The Bright family of Bodnant Garden

Helen McLaren, Duncan McLaren, John Bright, Priscilla Bright-McLaren and Charles McLaren

The daughter of a Lancashire Quaker mill owner, Priscilla Bright (1815-1906) came from campaigning stock; sister to celebrated Liberal statesmen John and Jacob Bright, who fought slavery and the Corn Laws, and temperance activist Margaret Bright Lucas.

In 1848 Priscilla married Duncan McLaren, Liberal MP for Edinburgh and Lord Provost of Edinburgh, himself a suffrage supporter who introduced the first Married Women’s Property (Scotland) Act.

Priscilla campaigned tirelessly for the cause of women's suffrage. In 1867 she became the founding President of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and in 1870 presided at first public meeting in favour of women’s suffrage held in Edinburgh – those same early days in which Agnes Pochin was campaigning in Manchester.

The two families were aquainted through John Bright’s friendship with Henry Pochin and were united when, in 1877, Priscilla's son Charles McLaren married Henry's daughter Laura Pochin

Duncan and Priscilla McLaren
Duncan and Priscilla McLaren
Duncan and Priscilla McLaren

Throughout her life Priscilla became as famous for her drawing-room meetings, to reach out to women who would not attend public meetings, as for arranging large public demonstrations. Her husband Duncan McLaren once said: "My dear, people will think that you have Women’s Suffrage on the brain,” to which she replied “I have it not only on the brain, but on the heart.”

Campaigning to the end, she died in Edinburgh in 1906 shortly after giving her written support for more suffragettes who had been imprisoned for their militancy. An obituary in The Scottish Review said: "It is safe to say that she bore a part in nearly every movement for the moral, social and political emancipation of the people from the days of the Corn Law agitation to our own. Along with her brother Jacob Bright, she lifted up her voice on behalf of the cause at a time when it had not won its way to popular favour."

Reflecting on the decades of struggle an elderly Priscilla had said: ‘It makes me almost wonder how we had the courage to begin with our smaller steps at first. But hope and enthusiasm inspire all pioneers. The difficulties which lie before them are wisely hidden; and as they arise, they are an inspiration and almost a pleasure to those in earnest. We began as they who climb a mountain from an enclosed valley, believing the summit to be nearer than it proved. Just as in nature our views widened the higher we climbed."

An elderly Duncan McLaren with Walter and Eva, Charles and Laura
An elderly Duncan McLaren with Walter and Eva, Charles and Laura
An elderly Duncan McLaren with Walter and Eva, Charles and Laura