Margaret Llewelyn Davies: With Women for a New World

Written by Ruth Cohen
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Margaret Llewelyn Davies (1861-1944) was an inspirational campaigner for women’s causes who, as general secretary of the Women’s Co-operative Guild for 32 years, encouraged its working-class women members to become visible, to speak in public, an innovation which entailed standing up to the men in the Co-operative movement for whom, generally speaking, issues affecting women were of minor concern. The women of the WCG became formidable fighters in fields such as equal pay, divorce reform, women’s and children’s health, and women’s suffrage. When Margaret started, the WCG had 51 branches and 1,700-1,800 members; when she retired, there were 1038 branches and 52,000 members.  Margaret’s personal life also had its tragedies: in 1907, her much-loved brother Arthur, died, soon followed by his wife; an episode impossible to read without tears. Their five young sons, (J.M. Barrie’s ‘Lost Boys’) were Margaret’s nephews and, throughout this agonizing period, Margaret continued to run the WCG.  One of the most impressive things about this biography is that Ruth Cohen manages to keep her readers both involved and up to date with the different threads of the various WCG campaigns on the go, without tangling the reins.  A great read about an inspiring woman. Highly recommended.