Mary Reid Macarthur, the Scottish founder and leader of the all female trade union, the National Federation of Women Workers, died on 1 January 1921. This exhibition marks the centenary of her death and celebrates her pioneering work among British women workers. Since her death, there have been more improvements in women’s pay and conditions but history reminds us that many of the issues and challenges faced by the women organized by Macarthur – who were some of the worst paid workers in the country – remain as relevant today as they were then.
Mary Macarthur was born in Glasgow on13 August 1880, the eldest of three daughters whose father ran a successful drapery business. After leaving Glasgow’s High School for Girls, she became a book-keeper in the family business after its relocation to Ayr. Mary’s trade union career began in 1901 when she joined the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks.
This digital exhibition explores the historical significance of trade union leader Mary Macarthur and the work of the National Federation of Women Workers. Using the TUC Library’s archives it illustrates the harshness of women’s work in the early 20th century and the campaign to organise women workers into trade unions.
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