Margaret Eleanor Parker (nee Walker) was a Quaker, social activist and reformer from Dundee, Scotland. She was born in Bolton in 1829 and was a founding member of the British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA) being elected as first President in 1876.

Her association with temperance work followed a visit of John B Gough to Dundee in 1854. Gough was a temperance speaker from America, and three years after her marriage Margaret attended one of his temperance lectures with her husband. They then made the decision to abstain from intoxicants and that theirs would be a temperance home in the future. It was through the temperance movement that Margaret was called to her public work.


In 1874 when Margaret was 45 years old, a deputation of women went before the Licensing Magistrates of Dundee with a petition signed by 8000, calling for the number of licensed houses to be reduced. Led by Margaret Parker and others, the women marched in procession through the town, and she gave her ‘first public expression to the cause which became the chief one to which she devoted the remainder of her life.’ She spoke with a ‘sweet, clear voice….with a natural grace of manner’, which created a favourable impression with her listeners. She was described as having ‘….the daring of a man, the devotion of a woman, the enthusiasm of youth, and the heart of a child.’

Margaret also believed in the emancipation of women from the restraints of custom; ‘she claimed for women the choice of opportunity, the right to live the larger life, the right to do, to learn, to enjoy everything of which she was capable, in a word that her capacity should be the measure of her opportunity.’

It was around the same that Margaret joined the ranks of the Good Templar movement, when a lodge was formed in Dundee. As a total abstinence temperance organisation originally founded in America, the Independent Order of Good Templars admitted both men and women on an equal footing; women were part of its leadership. Margaret’s family also joined her in this work and she gained more experience and confidence in public speaking. Rising in office she was elected as G.W. Vice-templar of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and was sent as a representative to the Grand Lodge in Illinois in 1875.

It was during this visit to America that Margaret met many of the courageous women involved in the ‘Women’s Whiskey War’ 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 methods including marches, prayer and song.

Having met many of those women and hearing their stories, Margaret returned to Britain full of the crusade fire. She recognised the possibility of a movement in Great Britain which would ‘….unite the power an enthusiasm of the temperance women of the country.’ Encouraged by her friend fellow and Quaker, Mrs Margaret Bright Lucas (later to become the third President of the BWTA), she sent out an invitation to women connected with various temperance organisations across the country, to attend a temperance meeting to be held on 21st April 1876 at Central Hall in Newcastle upon Tyne. ‘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 of the newly formed British Women’s Temperance Association 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 travelled to America again in 1876 to represent the BWTA at a meeting of the International Women’s Temperance Convention in Philadelphia. She was also elected to the Presidency of this International Association and travelled thousands of miles whilst she was there lecturing and visiting temperance comrades and friends.

The second BWTA Conference was held in Newcastle upon Tyne and membership of both individuals and 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.

Mrs Parker and Margaret Bright Lucas (Third President 1878-90) were close friends and comrades, and together they continued to extend and consolidate the organisation, often journeying together. 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 foundations of the BWTA had been laid and Mrs Parker continued to take an active part in the BWTA and was a member of the National Executive Committee. She was in good health, even travelling to America again in 1893 until at the age of 67  she ‘sustained a slight shock’ and passed away peacefully in Dundee on 8th November 1896. A newspaper article from the time reports that she died at her son’s home and was buried on 10th November in Western Cemetery, Dundee.

Mrs Clara Lucas Balfour succeeded her as President of the Association and Mrs Parker’s friend and comrade, Mrs Margaret Bright Lucas followed on as President one year later from 1878 until her death in 1890.