Moreland Cottage – Margaret Thomson (1806-1892)

Margaret Thomson (1806-1892), daughter of Margaret Millar and Professor John Thomson, was much impressed by the Reform Act of 1832, which increased the range of voters to householders with property worth £10 a year. She considered then that ‘female householders should have the vote too, thinking it only fair’. In 1841, the surgeon, James Young Simpson and the editor of the Westminster Review urged her to publish an assessment of ‘Woman and her Social Position’ [The Westminster Review, Jan – April 1841, pp. 24-] In this, she wrote an account of the current position of women which we might find surprising in view of the conventional view of our history:

On one material point… there is now a general agreement – that there is no good in female ignorance. On the subject of intellectual education, public opinion and practice have undergone a complete change within a very few years…There are academies for ladies where they may learn mathematics and natural philosophy. Latin, Greek, or Hebrew confer no distinctions. All ladies now-a-days read newspapers; some write pamphlets and conduct journals – are members of scientific associations, and “grace the galleries” on occasion of public meetings. What difference, it may be asked, remains? The ladies (some of them at least) do not mean to remain in galleries; – they are about to descend to the arena, and become speakers instead of listeners – say the apprehensive party – and then what becomes of female modesty and the peace and purity of the domestic hearth? Who is to make tea? And take care of the children?

[referring to Wolstonecraft, Martineau and Lady Morgan] These ladies are not content with what, according to their own showing, is bondage. There are, however, an equal or greater number of female writers who are satisfied with their social position, and say it is no bondage.

At the risk of pleasing nobody, we must confess we think both sides are in the right, and both somewhat in the wrong.

Margaret Thomson called for women who acted as citizens, to have the vote, and she demanded reform in the laws regarding married women. She signed the petition for women’s suffrage presented to Parliament in 1866. She married her cousin, John Millar Mylne, in 1843.

See The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, Edinburgh University Press, 2006