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In the Name of the Sisterhood - Edith Martin

As part of our exhibition 'In the Name of the Sisterhood' the stories of a number of influential women came to light.

One such woman was Edith Martin.

Edith Martin (neé Sinclair) was born in 1871, the eldest child of Fanny Coit (neé Bunker) and John Sinclair, an Ulster businessman. John Sinclair was originally from Belfast but had emigrated to New York, where Edith was born.

Edith married Robert Thomas Martin, a well-known Belfast solicitor, in a wedding ceremony in New York in 1892, and the couple would go on to have three children, a son and two daughters. They lived at College Gardens in Belfast.

On the death of her son John, who was Killed in Action in France in May 1915 aged 19, Edith decided to return to education and attended Queen’s University of Belfast where she attained a BSc. In 1919 she accepted nomination to the Senate of Queen’s University, citing as a reason that it was “time that the women members of Convocation had a Representative on the Senate.” She also felt that British industry depended on scientific research, and, as a holder of a science degree, she was particularly well placed to form opinions on such matters. She did not succeed in the election for the Senate, but remained at Queen’s University to complete her MSc.

1919 was a year of further tragedy for Edith when her husband died as a result of a motorcycle accident on 27 October.

Edith had an interest in Unionist politics, giving talks and lectures about the same, and was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council. In 1928 her lecture to the Ulster Unionist Summer School was on “Woman’s Place in Politics and Industry.” In it she called for women to be “given every chance to be well trained in whatever occupation they might wish to follow,” and asserted that women should be “paid on the basis of work done and not on a sex basis.”

In 1925 she was sworn in as a Justice of the Peace for County Armagh, and seems to have spent much of her time at her home at Laurel Hill in Mount Norris, where her late husband’s family was from.

Edith was a member of the Association of Loyal Orangewomen of Ireland. She was Worshipful Mistress of both St Anne’s WLOL No. 37 in District 5, Belfast, and of Laurel Hill WLOL No. 49 in County Armagh. She was Worshipful District Mistress of District No. 5, Belfast, was elected Grand Secretary in 1923, and was Deputy Grand Mistress of Ireland in the 1930s.

Edith returned to studies after completing her MSc, this time to study Theology. She had the distinction of being the first woman to graduate with a Batchelor of Divinity from Queen’s University, Belfast. Although her studies had meant that she was accepted as a student in the Presbytery of Newry, and later assisted at Sinclair Seamen’s Church in Belfast, she posed a problem for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

The Church had only recently, in 1927, permitted women to act as Elders, and there was ongoing debate about whether they should be allowed to become Ministers. The meeting of the General Assembly in 1929 could not reach a decision on the matter, but allowed Edith to continue her studies. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland continued to bar women from becoming ministers, and so Edith was licensed in 1930 by the United Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and ordained on 19 June 1931 to become the first woman to be ordained by any Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Martin was moved in 1934 to the congregation of Balbeggie and Collace, where she ministered until 1938, when she retired from her charge. During her time there she was Moderator of the Presbytery of Perth. She returned to Northern Ireland, where she spent her time between her home at Harberton Park, Belfast and Laurel Hill, Mountnorris. She continued to lead services in Presbyterian churches across the country and took a strong interest in the Presbyterian Orphan Society. She was also the honorary assistant librarian at the Presbyterian College in Belfast.

Edith had a continuing concern for social welfare, and during the Second World War was a member of the VAD, driving a motor ambulance during the Belfast Blitz.

Rev. Edith Sinclair Martin, MSc, BD died on 23 September 1948 at her home at Laurel Hill.

* Edith Sinclair Martin picture is from the Dundee Courier - Friday 22 June 1934.

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