Catherine Hogg Blair

Born 1872. Died 1946.
Research by Kate Neilson

Who is Catherine Hogg Blair?

Catherine was born on 8th January 1872 in Bathgate, West Lothian, the third of six children born to Susan and James Shields. A farmer's daughter, she was educated at Bathgate Academy. In July 1894 she married Thomas Blair, himself a farmer, and they set up home at Hoprig Mains Farm in the parish of Gladsmuir, East Lothian and there they raised 2 sons and 2 daughters.

In her thirties Catherine became one of the most prominent and active Scottish campaigners for women's suffrage. Although a member of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), she did not take part in the more militant activity, not wanting to risk imprisonment because of her young family. Her efforts were instead directed towards a highly effective letter writing campaign, chairing local meetings and delivering speeches to highlight the suffrage cause. As well as defending militant action she gave refuge at her home to suffragette prisoners released under the Cat and Mouse Act. Her husband fully supported her, resigning from his vice-presidency of the local Liberal party due to the government's intransigence on the suffrage issue.


Catherine Blair

Image of Catherine Blair. (c) Scottish Women's Rural Institute (SWRI)


A talented designer, skilled in painting, embroidery and needlework, Catherine was also a passionate campaigner for improving and enriching the lives of rural women, especially through arts and crafts, believing that creativity existed within even poor rural homes. Seeing the potential and determined to encourage this wealth of talent she founded the Scottish Women's Rural Institute at Longniddry in 1917, thus enabling lonely and isolated country women to socialise, sharing and passing on their skills.

In 1919, following a demonstration of pottery painting at one of the meetings, Catherine founded what was to become the cottage industry of Mak'Merry Pottery from a shed in her garden. The women were encouraged to paint their own designs passing on their skills to other institutes and producing pottery to sell thus providing extra income. She was involved too in establishing the Lothian Hame Arts Guild of Craftswomen.

Catherine and her husband retired to North Berwick in 1932 where a new Mak'Merry studio was established at their home. Thomas' death in 1936 affected her deeply but with the onset of the Second World War her voluntary work with the Red Cross and the Polish Relief Fund helped her recovery. After the war and despite ill health she again used her writing and communicating skills to campaign for housing for homeless people and various other social issues until her death on 18th November 1946.

After searching in vain for her grave I finally discovered that Catherine had been cremated at Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh on 21st November. Although no stone exists the following from a fellow member of the SWRI could be considered a fitting tribute:

“To those of us who were privileged to know Mrs Blair her friendship was a unique experience. The WRI movement has lost a great leader.......we regret the loss of a teacher who stressed the importance of the individual and the value of the human spirit.”


Haddington Library
The Haddingtonshire Courier, 22nd and 29th November 1946

Edinburgh Room, Central Library
Obituary in The Scotsman 19th November 1946

Leneman, Leah The Scottish Suffragettes, National Museums Scotland
Ewan, E., Innes, S., Reynolds, S., Pipes, R. Eds. The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women,
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Sharon, Monica Catherine Blair: Living her Splendid Best, Scottish Home and Country, December 1987