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Putting Welsh-American pioneer back on historic map

29 January 2015

A Cardiff University historian is helping put one of Wales' long-forgotten pioneers back on the historic map in a new programme shining light on the writer & women's rights campaigner Margaret Roberts 

Bill Jones, Professor in Modern Welsh History at Cardiff University, is no stranger to uncovering lost histories. This week sees his original research reveal the amazing varied achievements of a little-remembered 19th century Welsh-American writer who championed rights for women and helped to promote science in new historical series Dylan ar Daith on S4C [Saturday 31 January].

The life of Margaret Evans Roberts (1833-1921) was full and varied: lecturer, educationalist, writer, phrenologist, women's rights and temperance campaigner, devoted Christian, evolutionist, promoter and populariser of science, she was also grocer's wife, farmer's wife and boot store keeper in an incredible life.

Her story is revealed in Dylan ar Daith - O Hirwaun i Iowa when presenter Dylan Iorwerth time travels to Hirwaun, New York, Iowa and Scranton to find out more about the Welsh-American writer and women's rights campaigner, known to members of the Welsh language community all over the world through hundreds of articles on a dazzling range of topics in Y Drych [The Mirror].

Bill first discovered Margaret Roberts when researching his PhD on the Welsh in the late 19th and early 20th century Scranton, Pennsylvania, uncovering references to her as the only female participant in the city's Welsh Philosophical Society's debates in the 1880s and 1890s.

"During her long life she lived in Wales, Iowa and Pennsylvania before returning to Wales. In her time she was regarded as one of the most gifted Welsh-language writers of either sex in America and Wales - a real household name. The daughter of a cobbler and small farmer in rural Carmarthenshire, from her mid-forties onwards she dedicated herself to challenging prevailing orthodoxies and to promoting feminism and new ideas in science' he explains.

For a historian, Margaret Roberts is a shining example of how Welsh emigrants to the USA adapted to new cultures and ideas in a new country while at the same time seeking to retain their native language and ways of life.

Bill expands: 'Her life and achievement are relevant today because of her struggle on behalf of the rights of women and their equality with men. Her story also reminds us of the importance of researching and recovering the lives and impact of people who were important in the past but who have for various reasons disappeared from our surviving historical record.

'Researching her story has been difficult and time consuming because she left no personal papers and no collected writings, but it has been an intriguing puzzle to unravel, and  I am delighted that my research is now ensuring Margaret Roberts is put her back on the historical record once more' he adds.


Professor Bill Jones

History at Cardiff University


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