The First Councilwoman

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Councillor Ella Morison Millar_SL134_3_1
Councillor Ella Morison Millar in the 1940s. From collection held in Edinburgh City Archives.

Edinburgh Town Council’s first lady councillor was Ella Morison Millar, elected to represent the Morningside Ward in January 1919. Although she was not Scotland’s first lady councillor, she was the first elected female city councillor in the country.

Over the 30 years Councillor Millar served on the council she became a city magistrate, chaired the Public Health and Public Assistance committees, and convened several sub-committees, including those on Mental Diseases and Continuation Schools. She campaigned actively against poverty and for better education and housing in the city.

During her time as a councillor she was witness to the evolution of the Town Council to include responsibilities for education, housing, health, gas and water supply, and welfare. She retired in 1949 just as the national welfare state was being set up.

Outside of the Town Council, Ella was also an active member of the Edinburgh branch of the National Council of Women and founded a golf competition for lady golfers in Edinburgh that still bears her name.

Other pioneers

Scotland’s first female councillor was a Mrs. Lavina Malcolm, elected into Dollar Town Council in 1907. This was the first year that women were allowed to stand as candidates in local council elections – some 11 years before women gaining parliamentary voting rights for the first time in 1918. Councillor Malcolm was elected as Dollar’s Provost in 1913, and she remained in that post until 1919.

Leith, as a separate burgh to Edinburgh until 1920, elected their first female councillor, Clarice McNab in 1913. Councillor McNab was the first Labour Town Council member in Scotland.

 

Edinburgh remembers its women politicians and leaders through official records such as minutes and ceremonial photographs, as well as in the records of the organisations they worked in. Their elections and campaigns are often also reported in the newspapers of the day.

The City Archives itself not only has photographs of many of its historical councillors, including Ella’s, but also has the records of the Edinburgh branch of the National Council of Women of Great Britain. Historical local newspapers can be accessed at Edinburgh’s Central Library and online at the Scotsman Digital Archive.

We preserve these records to tell us about the past; but we want you to tell us what to collect about life today for tomorrow: www.edinburgh.gov.uk/archivesurvey