Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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THOMAS , MARGARET HAIG , VISCOUNTESS RHONDDA ( 1883 - 1958 ), author, editor and chairperson of companies .

Born 12 June 1883 in Bayswater , London , the only child of David Alfred Thomas and his wife Sybil Margaret , daughter of George Augustus Haig , Pen Ithon, Rads. She was taught initially by private governess at home. Then she was sent to Notting Hill secondary school , where she started a printed magazine, The Shooting Star , to which her relations contributed. From there she went to St. Leonard's School in St. Andrews , Scotland , where the Haig ancestors hailed from. She was at Somerville College , Oxford , for a short while, but was not happy there. She did not care either for the social life which London offered, preferring the solitude of Radnorshire around Pen Ithon and the gentleness of Llan-wern , her home in Gwent . She did not learn any Welsh except for a short sentence which she used whilst canvassing in her father's elections in Merthyr Tydfil . She threw herself into her father's industrial interests , and acted as his secretary , which was useful in preparing her for the period when she had to take her father's place on industrial boards when government work weighed heavily on his shoulders, and after his death in 1918 .

In 1908 she m. Humphrey Mackworth ( baronet after his father's death in 1914 ) in Trinity Church near Caerleon, Mon. This was an ill-matched union. He was twelve years older than she was, with hardly any interests except in his hunting hounds — he was the master of the Llangybi pack ; she was an avid reader , while he hardly ever opened a book; he was a Tory , she the daughter of a prominent Liberal , though out of a sense of duty she resigned from the council of the local Liberal Association on her marriage. They made their home in Llansoar , not too far from her parents’ house. Within four months, in spite of her husband's dissatisfaction, she had thrown herself into the daring activities of Mrs. Pankhurst 's followers by marching through Hyde Park with her cousin Florence Haig . She joined the Women's Social and Political Union and took part in the campaign for votes for women . She jumped onto the running-board of H.H. Asquith 's car in St. Andrews . She learnt how to set pillar boxes on fire and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment in Usk for her acts in Gwent . Because of her refusal to eat, she was released after five days. She was the correspondent of the Newport branch of the movement.

She and her father were amongst those saved when the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine in 1915 . After returning home she was a commissioner for the national women's service in Wales and in 1918 was made chief recruiting officer of women in Britain . When her father d. she inherited the viscouncy in accordance with the arrangement made by Lloyd George when her father was elevated to the title as there was no male heir. She herself presented a petition in 1920 to be summoned to the House of Lords , and though Lord Hewart and the Committee of Privileges were in favour, a large majority, under the leadership of Lord Birkenhead , voted against consenting to her request. To her the petition was an entirely natural development of her efforts on behalf of equality for women. Although she failed, she succeeded in the same year with a group of women of similar persuasion to form a company which published the influential weekly Time and Tide as a paper entirely independent of any sect or party which met the needs of a new post-war period. She edited it for the rest of her life; her stamp was upon it, though it was Helen Archdale who edited the first issues. It was through Time and Tide that she realised one of the dreams of her youth. She succeeded in drawing able and eminent contributors to the paper. In the midst of her busy life — she was a justice of the peace in Gwent and in 1926 was the president of the Institute of Directors , the demands of industrial management weighed heavily upon her and her health was fragile — she insisted on keeping a watchful eye on all the paper's contents for near ly thirty-eight years. Her great concern during the last months of her life was to secure a safe financial base for the paper, and she succeeded in her effort. She stood steadfastly for the freedom of the individual . To her every human being, man or woman, should be treated like an individual with an immortal soul. She published D.A. Thomas, Viscount Rhondda ( 1921 ), Leisured Women ( 1928 ), This was my world ( 1933 ) and Notes on the way ( 1937 ). She was president of the University College , Cardiff , from 1950 to 1958 and was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree by the University of Wales in 1955 .

She was divorced from her husband in 1923 . They had no children and the title became extinct at her death at Westminster Hospital on 20 July 1958 .

Sources:

  • Western Mail , The Times and Time and Tide , July 1958 ;
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • The Complete Peerage , 1910–40 ;
  • see Who's who in Wales (1921) , 402 for a list of the companies of which she was chairman or president at the time.

Author:

Evan David Jones, F.S.A., (1903-87), Aberystwyth

Published date: 2001