Ethel McDonald lived from 24 February 1909 to 1 December 1960. She was an anarchist best known for her propaganda broadcasts on Barcelona radio during the Spanish Civil War. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Ethel Camella McDonald was born in Motherwell, one of a family of nine children. She left home at sixteen and worked in a variety of jobs. She also joined the Independent Labour Party. At the age of 22 in 1931 she met Guy Aldred and worked alongside him as an activist in the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation. She and Aldred also took part in the June 1934 formation of the United Socialist Movement.
In October 1936, Ethel McDonald went to Barcelona to represent the Scottish anarchist movement and show support for the anarchists forces in the Spanish Civil War. She travelled with Jenny Patrick, Guy Aldred's partner. Ethel was soon making broadcasts in support of the anarchist cause on the Barcelona radio station run by the National Workers Confederation. Broadcasting in English, she attracted interest from the international media and her broadcasts were reported in newspapers as far afield as in the USA. McDonald was in the anarchist headquarters in Barcelona, helping fill cartridge clips, during the May 1937 attack by the communists, in which 300 anarchists were killed.
After this, Ethel McDonald continued to help support the anarchist cause in Spain, visiting many in prison and helping some escape. Before long she was being referred to in the British press as the "Scots Scarlet Pimpernel". Later in 1937 she was herself briefly imprisoned by a loyalist faction before leaving Spain. She returned to Glasgow that November, after a speaking tour that took her across France and to Amsterdam.
After returning to Glasgow, Ethel helped other anarchists such as Guy Aldred, Jenny Patrick and John Taylor Caldwell to establish an anarchist publishing house, The Strickland Press. Ethel McDonald remained closely involved with The Strickland Press through World War Two and into the Cold War era of the 1950s. She died in 1960.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".