Inspiration and In Memoriam: Mary McIntosh

The past few days have been very sad ones as I have learnt of the deaths of two former  teachers, colleagues and dear friends: Stan Cohen and Mary McIntosh. They were both inspirational; both pioneers in their works for rights and better worlds ; both serious intellectuals; and both very dear people. They will be much missed.

Goodbye Mary: We love you

mary mc c.1971

It is with very great sadness I learnt of the death of Mary McIntosh – a very dear person to me and many others – and a great inspiration.  She had bounced back from very serious illness several times over the past few years; but finally it was another  stroke that took her on Saturday January 5th 2013. Sad news for the start of the new year. Condolences to all her close friends but especially Ange, her long time partner, and Duncan her ‘son’.

Mary was a pioneer: a second wave feminist, an active member of the lesbian and gay movement, one of the most quietly influential of sociologists of the 1960’s through 1990’s, and a wonderful person. She also remained a committed socialist.

She was one of the greatest influences on my life. Very early on, I wrote to her as an undergradaute when she was tecahing at Leicester and she sent me several of her unpublished papers on the sociology of homosexuality. These were amazing pieces and a real eye opener for me. Very shortly afterwards, one of these papers was published as ‘The Homosexual Role’ in the journal Social Problems: the rest is history. It has become one of the classicial foundational arguments of the sociology of homosexuality. It gave a historical and fully social meaning to the idea of same sex relations. I was to meet her personally just a few years later at the London School of Economics- first at a seminar on ‘deviance’ for graduate students ( when I was giving my first ever paper: Changing Conceptions of Homosexuality in 1968 She was very encouraging).  But later and more significantly we became friends in the very early meetings of the London Gay Liberation Front in 1970. She became a very prominent figure in this movement – with her partner of the time, Elizabeth Wilson.She was also becoming even more active in the then flourishing Women’s Movement .

Her activism bridged into a careful and thorough sociology. She had been well trained into the elements at Oxford and Berkeley, and adopted first functionalist ideas then Marxist ones ( there is really only a small (but major ideological) step between them). She became involved in  establishing the new and lively group of young academic Turks studying crime- the National Deviancy Conference. She was also engaged in setting up two journals Economy and Society ( 1978-1994) and Feminist Review (1972-1978) where she became part of the influential  first editorship and stewardship (both have gone on to become major world journals). She was also very active in the British Sociological Association.

Finally, I came to know her most of all when she arrived at Essex as a colleague at the University of Essex in 1976/7 – where she worked for the next twenty years. Academically, she straddled several fields: criminology, theory,social policy, the family, feminism, Marxism. She loved teaching and taught the first feminism and gender course in the department – hugely popular with students, but dropped when she retired. Here she was to become a key influence and the first woman ‘Head of Department’ of Sociology ( 1986-9).Sadly, and to the shame of the Essex Department, she was never promoted to the rank of full Professor.  She retired in 1996.

After her retirement, she worked a little at Birkbeck College, London; but she gradually  left ‘academia’ behind. She worked for some time at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and continued her  political activities. Her papers have been chronicled at the London School of Economics. Search-

Even though she did not like writing and suffered writer’s block, she published some influential works including

co -editor with Paul Rock of Deviance and social control (Tavistock, London, 1974);

The organisation of crime (Macmillan, London, 1975);

co-writer with Michelle Barrett of The anti-social family (NLB, London, 1982);

co-writer with Lynne Segal : Sex exposed: sexuality and the pornography debate (Virago, London, 1992);

and a host of pathbreaking  articles on an array issues like of homosexuality, prostitution and family policy.

Mary was a serious intellectual and a passionate activist. A strong, caring, quiet presence – she also had a very joyful sense of fun and always ready for a dance and a laugh.  I missed her greatly when she left Essex; the department could never be quite the same for me. And now she leaves a gaping hole in the world. But she will be loved in remembrance.

An obituary for Mary can be found in  The Guardian


FOR MARY: The Choir Invisible

Oh, may I join the choir invisible 
Of those immortal dead who live again 
In minds made better by their presence; live 
In pulses stirred to generosity, 
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn 
For miserable aims that end with self, 
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars, 
And with their mild persistence urge men’s search 
To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven: 
To make undying music in the world, 
Breathing a beauteous order that controls 
With growing sway the growing life of man. 
So we inherit that sweet purity 
For which we struggled, failed, and agonized 
With widening retrospect that bred despair. 
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued, 
A vicious parent shaming still its child, 
Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved; 
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies, 
Die in the large and charitable air, 
And all our rarer, better, truer self 
That sobbed religiously in yearning song, 
That watched to ease the burden of the world, 
Laboriously tracing what must be, 
And what may yet be better, — saw within 
A worthier image for the sanctuary, 
And shaped it forth before the multitude, 
Divinely human, raising worship so 
To higher reverence more mixed with love, — 
That better self shall live till human Time 
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky 
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb 
Unread forever.

This is life to come, — 
Which martyred men have made more glorious 
For us who strive to follow. May I reach 
That purest heaven, — be to other souls 
The cup of strength in some great agony, 
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love, 
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty, 
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused, 
And in diffusion ever more intense! 
So shall I join the choir invisible 
Whose music is the gladness of the world. 

George Eliot

  12 comments for “Inspiration and In Memoriam: Mary McIntosh

  1. Duncan Barrett
    January 8, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you Ken. This is a lovely piece, and a beautiful poem that captures something I think everyone who loved Mary will recognise.

  2. Phil Scraton
    January 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Thanks Ken.

    A wonderful and fitting memorial. I met Mary briefly, first at Essex, but knew her work well and she was so influential … This is a sad time but you have celebrated Mary beautifully.


  3. January 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Dear Duncan

    Thanks for this. My thoughts are with you.

    I have been asked to use this as a basis for a possible obit for the Guardian.

    If so, two things strike me. Is it suitable to call you son in quote marks or would you prefer me to leave the quote marks out?

    And is there anything else you think I should add.

    I am told I have to do it today!

    Thinking of you at this very sad time


  4. January 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thanks Phil for this. Best wishes Ken

  5. kerry schott
    January 11, 2013 at 2:50 am

    Ken, I think this is a lovely piece to use as the foundation for the Guardian obit, You show the importance of her academic work and dont leave out her sense of fun and active involvement. Kerry Schott

  6. ronmoule
    January 13, 2013 at 10:32 am

    A lovely memoir. I was not close to Mary, met rarely, but I recall the thrill of reading those first papers. Suddenly, we had a language of resistance and a field of enquiry in which we were subjects. I mentioned to a friend on hearing the news that a short pamphlet of Mary’s delicious argument was worth volumes. I should mention, her brave writing inspired many in other disciplines like art, film, history, politics. Thankyou

  7. John Peck
    January 14, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Dear Professor Plummer. I was saddened to hear of the loss of Dr Mary McIntosh. She was my tutor during my time at Essex 1988-92 when I took her Gender and Social Structure module in the second year followed by the MA in Gender Divisions in Society. She was an inspiration to me both academically and personally. She always had time to meet with her students and offered support and advice coupled with a huge dose of good humour when needed. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for meeting Mary and I will always treasure that. Kind regards and thank you for the fitting tribute. John Peck.

  8. January 14, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks John for this. I hope life treats you well. Ken

  9. nettie pollard
    January 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    To me Mary was loved friend I met her in June 1971 in GLF.

    In 1972 working with the Islington Squatters, we had barricaded a side road in protest at the council housing policy. At 9pm one night, 40 officers came and removed the barricades aand then arrested Johnny McGowan (one of the squatters), for alleged non payment of rates. Immediately Mary swung into action and somehow got together £60 in cash. We went to the police station and they had to release him. Caring, political and practical………typical Mary.

    In 1982 I spoke with Mary at a conference arranged by you Ken. Excellent conference, by the way.

    I last saw Mary at the GLF re-union at LSE. She spoke movingly and amusingly, as ever.

    Her funeral is at 11am this Friday at St Marylebone Crematorium, East End Road, East Finchley, N2 0RZ. Free parking and lots of buses.

  10. January 17, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Mary’s work on the family greatly inspired me as an undergraduate. I have many fond memories of her from my time at Essex (1988-94). Thank you for writing this lovely tribute.

  11. Janet Couzens
    February 1, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I didn’t know until just now. I just heard the news on Radio 4’s programme “Last Word”. I am sad that I missed her funeral as I would have been there. I last saw Mary about 9 months ago at the memorial service of another mutual friend from the 1960s, Anne Harling, in Brighton. We had a lovely long chat catching up on each other’s news and she told me of having had a stroke. It makes me feel thankful that I had that opportunity to see again.

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