Shehanne had the most interesting photographs last week…which considering they were not of me, is saying something. Yes, as you can see of a lost fairy tale castle–obviously it’s not quite the one Shehanne had because she was hardly going to lend it to me despite the fact I get all her cast offs.
‘Foundry Lane was frequently flooded when heavy rain brought the water down from the hills. The dead rats could be seen floating.’
The writer of the Dundee Jute Mill song may, at first glance, seem an unlikely choice for one of my ladies. But Mary was the most amazing woman born into the worst slums in Aberdeen in 1897.
Of all the words she wrote, more of which we shall get to in a moment,
I admit to more than a passing fascination with these ones, about her parents… ‘Mother told me of their marriage and how they had managed to save thirty shillings. On this small amount they had a couple of days celebrating. After the guests had departed, the happy couple took the road together, penniless, she barefoot, he with her new patent leather shoes, tied around his neck, in order to preserve their newness, for they had cost all of five shillings.’
But her ones that most inspire and surprise are the ones that might have come straight from David Copperfield…
‘I received very little education after I reached my eleventh birthday’
Heavens you didn’t think I wrote these words did you? No. I received no education at all. As for Shehanne…well, I am sure the school did its best and if she didn’t, it was because she was never there. No. No. One of the reasons I admire Mary is that despite that lack, she was a very clever woman. She grew up in a family filled with song and laugher. She loved the classical poets, Milton, Shelley, Byron, the local folk songs and singers of the day. The work of Scottish author, Lewis Grassic Gibbons was a revelation to her.
and ‘Ten days that Shook the world,’ inspired her.
Why did she work 12 hour days and then spend another two or three washing and scrubbing? Why did she receive no formal education after 1911, when jute mills stretched the length and breadth of Dundee? Simple……
‘There was very little work for men in Dundee.’
They were the kettle-bilers.
Unashamedly Mary was a Communist who marched side by side with the mysterious Girl in the Green Felt Hat –whose name she thought was Burns–around Dundee, during the millworkers strike of 1912. She spent three periods in prison for her beliefs, writing poetry and dreaming of long, sunny days, to take her mind off the hardships.
One three month period was in the Hungry Thirties, when mounted police baton charged the 15000 workers who had gathered in Dundee’s Albert Square. Shehanne’s grandmother was beaten that night, and escaped arrest when her husband lied to the police and patched up her breakages, Mary was sent to Perth prison.
Did I also mention Mary was born blind but regained her sight?
I said at the start that Mary is an unlikely choice for my ladies, but the ladies I choose to write about here are the ones I salute and I salute Mary.
I said we’d have more of her writings in a moment and so we will. I leave you with her Jute Mill Song, sung here by the fabulous Parcel o’ Rogues…..
Milord Ally Gowans….take it away!
FIND Mary on the Dundee Women’s Trail.
More about Mary.
The girl with the green felt hat