Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl

Her Grace
The Duchess of Atholl
Member of Parliament
for Kinross and West Perthshire
In office
1923  28 November 1938
Preceded by James Gardiner
Succeeded by William McNair Snadden
Personal details
Born (1874-11-06)6 November 1874
Died 21 October 1960(1960-10-21) (aged 85)
Nationality British
Political party Scottish Unionist Party
Spouse(s) John Stewart-Murray, Marquess of Tullibardine (later Duke of Atholl)
Relations Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet (father);
John, 7th Duke of Atholl, KT (father-in-law)
Children None
Residence Blair Castle and London
Alma mater Royal College of Music
Profession Social reformer; parliamentarian
Religion Christian (Church of Scotland)
DBE insignia

Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl, DBE (6 November 1874 21 October 1960), née Ramsay, and known as the Marchioness of Tullibardine from 1899 to 1917, was a Scottish noblewoman and Scottish Unionist Party politician whose views were often unpopular in her party.


Early life and education

Katharine Marjory Ramsay was born in Edinburgh on 6 November 1874, the daughter of Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet. She was educated at Wimbledon High School and the Royal College of Music. During her school years she was known as Kitty Ramsay. On 20 July 1899, she married John Stewart-Murray, Marquess of Tullibardine, who succeeded his father as 8th Duke of Atholl in 1917, whereupon she became formally styled Duchess of Atholl.

Political career

Known as "Kitty", Stewart-Murray was active in Scottish social service and local government and in 1912 served on the hugely influential "Highlands and Islands Medical Service Committee" (authors of the Dewar Report) that has been widely credited with creating the forerunner of the National Health Service; she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1918.

She was the Scottish Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1923-38, and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education from 1924-29, the first woman to serve in a UK Conservative and Unionist government.

The historian William Knox has argued that, like other early female MPs in the UK, "she literally inherited" her seat from her husband, but Kenneth Baxter disputes this, noting that her husband had stood down from the former West Perthshire seat in 1917 when he succeeded to the duchy and that it had been won by a Liberal candidate in 1918 and 1922.[1][2]

Moreover, Baxter claims her victory in 1923 was not seen as "a forgone conclusion".[2] Prior to 1918, Atholl had been opposed to women's suffrage, and in parliament received criticism for this issue from her Conservative colleague Nancy Astor.[3][4]

She resigned the Conservative Whip first in 1935 over the India Bill and the "national-socialist tendency" of the government's domestic policy. Resuming the Whip, she resigned it again in 1937 over the Anglo-Italian Agreement. Finally she resigned her parliamentary seat in 1938 in opposition to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler. To permit her resignation (technically proscribed by law), she took Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds on 28 November 1938. She stood unsuccessfully in the subsequent by-election as an Independent candidate.

She argued that she actively opposed totalitarian regimes and practices. In 1931, she published The Conscription of a People - a protest against the abuse of rights in the Soviet Union. In 1936, she was involved in a long-running battle in the pages of various newspapers with Lady Houston after the latter had become notorious for her outspoken support of Benito Mussolini. Stewart-Murray had taken issue with Houston calling in the pages of the Saturday Review on the king to become British dictator in imitation of the European fascist regimes.[5]

According to her autobiography Working Partnership (1958), it was at the prompting of Ellen Wilkinson that in April 1937 she, Eleanor Rathbone, and Wilkinson went to Spain to observe the effects of the Spanish Civil War. In Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid she saw the impact of Luftwaffe bombing on behalf of the Nationalists, visited prisoners of war held by the Republicans and considered the impact of the conflict on women and children, in particular. Her book Searchlight on Spain resulted from the involvement, and her support for the Republican side in the conflict led to her being nicknamed by some the Red Duchess.[6]

However, Cowling cites her as saying that she supported the Republican government because "a government [Franco's] which used Moors could not be a national government". Her opposition to the British policy of non-intervention in Spain epitomised her attitudes and actions (NEEDS CITATION).

Shortly before or even during 1938, she traveled to Romania where she visited "Satu Maru Romanian Women Association" in the city of Satu Mare aiming to support the Romanian cause to preserve the state borders established in 1918 and keep Hungary from regaining the territory that it lost then.[7]

She campaigned against the Soviet control of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as the chairman of the League for European Freedom in Britain from 1945. In 1958, she published a biography of her life with her husband entitled Working Partnership.


She was also a vice-president of the Girls' Public Day School Trust from 1924-1960. She was also a keen composer, setting music to accompany the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson.

She was closely involved in her husband's regiment The Scottish Horse and composed the melody "The Scottish Horse" to be played on bagpipes. As Dowager Duchess of Atholl she took over the appointment of Honorary Colonel of The Regiment of Scottish Horse from 1942,[8] until she relinquished it in 1952.[9]


Her Grace, Katharine, Duchess of Atholl, died in Edinburgh, aged 85, in 1960.


See also


Primary sources

Records relating to Atholl can be found at:[10]

Published sources


  1. Knox, William W. J. (2006). The Lives of Scottish Women. Women and Scottish Society 1800-1980. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 167. ISBN 0-7486-1788-4.
  2. 1 2 Baxter, Kenneth (November 2013). "'The Advent of a Woman Candidate Was Seen . . . As Outrageous': Women, Party Politics and Elections in Interwar Scotland and England". Journal of Scottish Historical Studies. 33 (2): 265–66. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  3. Kenneth Baxter (2011). "Chapter Nine: Identity, Scottish Women and Parliament 1918-1979". In Campbell, Jodi A; Ewan, Elizabeth; Parker, Heather. The Shaping of Scottish Identities: Family, Nation and the Worlds Beyond. Guelph, Ontario: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-88955-589-1.
  4. "NEW SCHEDULE.—(Provisions as to Franchise.)". HANSARD 1803–2005. 15 May 1935. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  5. Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-39, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 235
  6. Masters, Brian (1988). The Dukes. London, UK: Frederick Muller. ISBN 0-09-173700-1.
  7. Maria A. Demian, Asociaţia Româncelor Sătmărene, în "AFIRMAREA editată de despărţământul ASTRA din Satu Mare" an III, nr.1-2, ian-febr., 1938, p. 10 [BCU Cluj-Napoca]
  8. London Gazette May 1942
  9. London Gazette, March 1952; accessed 8 April 2016.
  10. National Register of Archives, Murray, Katharine Marjory Stewart- (1874-1960) née Ramsay, Duchess of Atholl, Conservative MP GB/NNAF/P151487, The National Archives, retrieved 5 July 2007
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Gardiner
Member of Parliament for Kinross & West Perthshire
Succeeded by
William McNair Snadden
Military offices
Preceded by
His Grace
8th Duke of Atholl
Honorary Colonel of the
Scottish Horse

May 1942-May 1952
Succeeded by
Col. Robert Appleby Bartram
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