no longer feared anything.
The Lusitania ordeal made Margaret determined to play her own part in the war effort. She was appointed as commissioner of women's national service in Wales, as controller of women's recruiting and, before the war ended, to the Women's Advisory Council of the Ministry of Reconstructionwhich was concerned with issues on which she felt strongly. She was committed to the idea that women should remain an integral part of the post-war workforce, and to that end she set up the Women's Industrial League in to campaign for the rights of women workers.
When the war ended Margaret was already thirty-five years old but it is only truly from that she emerged as the fully formed independent woman with a set of ideas that she would hold and try to implement for the rest of her life.
Her father died in Julyhaving been promoted to the rank of viscount, with a special remainder to Margaret in the absence of a male heir. For Margaret his death was a devastating blow.
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He had been her closest friend as well as her father and he was the only man she ever truly loved. Thereafter all her closest relationships were with women, notably the novelist Winifred HoltbyHelen Archdalethe first editor of Time and Tideand Theodora Bosanquetthe secretary of the International Federation of University Womenwith whom she lived from to her death in Margaret was left an extremely wealthy woman.
The Directory of Directors for listed Viscountess Rhonddaas she now was, as the director of thirty-three companies twenty-eight of them inherited from her father and chairman or vice-chairman of sixteen of these. Already a famous figure whose activities were widely reported in the London press on of her business career and of her increasingly leading role as a spokeswoman for feminism, her campaign to take her seat in the House of Lords attracted a great deal more publicity.
Women had won a partial victory in the long struggle for the vote inwhen some women over thirty were enfranchised in parliamentary elections, but peeresses were not allowed to take their seats in the Lords.
Lady Rhondda demanded that she be allowed to take her seat in what she regarded as ' the last feudal assembly in Europe ' Church Times10 March But although in she seemed to have won, when the committee of privileges accepted her plea for admission, the decision was reversed in May after a remarkable piece of skulduggery by the lord chancellor, F. Smithwho referred the matter back to a reconstituted committee and delivered a judgment which rejected the claim that a peeress was entitled to sit and vote in parliament.
Women were kept out of the House of Lords, despite her continued efforts, until Her campaign to enter the Lords was based less on a desire for any personal aggrandizement than on the sense of obligation she felt to the feminist cause to pursue discrimination wherever she encountered it and to promote the cause of equal rights. Between the wars Lady Rhondda was arguably Britain's leading feminist. Equal rights were central to her philosophy and she put enormous efforts into promoting her vision. A proponent of the equal-rights tradition of feminism, she asked for no favours, only for a level playing field.
She was involved in many initiatives both in Britain and internationally, but it was Time and Tide which was to play the greatest part in her life from this point.
Time and Tide was for Lady Rhondda the fulfilment of hood dream. It was her grand passion, to which she devoted all her energies, at the expense of her business interests and her health. She controlled 90 per cent of the shares, was at first vice-chairman, then chairman of directors, and from she took over as editor.
In that year she attracted a great deal of publicity as the first woman president of the Institute of Directors. It was her magazine: the all-female board of directors, for the most part, did her bidding. It reflected her views—liberal, feminist, egalitarian, and individualist. Time and Tide covered politics, economics, social issues, literature, and the arts.
To ensure that the journal was taken seriously Lady Rhondda gathered around her a distinguished group of women writers, who in the s included Virginia WoolfVita Sackville-WestE. DelafieldRose MacaulayDorothy L. She could call too on distinguished male literary figures: G. WellsT. Forsterand George Orwell were contributors and, as she had with the women, she encouraged young male writers: W. The literary contributors, whether established or at the outset of their careers, form an impressive list, but Time and Tide also published the work of important scholars such as Harold LaskiG.
ColeC. Wedgwoodand Eileen Power. Politically the journal, like its proprietor, moved to the right over the years. The feminist element was reduced, especially after when equal suffrage was secured.
But before and during the Second World War it stood firmly against fascism, and when in the Nazi blacklist of those to be detained when the Germans invaded was published, it paid Lady Rhondda the compliment of marking her down for immediate arrest. Lady Rhondda's commitment to Time and Tide meant that she spent most of her time in London but she retained her links with Wales. She kept on her mother's old home at Pen Ithon, visiting whenever she could, and served on public bodies in Wales. She was president of the University College of Wales, Cardiff, from to and was awarded the honorary degree of doctor of law in In her seventies she continued to drive herself hard and ignored her own failing health.
When she became ill with cancer she refused medication on the grounds that Time and Tide demanded a clear mind.
She died in the Westminster Hospital, London, on 20 July Her ashes were buried at Llan-wern. View the article for this person in the Dictionary of National Biography archive edition.