In her time, around 1890, Jessie was the first professional  and best-known woman journalist in Scotland. 

She was one of four siblings, born in 1862 in Bankfoot, Perthshire, her father a shoemaker and her mother an ex-domestic servant.  A delicate and  studious child, she attended the local parish school, winning prizes and becoming dux. At seventeen she started studying to be a teacher, but her father died so she started work in the local newspaper office. Her uncle James Brunt, editor of the Perthshire Advertiser [founded 1829], sent her books and magazines etc. to help. Jessie then was hired  by John Leng as domestic journalist in 1881 with D.C. Thomson at the Dundee Advertiser; before long being promoted to household editor for the Evening Telegraph (‘the Tele’). Leng was very supportive of women, and there were a good few woman journalists starting to be employed at the time (see Imandt, Maxwell in Further Footsteps) with a big readership.  Jessie was spotted as a good writer and promoted to political journalism, in which she was very interested. She called herself Marguerite (her granny’s name) for the Tele, probably because it sounded more sophisticated. Or perhaps she wanted her real name to remain private even though her picture was widely published. She was politically minded, an advocate for women’s rights; she covered mill workers’ strikes, was well engaged with temperance societies and very supportive of the suffrage campaign; “I have been so long a voice crying in the wilderness on this matter…” she said in 1904. But she was also an early “Aunt Kate” for the People’s  Journal – a ‘domestic goddess’ rôle that lasted until the 1960s, longer than her “Marguerite” brand. Often to be found at social and political gatherings, she was a member of Dundee Literary Society and also co-started the Dundee Women’s Liberal Association, all of which meant she travelled a lot in Europe. It was around 1884 when she began to write poetry too, increasingly for women and much of it published under pseudonyms in D.C. Thomson newspapers. Her prose style could be described as clear and to the point, a mix of judicious and racy, while her imaginative, vivid poetry showed high morals and deep human feeling.

A busy lady! A “leading light” in journalism and well paid, she moved from Peter Street to two houses in Wormit, one for herself and one for her mother.

In 1905 the newspaper empires of Leng and D.C. Thomson merged. The following year, aged in her forties, Jessie married a younger man called William Batey who worked for LNER, and they moved to Newcastle. Evidently popular, she was given a silver tea set at her leaving party. That year she wrote a history of the National British Women’s Temperance Association. With her Brunt cousin she raised a memorial stone for the Leng family in the Vicarsford cemetery near Leuchars, Fife, in gratitude for Sir John’s early support  in her professional  career.

Jessie died in her mid-eighties.

“To be a pioneer has its difficulties but it also has its compensations. I was a novelty, and a popular novelty” [Tele 1937]

With thanks to Charlotte Lauder for her talk at Dundee Women’s Festival 2020