Dorothy Mary Donaldson

Nekane Cherrie, City Information Centre

Today we celebrate the life of Dorothy Mary Donaldson who in 1983 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 the office was ‘it’s people that matter’. In her own words she was never “one for playing bridge and drinking tea,” and she would have had very little time for that, anyway.

“You do have to submerge to a certain extent your own personality”, said the perky Dame Mary, a member of the ‘Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ guild. “Any thought of having a personal life is just out.”

As part of her duty, during her year in office, she gave 600 speeches, held banquets for visiting heads of state, such as the Emir of Bahrain and President Mitterrand and worked 17-hour days.

Dorothy Mary Warwick was born in Wickham, Hampshire, on Aug. 29, 1921. Her father, Reginald George Gale Warwick, was an ironmonger. Her mother, Dorothy Alice Warwick, was a schoolteacher who showed her daughter the way to do things by becoming the first woman elected to her local council, so it was perhaps little surprise that Mary would never regard any hurdle as too high. She trained as a nurse during the war and qualified in 1946. Her patients included soldiers returning from Dunkirk and victims of the Blitz.

Towards the end of the war, she met John Donaldson, a lieutenant colonel in the army, through his mother, whom Miss Warwick cared for in the hospital. They were married in 1945.

Her husband, an eminent lawyer and judge, was appointed master of the rolls, one of the highest-ranking posts in Britain's judiciary.

“We've always led two separate lives -- perhaps that's why our marriage works so well,” Lady Donaldson said to The New York Times in 1983. “We've always got something to talk about.”

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."

Lady Donaldson did not wear the lord mayor’s traditional medieval knee breeches, however - although she said she would have done so if she had been a bit slimmer - and once admitted that she did not get too hot in her Lord Mayor's robes because she only wore a bra, a slip and pop socks underneath.

Among other posts, Donaldson also 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. She remained the only female Lord Mayor of the City of London until the election of Fiona Woolf in 2013. She died in 2003.

Dame Mary had the distinction of being the first woman to serve on the Court of Common Council, being chairman of a committee, the first to be elected an Alderman and the first Lady Sheriff. She became First Lady Lord Mayor in 1983.

Dame Mary Donaldson GBE, Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches, 1985. Commissioned by the Court of Aldermen in the City of London, to hang at the Mansion House. Artist Richard Stone