Margaret Haig Thomas, Lady Rhondda

Margaret, Lady Rhondda, lived a life of wealth and privilege but she was not afraid to stand up for her beliefs as well as support them financially.  An only child, she was strongly influenced by her parents Sybil Haig – an active suffragette and David Thomas a Welsh businessman and long standing liberal MP.  She was Secretary of the Newport branch of the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) and she joined in with a number of militant and even violent actions, including protest marches and attempting to blow up a postbox.  She spent a brief spell in prison before being released after going on hunger strike.In 1908 she married to Sir Humphrey Mackworth, the marriage was not a success and she divorced him in 1922.

During the First World War she worked with her father in the war effort, travelling to America with him they returned to Britain on the Lusitania and had a near death experience following the torpedoing of the ship.

Following her father’s death in 1918 her true campaigning side really came to the fore.  She inherited his business empire as well as his title.  She sat on 33 boards and in 1926 became the first female president of the Institute of Directors.  She also sought to take her father’s seat in the House of Lords.  Whilst they were initially receptive to the idea the Lord Chancellor Lord Birkenhead took up the fight against her and she was unsuccessful.

She continued to campaign for 30 years, with her friend Viscount Astor introducing numerous bills to change the legislation, shortly after her death in 1958 women were first allowed to take their seats in the House.

Margaret continued to campaign on other issues as well during this period, setting up the literary and feminist magazine Time and Tide and the Six Point Group whose original aims were:

The group although small exercised considerable political influence campaigning on issues such as equal pay and compensation and married women’s right to work.

Time and Tide was a weekly magazine with a female management and editor (Margaret herself took over as editor in 1926).  The magazine was never a commercial success and Margaret subsidised it heavily up until her death.  Although initially a left wing and feminist publication it did become increasingly right wing as did Margaret but it remained constantly a literary force and became a platform for many female writers such as Nancy Astor, E.M. Delafield, Virginia Woolf, Emmeline Pankhurst, Storm Jameson and Vera Brittain.

Margaret was a complex character who had a strong sense of equality and political activism.  Although she was never able to take her seat in the House of Lords, her portrait now hangs there and in 2015 the Institute of Directors launched the annual Mackworth Lecture in her honour.

Written for Sheroes of History by Julia Carter

Find out more…

Turning the Tide: The Life of Lady Rhondda by Angela V. John is a recent biography about Margaret’s life. You can read a review of the book here.

The A Bird in a Cage project explored Lady Rhondda’s extraordinary life. Their website has some fantastic resources to find out more about her, including worksheets & lesson plans, and this short video:

Read more about one of Lady Rhondda’s suffragette acts of protest in this news article.

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