The Viscountess Rhondda
Margaret Haig Thomas
12 June 1883
|Died||20 July 1958 (aged 75)|
London, England, UK
|Known for||Suffragette and women's rights campaigner; business woman; Lusitania survivor|
|Sir Humphrey Mackworth (1908-1922) (divorced)|
|Parent(s)||Sybil Margaret Haig|
David Alfred Thomas
Margaret Haig Mackworth (née Thomas), 2nd Viscountess Rhondda (12 June 1883 - 20 July 1958) was a Welsh peeress, businesswoman and active suffragette who was significant in the history of women's suffrage in the United Kingdom.
Margaret Haig Thomas was born on 12 June 1883 in London. Her parents were industrialist and politician David Alfred Thomas, 1st Viscount Rhondda, and Sybil Haig, also a suffragette. In her autobiography, Margaret wrote that her mother had 'prayed passionately that her baby daughter might become feminist', and she indeed became a passionate activist for women's rights.
An only child, she was raised at Llanwern House, near Newport, until the age of 13, when she went away to boarding school, first to Notting Hill High School then St Leonards School, in St Andrews. In 1904, aged 19, she took up a place at Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied history. Despite her tutors providing positive feedback on her academic progress, she returned to Llanwern to live with her family after two terms.
She married local the Newport landowner Sir Humphrey Mackworth in 1908 at 25, joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) that year and became secretary of its Newport branch. Between 1908 and 1914, she took the campaign for women's suffrage across South Wales, often to hostile and stormy meetings. Thomas was involved in protest marches with the Pankhursts and jumping onto the running board of Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith's car in St Andrews.
In June 1913, Thomas attempted to destroy a Royal Mail post-box with a chemical bomb. The activities resulted in a trial at the Sessions House, Usk, and after refusing to pay a £10 fine, she was sentenced to serve a one month period in jail there. She was released after only five days after she had gone on a hunger strike.
Thomas had been given a Hunger Strike Medal 'for Valour' by WSPU.
When Emmeline Pankhurst died in June 1928, it was Kitty Marshall, Rosamund Massey and Lady Rhondda who arranged her memorials. They raised money for her gravestone in Brompton Cemetery and a statue of her outside the House of Commons, which she had frequently been prevented from entering. Money was also raised to buy the painting that had been made by the fellow suffragette Georgina Brackenbury so that it could be given to the National Portrait Gallery. It was unveiled by Stanley Baldwin in 1930.
On the outbreak of the First World War, she accepted the decision by the WSPU leadership to abandon its militant campaign for suffrage. She worked with her father, who was sent by David Lloyd George to the United States to arrange the supply of munitions for the British armed forces.
Her father became aware of his daughter's depressive state, and although she brushed her father's concern aside, he became aware of tensions within her marriage. On 7 May 1915, she was returning from the United States on the RMS Lusitania with her father and his secretary, Arnold Rhys-Evans, when it was torpedoed at 14:10 by German submarine U-20. Her father and his secretary made it onto a lifeboat since they had been blown overboard, but she spent a long period in clinging to a piece of board before she was rescued by the Irish trawler "Bluebell", as recalled in her 1933 autobiography, This Was My World. By the time she was rescued and taken to Queenstown, she had fallen unconscious from hypothermia. After a period in hospital, she then spent several months recuperating at her parents' home.
On 3 July 1918 her father died. While the Rhondda Barony died with him, the title of Viscount Rhondda passed to Margaret by special remainder, which Thomas had insisted on from King George V when he was offered the honour.
After her father's death, Lady Rhondda subsequently tried to take his seat in the House of Lords by citing the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which allowed women to exercise "any public office". After initially being accepted, the Committee of Privileges membership was altered and her request was rejected. She was supported for many years by Lord Astor, whose wife Nancy had been the first woman to take her seat in the British House of Commons.
Less than a month after Lady Rhondda's death in 1958, women entered the Lords for the first time thanks to the Life Peerages Act 1958. Five years later, with the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, hereditary peeresses were also allowed to enter the Lords.
She succeeded her father as chair of the Sanatogen Company in February 1917. In total, she was a director of 33 companies throughout her life, having inherited 28 directorships from her father. Most of her business interests were in coal, steel and shipping via Consolidated Cambrian Ltd. She was passionate about increasing the number of women in the corporate world.
In the summer of 1919, Margaret was involved in creating and chairing the Efficiency Club, a networking organisation for British businesswomen, which she envisioned would have four aims: to promote greater efficiency and co-operation between established businesses and professional women, to encourage leadership and self reliance amongst all women workers, to form a link between businesses and professional women for their mutual benefit and to work towards the admission of women to the British Chambers of Commerce.
However, with the slump in coal prices during the late 1920s, the collieries of Consolidated Cambrian fell into receivership, and its assets later sold to GKN. Aside from inheriting her father's publishing interests, she had founded in 1920 Time and Tide magazine, at first a left-wing feminist weekly magazine, but later a more rightist general literary journal. She was the long-time editor of the magazine and sustained it with a large portion of her inheritance.
After the collapse of Consolidated Cambrian, her personal accounts show that her outgoings always exceeded her income.
The group's manifesto of equal rights for women within the workplace and for mothers and children sought the following:
A Canadian steamship, the Lady Mackworth, was named after her.
In 1908 she married Sir Humphrey Mackworth, Bt (see Mackworth Baronets). They divorced in 1923 and she never remarried. She lived with Time and Tide magazine editor Helen Archdale in the late 1920s. She later had a close relationship with Winifred Holtby, the author of South Riding, who was in a "friendship" with the writer Vera Brittain. She subsequently spent 25 years living with writer and editor Theodora Bosanquet, who acted as amanuensis to Henry James from 1907 to 1916.
Her name and picture (and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018. Lady Rhondda was one of five women shortlisted in 2019 to be portrayed in the first statue of a woman to be erected in Cardiff.