Friday, 8 March 2013

International Women's Day


 As it is International Women's Day we thought this would be a good opportunity to think about some of our records relating to women. Dundee has long had a reputation as 'a women's toun' and, although the extent of women's influence on the city's history is debated among historians, our collections demonstrate that women have played an important part, not least because of their leading role in the jute and flax industry.  Our extensive jute collections include a number of excellent images of female workers from Dundee's mills in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Dundee jute factory
Another area where women have made a huge impact on the life of Dundee is at our own University. University College, Dundee was founded in 1881 with the financial backing of Mary Ann Baxter and her input was far more than purely financial. It was thanks to Miss Baxter that the College adopted a policy of no discrimination between the sexes, allowing female students access to all its courses. This meant the College attracted many bright female students who would go on to make a big impact on the world including the Dundee social reformer Mary Lily Walker and Ruth Wilson (later Young), who would have a successful career in medicine as well as carrying out notable welfare work in India and Ethiopia. Ruth Young's papers are now held by Archive Services. 

Mary Lily Walker
Later the medical school at Dundee would produce Margaret Fairlie, an outstanding doctor and pioneer of the use of radium who also taught at the medical school. In 1940 she became Scotland's first female Professor and remains one of the outstanding figures in the University's history.  When the University became independent in 1967 it broke further new ground as Scotland's first University to have a female Chancellor, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who did much to promote the institution.  Other notable women to have played a part in shaping the University range from Joan Auld, the first University Archivist,  to Elizabeth Macdonald (later Bryson), the first woman to graduate in medicine who wrote a memorable account of life at the medical school around 1900. The University records are full of details of these remarkable women and many others who have played a key part in the University's success.

Several of our other collections contain records of notable women including:

MS 25 Thomas Campbell - Includes copies of the correspondence of the actress Sarah Siddons

MS 103 Kinnear Collection - Includes material relating to the Dundee poet, writer and communist activist Mary Brooksbank

MS 100 Don and Low Collection - Includes items relating to Margaret Thatcher and Jennie Lee

MS 113 Papers regarding Clementina Stirling Graham - Correspondence of the author and friend of Lady Airlie

Margaret Fairlie
MS 220 Records concerning the life and adventures of Mary Eleanor Bowes - The Countess of Strathmore who's scandalous life partly inspired the novel Barry Lyndon by Thackeray

MS 270 Dundee Conservative and Unionist Association Collection - includes material relating to Florence Horsbrugh, a pioneering female MP (and the only woman to have represented Dundee at Westminster)

The Peto Collection - Includes photographs of many famous female figures including authors, politicians, actresses, musicians, sportswomen and ballerinas.

However, these are just the tip of a large iceberg. Throughout our collections can be found the stories of many women whose names are not particularly well known, but who led lives which were still important, including doctors, nurses, political activists, hospital patients, housewives, teachers and servants.  Source lists, covering some of the material we hold relating to women can be found here: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/archives/slwomentop.htm


Dr Kenneth Baxter

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