Mary Donaldson

Published 16th July 2018
Dorothy Mary Donaldson was the first female Lord Mayor of London.

Dorothy Mary Donaldson, The Lady Donaldson of Lymington, previously known as Dame Mary Donaldson, was born in Wickham, Hampshire, and trained in Oxford as a nurse during the war, qualifying in 1946. Her patients included soldiers returning from Dunkirk and victims of the Blitz.

Donaldson said that she was “never one for playing bridge and drinking coffee” and whilst she brought up her three children she spent her time volunteering and supporting charities such as the Red Cross. She became a magistrate at the Inner London Juvenile Court. She decided to stand in her local area, which happened to be the Corporation of the City of London, and whilst no legal reason she could not stand, she was warned that it was not a good idea as no woman had ever held the post. She became the first woman to be elected to the City’s Court of Common Council.

In 1966, she was elected a Member of the City of London Court of Common Council and became the first female Alderman in 1967, with the first female Sheriff of the City of London in 1981. From 1967-69, she chaired the Women’s National Cancer Control Campaign, and then the Vice President of the British Cancer Council.

In 1983, Donaldson became the first female Lord Mayor. Her election created history as the first woman to hold the position in its 800 year history. Her theme of office was “it’s people that matter” and it was her duty to hold banquets for visiting headings of state, among those she entertained were the Emir of Bahrain and President Mitterrand. She remained the only female Lord Mayor of the City of London until the election of Fiona Woolf in 2013.

She called herself “Lord Mayor”, choosing not to adopt the female equivalent. Those who incorrectly referred to her as the “Lady Mayoress” would be fined £1 payable to the NSPCC. ”The fact that I’m a woman is purely biological,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1983. ”If it encourages other women to take more positions of responsibility, then it’ll have achieved something, but I’m not a feminist.”

She also commented that “of course there are things which men can do better than women…but equally, women have attributes which men can never possess. Personally, I find it difficult not to become over-involved in issues concerning people”.

Donaldson chaired the Interim Licensing Authority for Human In Vitro Fertilisation and Embryology from 1985 and then was a member of the Press Complaints Commission from 1991-96.

Donaldson served on the committee of the Royal Humane Society from 1968-83. From 1991-1995 she was a member of the Press Complaints Commission, and she was a chairman of the Council of the Banking Ombudsman from 1985-1994. She was vice-president of Counsel and Care for the Elderly from 1980.

In her spare time, Donaldson enjoyed gardening, sailing and skiing. She died aged 82 in 2003, leaving behind her husband, John Donaldson, Baron Donaldson of Lymington, the Master of the Rolls from 1982-92, two daughters, a son and six grandchildren.

Written by Caroline Dix, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years