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Welsh National Opera has today launched its latest brand new production, Rhondda Rips It Up! – appropriately on International Women’s Day. Margaret Haig Thomas (Lady Rhondda) was a highly influential suffragette whose activities in and around the Newport area helped to implement change for women in the personal, political and professional worlds.
In 1908 Margaret joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), and became secretary of its Newport branch and a supporter of its militant campaign. She joined forces with the Pankhursts, jumped onto the running board of Prime Minister HH Asquith's car and attempted to destroy a post-box in Newport with a home-made chemical bomb. These activities resulted in her serving time in prison at Usk. She was released after going on a hunger strike.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, and the decision by the WSPU leadership to abandon its militant campaign for suffrage, she joined her father, who was sent by David Lloyd George to the United States to arrange the supply of munitions for the British armed forces. In May 1915, Margaret, her father and his secretary were travelling back to Britain on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine – all three survived. After her father's death, Margaret tried to take his seat in the House of Lords citing the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which allowed women to exercise ‘any public office’. The Committee of Privileges, after an initially warm reaction, eventually voted strongly against Lady Rhondda's plea. However, less than a month after her death in 1958, women entered the Lords for the first time thanks to the Life Peerages Act 1958; five years later, with the passage of the Peerage Act 1963, hereditary peeresses were also allowed to enter the Lords.
In 1920 Margaret founded political and literary review magazine Time and Tide, which she also edited from 1926 until her death. In the business world she was a director of 33 companies, having inherited 28 directorships from her father. The majority of her business interests were in coal, steel and shipping. As Lady Rhondda, Margaret was elected as the Institute of Directors' first female president in 1926, and in 2015 the annual Mackworth Lecture was launched by the IoD in her honour.
Welsh National Opera have chosen to celebrate the life of this extraordinary woman in a number of ways. As well as an on-stage production, a variety of events will be held across Wales and England to encourage participation by communities, organisations and schools. These include Come & Sing events, where you can join members of the Company for pre-show singing; a female Community Chorus who will be involved in the theatre performances; banner making workshops with Year 6 and 7 pupils in a number of schools and a mixed reality digital experience. We will also be hosting a ‘Women in Music’ symposium in Newport aimed at examining the challenges faced by women in the classical music world.
Keep checking wno.org.uk/rhondda for updates and to see how you can get involved.