Who was Laura McLaren, Lady Aberconwy?
Laura McLaren, Lady Aberconwy (1854–1933), was a leading Liberal suffragist. The daughter of Agnes Heap Pochin, who spoke at the first ever public suffrage meeting in 1868, Laura quickly became an activist in the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, founding the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union and, in 1910, leading a deputation to Downing Street to confront Prime Minister Asquith about his opposition to women’s rights.
The first ever public suffrage meeting was held on the 14th April 1868 at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Agnes, Laura’s mother, was one of the speakers, with her father as chairman. Laura was in the audience.
After her marriage in 1877, McLaren joined the executive committee of the London National Society of Women’s Suffrage and later that of the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage.
In February 1882 she was on the platform at the Sheffield Grand Demonstration of Women; in November 1882 she wore a ‘dress reform outfit, with a divided skirt’ to address Glasgow’s Grand Demonstration.
McLaren's 1908 pamphlet, Better and Happier, described her activism:
" How often have we tramped along the muddy lanes, how often have we gone round from door to door, often receiving rebuffs and unkindness. Well do we remember dreary railway stations at midnight, the last train gone, and snow upon the ground."
On 21 June 1910, she helped represent the Women’s Liberal Federation in a pro-suffrage deputation to 10 Downing Street, alongside suffragists including Millicent Fawcett.
By 1913, McLaren was vice-president of the non-partisan National Political League for Men and Women.
Her war years
McLaren’s war work consisted of running an officers’ nursing home in her London house, 43 Belgrave Square.
In 1916 she became President of the Women’s Liberal Federation. In the same year, she co-signed a letter to The Times arguing that the ‘changed position of women in industry’ and the fact that the war had made women ‘heads of wholly unpresented households’ made it ‘essential that women themselves should be heard’ in the reconsideration of women’s position after the war.
The family legacy continues
Laura’s daughter, Florence Priscilla Bright-McLaren, Lady Norman, was also a suffragist activist and political wife. She was treasurer of the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union and active in the Women’s Liberal Federation. A 1916 photograph shows Florence travelling by scooter to her London office.