the family opened a drapery business in Ayr and Mary was taken
on as a book-keeper. John Macarthur was a supporter of the Conservative
Party and an opponent of trade unions and sent his daughter
to observe a meeting of the Shop Assistants' Union. Mary was
converted to the cause of trade unions by a speech made by John
Turner about how badly some workers were being treated by their
employers. Mary became secretary of the Ayr branch and at socialist
meeting in the town, she met and fell in love with Will Anderson,
an active member of the Independent Labour Party.
Mary became friends with Margaret Bondfield who encouraged her
to attend the union's national conference. Mary did, and was
elected to the union's national executive. Mary's political
activities created conflict with her father who had a strong
hatred for socialism. Anderson proposed marriage but Mary decided
to pursue a career instead, and in 1903 moved to London where
she became Secretary of the Women's Trade Union League.
as her trade union activities, Macarthur was an active member
of the Independent Labour Party in London where she worked closely
with two other Scots, James Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald.
Macarthur was involved in the Exhibition of Sweated Industries
in 1905 and the formation of the Anti-Sweating League in 1906.
The following year she founded the Women Worker, a monthly newspaper
for women trade unionists.
was an inspirational figure and recruited many women into the
movement. This included Dorothy Jewson and Susan Lawrence, who
both went on to become Labour Party MPs. Active in the fight
for the vote, she was totally opposed to those women in the
NUWSS and the WSPU who were willing to accept the franchise
being given to only certain categories of women. Macarthur believed
that a limited franchise would disadvantage the working class
and feared that it might act as a barrier against the granting
of full adult suffrage. This made Macarthur unpopular with middle
class suffragettes who saw limited suffrage as an important
step in the struggle to win the vote.
followed Macarthur down to London and the couple married in
1911. Anderson was elected to the House of Commons in 1914 but
was defeated in 1918. Macarthur also stood as a Labour candidate,
but like the others who opposed the First World War, she was
defeated in the 1918 General Election.
devastated when Will Anderson died in the 1919 influenza epidemic.
She continued her work with the Women's Trade Union League and
played an important role in transforming it into the Women's
section of the Trade Union Congress. Mary Macarthur died of
cancer on 1st January, 1921.