Obituary: Mary Carson

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The Independent Online
Mary Carson, journalist: born Glasgow 24 August 1902; died Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire 24 July 1993.

MARY CARSON was an influential journalist and a quietly effective defender of women's interests. As women's editor of the Glasgow Herald - now the Herald - for more than three decades she wrote a weekly column which provided a thread of continuity from the depression years to the post- war age of affluence.

Following the convention of the time she wrote the column under a pseudonym but the choice of name, Jean Kelvin, was a step towards realism and away from whimsicality. Her predecessor's non de plume had been 'Will o' the Wisp'.

Opportunities for women to enter journalism were limited when Carson graduated with an arts degree from Glasgow University. She took a secretarial course and thus found a job on a Church of Scotland newspaper, the Scots Observer. Before long she was writing features and in due course was head-hunted for the Herald by Mary Grieve, later editor of Woman magazine, who then worked on the Herald's sister paper the Bulletin. The thinking was that women's features required a more educated approach than they had been receiving until then.

By the time Carson retired, in 1962, women were being recruited to the paper in greater numbers but she never forgot what she once described as 'the host of niggling restrictions on grounds of sex' which existed at the time she entered journalism. During her years as a journalist women's pages devoted more space to the activities of organisations and societies than is the case with today's more socially oriented approach but May Carson was always alert to the wider questions of social injustice in general and sex inequalities in particular.

As she remarked at the time of her retirement, she did not altogether resist the feminist label. 'As a champion of women in these matters,' she said, 'I was charged with feminism which, if it is as I consider it to be, a concern for justice, I accept.'

Early in her career she argued against the rule that women should stop working immediately they married, objecting to the hardship that this could cause. In 1962 she noted how the focus of concern had been transferred from single to married women. 'Today it's the married women who complain of frustration, about whose pitiable lot articles galore appear in the best papers,' she wrote in a farewell article for the Herald. She also helped to bring about a positive change in public attitudes to the physically and mentally handicapped, whose problems received an airing in her column along with those of spastics, epileptics and cancer sufferers.

She was a participant as well as an observer, serving as president of Glasgow Association of University Women and after her retirement becoming publicity officer for the Scottish Women's Rural Institute. In her latter years her ability was progressively restricted but not her mental acuity or her interest in life, and she remained a fascinating conversationalist. Until a few years ago she continued to attend Scottish National Orchestra concerts in a wheelchair. In her late eighties she decided to move from her flat in sheltered housing to an identical one on the floor above in order to be able to look over the garden wall rather than into it. Her friends found this a typical and symbolic action.