The Countess works energetically to en-courage the produce and sale of Irish home industries, even on one occasion requesting the guests to appear at the Castle as much as possible in costumes of Irish manufacture. The scene proved a brilliant one, and may be said to have introduced a new industrial era in Ireland.
Here is another illustration of her ladyship's energy in this direction. At the great exhibition held in Chicago some years ago her ladyship helped to establish a model Irish village. President Cleveland was then in office, and when he visited the exhibition six pretty Irish girls presented him with gifts of Irish lace, embroidered linen, and a shillelagh.
By the way, it is remarkable what a number of ladies of the peerage have followed the example set by the Countess of Aberdeen, and are at the present time working for the development of the Irish home industries. There is the Duchess of Abercorn, for instance, who established a creamery at Baronscourt, and a knitting industry centre, from which the Army Clothing Department purchases thousands of pairs of woollen socks and stockings every year. The Countess of Lucan, Viscountess Castlerosse, and the Marchioness of Waterford have all done a great deal for the Irish poor by the splendid organisation of their several industries, and so has the Countess of Mayo as president of the Royal School of Art Needlework, in which she displays such practical interest, while the valuable work performed by the Marchioness of Londonderry in connection with the Royal Irish Industries Association is well known.
Another society in which Lady Aberdeen takes a deep, practical interest is the Women's Industrial Council. As is well known, the council aims at collecting facts, disseminating information, and promoting beneficial action with regard to the industrial interest of women and girls.
Then, again, Lady Aberdeen has a very warm place in her heart for poor children. When Dollis Hill was their home, the Earl and Countess would frequently entertain large parties of waifs, and nothing gave her ladyship greater pleasure than the sight of East End children dancing round a Maypole at one of the May Day festivals. When General Booth made his appeal on behalf of "Darkest England," the Earl and the Countess were among the first to subscribe £1,000, while the Ragged School Union, the Sunday School Union, and many other benevolent institutions have found in Lady Aberdeen a kind and practical friend.
Mention of Lady Aberdeen's love for children reminds one of a dramatic incident in which she figured when she and her husband went to Egypt for their wedding tour. At that time Gordon was trying to suppress the slave traffic. Four slave boys who were offered for sale attracted Lady Aberdeen's compassion, and the slave-dealer was invited to bring them on board Lord Aberdeen's dahabeeyah, where he hoped to find a purchaser. When the man stepped on deck with his human chattels Lord Aberdeen pointed to the British flag, and said, "These boys are free. I claim them in the name of the Queen." Afterwards however, he compensated the slave-dealer, and Lady Aberdeen returned to England with the four boys, and another whom she rescued. Three of them died, but two were educated, and set to useful work.
It is interesting to note, in view of the fact that Lady Aberdeen when she started the "Onward and Upward" journal enlisted the services of her only daughter, Lady Marjorie Gordon, now the Lady Pentland, that her ladyship, like her husband, is a firm believer in children being taught some useful occupation, no matter what their station in life may be; and that is the reason why her son, Lord Haddo, was brought up to be a practical farmer, while her daughter is a trained housekeeper who could dispense with a servant if necessary, without any sense of grievance.
For many years, it might be mentioned, Lady Marjorie helped her mother in all her many schemes for the benefit of her sister women. She has spoken in public, writes with ability, and has dramatised several of Sir Walter Scott's novels.
A Democratic Countess
It cannot be said that the Countess of Aberdeen's democratic ideas have always been well received by society. This fact, however, troubles her ladyship very little. She is, to quote the apt description given of her some time ago, "a countess with a conscience," and she is certainly one of the most conscientious of peeresses in the performance of anything that comes in the guise of "a duty." She is a woman not only of high mental gifts, but one who possesses a very decided individuality. Some idea of her powers of organisation have already been given, and the fact that in former days she acted as one of the leading hostesses of the Liberal party is evidence of her popularity in the social world.
At the same time, the Countess cares little for social life. To quote her own words: "We are here to work, to use whatever gifts we possess, whatever ability, power, and position is ours, for the benefit of the less fortunate."