Who Was Margaret McMillan?
Margaret mcMillan worked in Bradford for several years. She campaigned for improved conditions for children and her work included research into the conditions faced by children. In Bradford she became a member of the schools board and was highly influential, leading to the cities education system being much improved as a result.
She was born in Westchester County, New York, on the 20th July, 1860. Her parents, James and Jean McMillan, had originally come from Inverness but had emigrated to the United States in 1840. After the death of her James in 1865, Mrs. McMillan decided to take her two young daughters, Margaret and Rachel McMillan back to Scotland.
In October 1889, Rachel and Margaret helped the workers during the London Dock Strike. The continued to be involved in spreading the word of Christian Socialism to industrial workers and in 1892 it was suggested that their efforts would be appreciated in Bradford.
Although for the next few years they were based in Bradford, Rachel and Margaret toured the industrial regions speaking at meetings and visiting the homes of the poor. As well as attending Christian Socialist meetings, the sisters joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, the Social Democratic Federation and the newly formed Independent Labour Party.
Margaret and Rachel’s work in Bradford convinced them that they should concentrate on trying to improve the physical and intellectual welfare of the slum child. In 1892 Margaret joined Dr. James Kerr, Bradford’s school medical officer, to carry out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain. Kerr and McMillan published a report on the medical problems that they found and began a campaign to improve the health of children by arguing that local authorities should install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals.
The sisters remained active in politics and Margaret McMillan became the Independent Labour Party candidate for the Bradford School Board. Elected in 1894 and working closely with Fred Jowett, leader of the ILP on the local council, Margaret now began to influence what went on in Bradford schools. She also wrote several books and pamphlets on the subject including Child Labour and the Half Time System (1896) and Early Childhood (1900). In 1902 Margaret joined Rachel McMillan in London. The sisters joined the recently formed Labour Party and worked closely with leaders of the movement including James Keir Hardie and George Lansbury. Margaret continued to write books on health and education. In 1904 she published her most important book, Education Through the Imagination (1904) and followed this with The Economic Aspects of Child Labour and Education (1905).
The two sisters joined with their old friend, Katharine Glasier, to lead the campaign for school meals and eventually the House of Commons became convinced that hungry children cannot learn and passed the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act. The legislation accepted the argument put forward by the McMillan sisters that if the state insists on compulsory education it must take responsibility for the proper nourishment of school children.