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Women's History Month: Margaret McElroy

Release Date: 07 Mar 2018

As part of Women’s History Month, we’re featuring the lives of inspirational women who had pivotal roles in Barnardo’s history.

Margaret McElroy

Margaret McElroy was born in Co. Armagh in 1895. She was the fourth of five children left in dire circumstances after her father’s death and her mother’s inability to obtain much work through ill health. She and her younger sister had contracted polio as infants and were also suffering from rickets, leaving them both small and frail with limb deformities and unable to walk.

In 1901, at the age of five, McElroy and her younger sister Mary were admitted to Barnardo’s care. At the age of 14, they were transferred from Suffolk to the Girls Village Home, Barkingside. McElroy trained as a seamstress and worked at Agra House, the Barnardo’s home for disabled children in Tunbridge Wells, and soon became an expert in specially tailoring clothes to fit the children with spinal deformities or missing limbs.

In 1930 a senior Guide visited the home and McElroy became a Ranger. spending the following eight years helping younger and more disabled girls achieve new things. At the start of the Second World War McElroy set up a Guide Company in Southborough. After the boys at the home complained that they couldn’t join in, she worked with the Superintendent to assist him in setting up a Scout Troop.

After several years her health deteriorated again and she was forced to spend two years in hospital. On release from hospital she returned to Barkingside. McElroy became involved with a local Guide Company but soon wanted to provide opportunities for disabled girls from the village and local area. She had to convince the commissioner that she was physically up to the task, but was eventually able to set up another company. Word of her efforts spread and before long the group had grown to more than seventy members.

Margaret McElroy

In 1968 McElroy was invited to attend the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her work for the Guide Movement and met the Duke of Edinburgh.

She retired from active guiding in 1972 and passed away in 1983 aged 87.

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