The Duchess of Atholl
As well as being a voice of reason on the Departmental Committee on Tinkers, the Duchess of Atholl (1874-1960 dates at first mention) was also instrumental in establishing the Red Cross Hospital in Perth. Katherine or Kitty, as she was known, benefited from a wide-ranging education and was a hugely talented musician. She had hoped for a career as a pianist and even studied composition but during a house party at Blair Atholl in 1896 Kitty met the then Marquis of Tullibardine, John George Stewart-Murray or Bardie - she found he was kind and philosophical in his conversation with her. They began a correspondence and met again through chaperoned visits. Bardie became quite infatuated by her and they were married in July of 1899. Proceeding north by carriage to Blair Atholl, they stopped in all the towns and villages to be cheered and celebrated and for everyone to see Bardie’s new wife.
War: Kitty became familiar with conflict - Bardie served in the Boer War (1899-1902) and Kitty accompanied him. As with the later First World War conflict Kitty was directly involved in efforts to provide nursing accommodation, raise finances, provide entertainments to
troops and to support community work through her position and ability to galvanise people.
Politics: Politics beckoned and Kitty was elected for Kinross and West Perthshire in 1923 and then took her place as parliamentary secretary to the Board of Education. Kitty angered feminists by opposing an equal franchise bill and she also voted against an equal pay bill as well as denying that women voters had a special claim on her. She did however support the ordination of women in the Presbyterian Church and also wrote a book called Women and Politics, intending to provide women with the facts they needed to exercise their public duty.
Kitty had a political life beyond the Great War and her outspoken attacks on the government’s line over the Spanish Civil War, her courageous efforts to warn Britain of Hitler’s intentions and her heroic opposition to Chamberlain’s abandonment of Czechoslovakia led in 1938 to a dramatic confrontation and the end of her political career. Many remember her as the ‘Red Duchess’ but this name distorts her true passion for welfare, her opposition to cruelty and her dedication to politics and public duty.