Margaret Haig Mackworth, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda, was a Welsh peeress (titles include a Welsh place-name origin), businesswoman and active suffragette. Margaret was born in 1883 in London, however she lived in Llanwern in Newport, Wales, until she was 13 when she moved away to boarding school. Her parents were the wealthy Welsh industrialist and Liberal MP DA Thomas and Sybil Haig. When Margaret married Sir Humphrey Mackworth in 1908, she became Mrs and subsequently, Lady Mackworth. Before her father died in 1918, he had obtained special permission from the monarch for his daughter to inherit his title because he had no other legitimate offspring. Thus Margaret became the second Viscountess Rhondda.
When Margaret was 19, she studied history at Oxford University, however only lasted two terms and returned to Newport to live with her family. It was four years later when she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and became secretary of its Newport branch and a supporter of its militant campaign. Her mother Sybil was also a suffragette and prayed that her daughter would follow in her footsteps. Between 1908 and 1914, she was involved in many protests and marches across Wales and the UK, most notably in St Andrews when she jumped onto the car of the Liberal Prime Minister and attempted to destroy a post-box with a chemical bomb. These protests led to a spell in prison, however she was released after going on a hunger strike.
When World War One came around, the WSPU decided to withdraw their militant campaign for suffrage. Margaret then worked with her father who was sent to the United States to organise a supply of munitions for the UK. It was on the return journey on RMS Lusitania that it was torpedoed by German Bombers. Margaret, her father and his secretary were among the survivors. After her father’s death in 1918, Margaret attempted to take his seat in the House of Lords and the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 allowed her to do this because the Act stated that a person should not be “disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post”. However, the Committee of Privileges voted strongly against her request.
Lady Rhondda did however succeed her father as chairman of the Sanatogen Company in February 1917. Margaret inherited 28 directorships from her father and in total, she was a director of 33 companies throughout her life. Her main business interests were in steel, coal, and shipping. During the war, she held positions such as Commissioner for Wales in the Women’s National Service Department, then Chief Controller of women’s recruitment at the Ministry of National Service in London. She desperately wanted to increase the amount of women working in the corporate world and so Margaret was involved creating and chairing the Efficiency Club which was a networking organisation for British businesswomen. In 1920, she founded the Time and Tide magazine and in 1921, Lady Rhondda set up an action group called the Six Point Group which focused on equality between men and women and the rights of the child. In 1926, Lady Rhondda was elected as the Institute of Directors’ first female president. In 2015, the annual Mackworth Lecture was launched by the Institute of Directors in her honour.
The Six Point group’s manifesto of equal rights for women within the workplace, and for mothers and children, sought the following:
- Equal Opportunities for men and women in the Civil Service
- Satisfactory legislation for the Widowed Mother
- Satisfactory legislation for the Unmarried Mother and her Child
- Satisfactory legislation on Child Assault
- Equal rights for Guardianship for Married Parents
- Equal pay for Teachers
Lady Rhondda died in 1958, however a month after her death, women were allowed to sit in the House of Lords thanks to the Life Peerages Act 1958. Five years later, with the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, hereditary peeresses were also allowed a seat in the Lords.