Some people can smell a rat a mile away.
Others wouldn’t notice even when the odor wafts right under their noses. If you’re among the first to pick up the scent and warn others, and then you put your political future on the line to save society, you’ve got something in you that makes you “heroic.”
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “What you see and hear and smell depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
Katharine Marjory Ramsey – also known as the Duchess of Atholl and by the nickname “Kitty” – combined courage and character with a great nose for rats. She had principles and the guts to stand by them.
The Duchess stood for election to the British Parliament in 1924. She won on this first try, becoming the third woman ever elected to the House of Commons.
The men in government assumed she would be quiet and do whatever she was told. Even Winston Churchill told her that “I find a woman’s intrusion into the House of Commons as embarrassing as if she burst into my bathroom.” Most people think of Churchill now as the sage who bravely opposed appeasing Hitler, but “Kitty” Atholl was one of those few who worked to stiffen Churchill’s spine when it was still pliable. He later came to appreciate her greatly.
As her years in Parliament wore on, Atholl’s principles deepened and her courage blossomed. She became a vocal opponent of socialism. She was, in her own way, a precursor to Margaret Thatcher, who was just 10 years old at the time.
The first big rat that caught Atholl’s attention was ensconced in Moscow. Less than a decade after the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviet experiment had attracted naïve admirers in the Western press and academia. The Duchess of Atholl was no such fool.
In 1931, she published a 200-page book titled “The Conscription of a People.” It was a blistering, well-documented indictment of the savage collectivization of life in the socialist Soviet Union.
Atholl’s wrath then turned against the rats in Berlin. When she read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in 1935, she entertained no illusions about where he was headed. “Never can a modern statesman have made so startlingly clear to his reader his ambitions,” she noted. She was a constant thorn in the side of men in power who wanted to cut deals with unsavory thugs of any stripe.
When she publicly castigated the famous “Munich agreement” to appease Hitler in September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain reacted furiously. He saw to it that her opponent in the December 1938 election received showers of cash and endorsements.
With Hitler’s invasion of Poland less than nine months later, she was vindicated. She spent the war years working to relieve the awful conditions of European refugees and died in 1960 at the age of 85.
Katharine Atholl smelled danger and said so, years before the elite of her own political party mustered similar courage. How different history might have been, and likely for the better, if only there had been more like her.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.”