MARGARET ELEANOR PARKER
Margaret Eleanor Parker was a Quaker, a social activist and reformer from Dundee. She was a founding member of the British Women’s Temperance Association and was elected as its first President in 1876.
Margaret had travelled to America in 1875 and met many of the courageous women of the Women’s Temperance Crusades of 1873 – 1874, when women in Ohio started to campaign for prohibition. Eliza Stewart of Ohio, also known as ‘Mother Stewart’, was a key figure in this crusade. One of their goals was to close as many saloons as possible through various different methods including marches, prayer and song.
Margaret met many of those courageous women and heard their stories whilst she was in America and returned to Britain full of the Crusade fire and encouraged by her friend fellow Quaker, Mrs Margaret Bright Lucas (later to become the third President of the BWTA) she sent out an invitation to women of Great Britain and Ireland to attend a meeting on 21st April 1876 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Eliza ‘Mother’ Stewart of Ohio was invited to Britain on a speaking tour and spoke at the Newcastle upon Tyne meeting.
Women flocked to the Newcastle meeting; they were appalled by the distress and poverty resulting from intemperance and were ready to form themselves into a society. When the first constitution was drawn up the main purpose of the newly formed society was to campaign against the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquor.
150 women attended that first meeting and they elected Margaret Parker as their first President. They were representatives of small groups which had already been meeting independently but who now joined together to help those women and children, who they considered to be ‘penalised, battered and degraded’ by drinkers. In those days it was not customary for women to speak in public or to take an active part in public affairs but they considered it their Christian duty to step outside their comfort zone to take on this colossal task.
Mrs Parker and Margaret Bright Lucas (Third President 1878-90) often journeyed together to extend and consolidate the organisation. At that time there was an impression that if a women engaged in public work, there must be something unwomanly about her, and “many went to their meetings out of curiosity”, wrote Mrs Parker’s son, “but were surprised to see two homely British matrons….who had been strengthened by life’s responsibilities, who neither in dress, speech, nor manner offended against taste or prejudice”.
The second BWTA Conference was held in Newcastle later the same year and membership of both individuals and of affiliated temperance societies increased. By the time of the election of the second President, Mrs Clara Balfour in 1877, it was decided to establish a Headquarters in London.