McDougall, Margaret Moran (1826–99), author and journalist, was born 25 December 1826, according to family records (though her obituary said 25 December 1828), probably in Co. Antrim. Her father, J. Moran (or William Henry) Dixon , tailor, died in Galgorm, Co. Antrim, when Margaret and her sister were very young, and their mother Elinor (née West) soon married again. Her second husband was Thomas Keary or Carey , who was a member of the Moravian church at Gracehill. The Careys had a number of children, and emigrated c.1848 with the Dixon girls to Ontario, Canada, where Margaret became a teacher. On 23 January 1852, in a Methodist Episcopalian church in Ottawa, she married Alexander McDougall, a Scots lumberman. They had at least two daughters and at least four sons; two other sons and possibly other children may have died as infants. In the 1871 census the family is listed as presbyterian, but in 1881 their religion is baptist, and family tradition claims that Margaret McDougall was one of the first women to be ordained as a baptist minister. She also officiated at presbyterian services. Somewhat uninspired and sentimental poetry appeared in two books (1880, 1883), above her pen name ‘Norah’ (or ‘Norah Pembroke’) and she made a name for herself by writing for newspapers. She was one of the first women to work as a journalist in Canada. In 1882 she was commissioned by the Montreal Witness to travel round Ireland to research articles about the land question, then receiving a great deal of attention because of Land League agitation. Her articles were republished in book form as Letters of Norah on her tour through Ireland (1883; published by Project Gutenberg on the internet in 2002).
McDougall had remained greatly attached to Ireland, but her arduous and exhausting travels, especially in the north of the country, dramatically changed her views about the reasons for Irish poverty and unrest. As a respectable protestant woman McDougall was accepted by all levels of Irish society, but as an expatriate she was sufficiently detached to be able to highlight the selfishness with which her acquaintances justified their privileged status. This unusual perspective, along with the quality of her reporting and analysis and her forceful indictments of cruelties and unfairness, give her work its main interest. She came to hold very radical ideas about the need for reform of the political and economic systems in Ireland, and expressed them so strongly that some of her co-religionists, on reading her fiercely critical remarks about ‘exterminating landlords . . . guilty of high treason’ and ‘unutterable meanness’ (Letters of Norah, 168), must have been deeply offended. She named individual land agents and landlords whom she found particularly blameworthy, and presumably only escaped libel proceedings because her book remained more or less unknown in Ireland. A novel based on her Irish experiences, Days of a life, appeared in 1883. She also travelled in the southern states of the USA, reporting on the conditions in which black people lived. After her husband's death (July 1887), McDougall supported the Baptist Home Missionary Society and travelled widely in Canada and the USA, lecturing on temperance, until her death in Seattle, Washington, on 23 October 1899.