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First Woman Town Councillor in Scotland (6 November 1907)
First Woman Provost in Scotland (1913)
Researched by Janet Carolan; adapted for web-site
Lavinia Malcolm was born Lavinia Laing in Forres in 1847 or 1848. Her maternal grandfather, John Kynoch, was elected Provost of Forres in 1848. He was a prosperous leather merchant and boot maker, founder of the Forres Water Company and a director of Forres Gas Company.
Lavinia’s parents were married in 1839. Her mother was Janet Kynoch, the provost’s eldest daughter. Lavinia’s father, Alexander Laing, was manager of Forres Gas Works. The 1841 census shows the young couple living in “Gas House”.
By the time of the next census, in 1851, there were four children: Margaret aged 8 and Mary 5 (both “scholars”), Lavinia 3 and Theodore 1. The family’s address was the Gas Works. Alexander Laing is described as an “ironmonger, plumber and copper-smith”. The household also included two “house servants” and an “apprentice ironmonger” aged 14.
Ten years later, in 1861, the family had moved: Alexander and Janet Laing, Margaret 18 and the younger children (Abigail 9, Grace 7 and John 4) were living in Hempriggs, Alves, Moray, where their father was described as a farmer. Living in the household were two ploughmen, one cattleman, one domestic servant and one agricultural labourer. Alexander Laing had ceased to manage the Gas Works in 1858. The older children appear to have been boarded out in Forres, where they were attending school: Lavinia, aged 13, was with her uncle Alex Kynoch, Mary was with her Kynoch grandparents and Theodore was a “lodger” with a family called Ross.
Provost Lavinia Malcolm in 1913
Education was obviously important to the Laing family; it enabled two of Lavinia’s four sisters (Abigail and Mary) to become governesses. In 1871 Abigail, aged 19, was employed by Captain McKenzie of Mountgerald near Dingwall in a very grand household with five children aged 1-11 and nine indoor servants. Both Abigail and Mary died unmarried in their 20’s, Abigail dying of TB. Before her marriage, Lavinia was also a governess; in 1871 she was employed in the household of Viscount Marsham in Norfolk. So why did she come to Dollar?
The connection seems to be that one of Lavinia’s uncles, William Kynoch, died in 1868 and his widow moved from Forres to Dollar in the early 1870’s, so that her six children could take advantage of the excellent education available at Dollar Academy (then called Dollar Institution). John Kynoch went on to become an eminent Professor of Gynaecology, while Minnie Kynoch was one of the first women to go to St Andrews University and become a Lady Licentiate of Arts (LLA). She endowed the Kynoch Travelling Scholarship at Dollar Academy. Lavinia must have visited her Kynoch cousins in Dollar; she was particularly close to her cousin Minnie.
Richard Malcolm c. 1910
In Dollar Lavinia met her future husband Richard “Dickie” Malcolm, an English master at the Academy. When he first came to Dollar in 1865 he lived in Academy Street (now McNabb Street), and was a neighbour of the Kynochs, who lived in Murray Cottage. Later, he lived in Burnside House (just north of Academy Place in West Burnside). At that time it belonged to the school and the master who lived there ran it as a boys’ boarding house.
Dickie’s first wife Lizzie Halley died in 1878, probably in childbirth. After Lizzie’s death, his sister Hannah kept house for him and around thirteen boy scholars, with the help of three servants.
On 27 December 1883, Lavinia and Dickie were married in Edinburgh; Minnie Kynoch was one of their witnesses. The wedding took place according to the forms of the U.P. Church, in 2 Darnaway Street, the home of Lavinia’s aunt, Mrs Kynoch. The family had recently moved there from Dollar. Lavinia was 36 and Dickie was 41.
Marriage certificate of Richard Malcolm (widower) and Lavinia Laing (spinster)
Burnside House, Dollar
Lavinia now had Burnside House, a husband and numerous boarders to look after.
She had little time for political or municipal activity — particularly when, on 14th May 1887, Richard Gibson Malcolm was born. (He was always known as “Dick”, while his father was “Dickie”.)
Dick Malcolm aged about 7
As the only child of elderly parents Dick must have been much treasured. He seems to have been a lively and intelligent boy. In the first Minute Book of Dollar Burns Club there are several references to him taking part and winning prizes in poetry-speaking competitions run by the Burns Club. There is also a programme for a concert on 1 February 1895; Master Dick Malcolm was to recite Burns’s poem “To a Louse”.
Apparently the family spent their summer holidays in Findhorn, which is very close to Lavinia’s home town of Forres. Lavinia had bought Briar Cottage in Back Street, Findhorn in 1893. During their summer holiday in 1895 young Dick acquired a pet bird, an oyster catcher, and brought it back to Dollar.
But, sadly, just a few weeks later, on 9th September 1895, Dick died of pneumonia, an illness that nowadays would probably respond quickly to antibiotics. He was just 8 years old.
Many years later, in 1909, his father wrote an article for The Dollar Magazine, entitled “Fleep”, telling the story of this oyster catcher, which had outlived its young master by 14 years. You can read the story by clicking here.
Master Dick Malcolm, aged 7, was one of the performers in this concert in 1895
The death of their son led both Lavinia and Dickie to take up multiple activities outside their home. Richard Malcolm was already a Town Councillor and in 1896 he accepted the office of Provost of Dollar. He was Provost from 1896 until 1899. As well as teaching and being a housemaster, over the following years he was an Elder, edited The Dollar Magazine, became a Fellow of the Scottish Royal Geographic Society, Vice-President of the Caledonian Curling Society, Chairman of the Dollar Liberal Society, and later a JP, a County Councillor and Governor of Dollar Academy. He subsequently became Chairman of the Governors of Dollar Academy (1919-23).
In 1895 the Alloa and District Women’s Liberal Society was set up by The Hon. Mrs Balfour, Mrs David Thomson-Paton, Mrs Forester-Paton, Mrs Proctor and 22 other ladies. The aim was to arouse interest in Social, Political and Moral Issues. Lavinia Malcolm joined in 1896 and was quick to make her mark. She was soon in demand to give votes of thanks and to introduce speakers. By 1898 she was on the Committee and she was made a Vice-President in 1903. She was now speaking at meetings on topics such as Current Politics and the Franchise for Women. Her position on votes for women was that they should have the franchise on the same terms as men, but she did not support militant action.
In 1898 Lavinia sold Briar Cottage in Findhorn and in 1900 she bought 31 and 33 Cairnpark Street. As the owner of Dollar property she was a ratepayer. The law had recently been amended to allow “qualified” married as well as single women to vote in local elections – but of course not yet in parliamentary elections.
31-33 Cairnpark St, Dollar
In 1904, a new Liberal Club was to be opened in Alloa by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The Liberal ladies decided to present a bust of Gladstone and the (unfortunately named) Bust Committee set about raising funds. Although she was only a Vice-President, the honour of making the presentation was entrusted to Lavinia. Her speech was printed in full with the other speeches (all by men) in a special edition of the Alloa Advertiser and she became a minor local celebrity.
In 1906 the Liberals won an election landslide, with the help of the many local Women’s Liberal groups. It might have been thought that women would now have a better chance of being given the parliamentary vote. It was not to be. The new government was busy with social legislation: old age pensions, national insurance and other anti-poverty measures. However, the Qualification of Women (County and Town Councils) Act, which became law on 28th August 1907, allowed women to be elected as town and county councillors.
The Minute Book of the Clackmannan and Kinross Women’s Liberal Association for 26 September 1907 records that the Committee (from which Mrs Malcolm was absent, although she later signed the minute) had received a resolution from their Scottish Executive (text shown on right).
Mrs Malcolm was at this time a ratepayer and thus eligible to stand in town council elections. She was also a Vice-President of the Clackmannan and Kinross Women’s Liberal Association (CKWLA), was highly regarded locally as a public speaker and had recently presented a bust of Gladstone to the new Liberal Club. It seems extraordinary that the Committee did not consider she would make a suitable candidate.
The Liberal ladies may not have recognised Lavinia’s worth but Dollar folk were more perceptive. Dr John Strachan and Michael Cochrane nominated her.
“The Executive calls the attention of Women’s Liberal Associations to the fact that women ratepayers are now by Act of Parliament eligible for election to Town and County Councils as well as to Parish Councils and would urge that suitable candidates be asked to stand at the coming election. The Committee agreed most heartily that in these councils there is a wide sphere of usefulness for Women Councillors but meanwhile could think of no woman who would be willing to enter these open doors”.
Elected – First woman Town Councillor in Scotland
On 6th November 1907, Mrs Malcolm was elected to Dollar Town Council and also to the Parish Council. Five women were candidates in the 1907 Scottish municipal elections but only Lavinia was successful.
On 7 November The Scotsman reported: “Mrs Malcolm, Burnside House, Dollar, has the unique distinction of being the only lady in Scotland returned as a Town Councillor…”
As well as being on the Town Council, Lavinia Malcolm was on both the Parish Council and the School Board.
It was two years before another woman (Mrs Barlow in Callander) was elected to a Scottish town council. Next locally were Stirling in 1919, Tillicoultry in 1935 and Alloa not until 1955.
Scotland’s first woman Town Councillor received national press coverage and congratulations flowed in. Dollar and the Clackmannan and Kinross Women’s Liberal Association (little though it deserved it!) basked in reflected glory. Lavinia was in demand as a speaker and was invited to the opening of a new bridge in her native town, Forres.
18 November 1907
A Petition was presented signed by the scholars of Dollar Academy desiring to congratulate the Town Council on the unique position of possessing the only Lady Town Councillor and suggesting that the event should be recognised by the Town Council arranging with the Governors of Dollar Academy for granting the scholars a holiday.
The matter was allowed to lie on the table.
Dollar Town Council Minutes
On the Town Council, she was on many committees: Public Health, Water, Sanitary, Lighting and so on. In her role as Parish Councillor, Lavinia particularly enjoyed working with children and old people. She lost no time in setting up a Casual Sick Ward for the poor in Argyll Street. She was much concerned with the conditions in houses where children were boarded out and was made Convener of the Visiting Committee. This committee also decided who should go to the poor-house and who was “deserving” enough to get outdoor relief. From 1909 she was a very active member of the School Board.
In 1910 she and Mrs Barlow were delegates at the Convention of Royal Burghs, the first two women to attend the Convention. In 1912 Lavinia was the only woman delegate at the National Association for the Prevention of Infant Mortality in Caxton Hall, Westminster.
Two major events occurred in 1913. The first was in January: Lavinia generously presented a gold chain to be worn by the Provost of Dollar – at that time Provost Green.
The second event began with a disagreement between the Burgh Council and some ratepayers over the possible acquisition by the Council of the old East UF Church in the Burnside as a Town
Hall. The ratepayers thought it would be a burden on the rates. A poll was held, but a circular letter sent out the evening before the poll accused the Provost and Councillors of irregularity. Provost Green, both Bailies and several councillors refused to stand in the November election unless the allegation was withdrawn. The withdrawal was not made and this left Mrs Malcolm as the senior member of the new council.
The Provost’s Chain presented by Lavinia Malcolm in January 1913 and worn by Provost Green .
The Pendant in the 1990’s. Dollar has not had a Town Council or a Provost since local government reorganisation in 1975.
First Woman Provost
Although a woman could not be a Bailie, there was no legal reason why a woman could not lead the town council, i.e. become Provost. So Councillor McDiarmid proposed that Mrs Malcolm, who was “wise in counsel, able in administration and wholehearted in the performance of all duties relegated to her”, should be appointed Provost of Dollar.
There being no other nominations, Mrs Lavinia Malcolm became, at the age of 66, the first woman provost in Scotland.
She also became famous throughout the United Kingdom.
The Young Woman wrote of her: “Mrs Malcolm keenly enjoys her work, partly because of her enthusiasm and vivacious personality, and partly owing to her strong sense of humour, which has enlightened many a dull and dreary debate, and enlivened the prosaic details of town lighting and sanitation.”
Dollar Magazine (1917): Municipal—At the monthly meeting of the Town Council on Monday 12th November, the members did Provost Malcolm the honour of again re-electing her to the Chair for the current year.
This honour was enhanced by the pleasing unanimity which prevailed….At every public function in which she had taken a part, as their chief, she ably maintained the dignity of her office and the honour of the Burgh.
She was Provost of Dollar from 1913 until 1919, seeing the village through the 1st World War.
Provost Lavinia Malcolm in 1919
She is wearing the Provost’s Chain which she presented in 1913.
Plaque (30 April 2014)
Lavinia Malcolm, Burnside House, Dollar
Mrs Malcolm, Dollar and Women’s Suffrage
When she became Provost in 1913, she said she considered “The want of readiness of women to come forward to take part in the privileges of Local Government work as a hindrance to the franchise being given to women.” Yet, arguably, it was not women becoming Councillors nor Suffragette agitation which changed attitudes but rather the roles taken on by women in 1914-18, during World War I. Finally, women over 30 were given the vote in 1918.
20 October 1908 A very hearty and largely attended meeting of Dollar ladies (under the auspices of the Women’s Liberal Association) was held on Tuesday afternoon, 20th October, in the Masonic Hall, Convener Mrs Malcolm, presiding. Mrs Falconer, Edinburgh, delivered an address on the “Franchise of Women.” Dollar Magazine. (Lavinia Malcolm was a member of the Garrett family’s feminist network)
13 December 1913 Pro-Women’s Suffrage: The Alloa Advertiser reported “a large attendance” at a meeting in Dollar. “Mrs Abbott, London, an able advocate of the cause, gave a practical and convincing address on the question of Women’s Suffrage, making out a capital case for immediate legislation by Parliament to remove the present disabilities of women and grant them the vote. A resolution in favour of women’s suffrage and calling on the Government to grant the Parliamentary Franchise to women was proposed by Provost Mrs Malcolm and seconded by Bailie McDiarmid and unanimously agreed to.”
15 November 1913 Anti-Women’s Suffrage: It is interesting that Dollar was not wholly pro-suffrage: a report in the Alloa Advertiser on 15 Nov. 1913 stated: “On Wednesday afternoon, Mrs Solomon of London gave an address under the auspices of the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League in the Drill Hall, Dollar, to an appreciative audience. Mrs Dobie of Dollarbeg presided and introduced the speaker. Mrs Solomon ably discussed the question of women’s position from various standpoints. The Suffragettes, she said, were trying to put the Women’s Movement on the wrong lines. Women could accomplish little by interfering with men’s work – they could accomplish the salvation of their country by doing their own work well.”
The same issue of the Alloa Advertiser reports a deputation from the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies visiting the local MP, Eugene Wason, who had changed his attitude (from pro- to anti-) with regard to Women’s Suffrage “owing to the tactics of the militant party.”
When Lavinia retired in 1919 she said: “There is no scarcity of ladies in Dollar fitted to take an active interest in Municipal work and I would take it as a great compliment if at least one was returned at the forthcoming election.” Two Dollar women did stand in the 1919 Dollar Town Council election but both were defeated; there were twelve candidates for six places and the two female candidates came bottom of the poll.
In 1920, shortly before her death at Westview on 2nd November from bronchitis and heart failure, her valuable services to the community were recognised when Lavinia Malcolm was one of the first women in UK to be made a Justice of the Peace. She is buried in Dollar Churchyard.
What was she like? Intelligent, articulate, hard-working, morally upright, sympathetic but definitely not sentimental, very good at organising and with great energy. She was much loved by generations of Dollar Academy boys who boarded with the Malcolms – they wrote to Lavinia and Dickie from all over the world in later years, expressing their gratitude.
A colleague on the Town Council said Lavinia was “a lady of high culture and refined taste. Her conduct in the chair has always been distinguished by dignity and courtesy. In public speech she is never long-winded, but always brief.”
Among the tributes paid to her was the following: “Dollar will never look on her like again. She should never be forgotten.”
Dollar did mostly forget her – until 1988, when the new Dollar Museum raised her profile by featuring her in History of Dollar exhibitions. Malcolm Court is named after her and her husband.
After being ignored by previous works of biography, Lavinia’s achievements were finally recognised in the New Dictionary of National Biography, published by Oxford University Press in 2004 (article by Janet Carolan and Leah Leneman). She was also one of those chosen to be included in the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (ed. Ewan et al., EUP 2006).