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Women in the University

Today, nearly 60 per cent of students studying at the University are women. The number of women joining the research and academic staff in the University continues to grow and, in recent years, the University has appointed its first female Dean, Vice-Principal, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Yet women have only been permitted to study at Scottish universities since 1892, and Glasgow was the scene of many significant achievements in the campaign for women's access to higher education.

The movement for the higher education of women began in earnest in Britain and the United States during the 1840s, but progress was slow in Scotland. The movement had prominent supporters in the West of Scotland, including the University Principal, John Caird, and in April 1877 they founded the Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women. The Association's primary aims were to offer women courses of study similar to those available to men at universities, and "to promote generally the higher culture and education of women" with the co-operation of the University of Glasgow.

The founders of the Association included some of the most influential and wealthy women in the West of Scotland, many of whom sat on its General Committee. Principal Caird was the first Chairman; the Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and the Marchioness of Lorne, was President, and Mrs Jessie Campbell of Tulliechewan and Mrs Jane Scott were Vice-Presidents.

The Association offered lectures by University professors in class rooms at the University and also (from 1878) at St Andrew's Halls. The lectures were initially in Psychology, Logic, Moral Philosophy, French literature and Astronomy, with others such as Modern Literature and Natural Philosophy added later. Tutorials were offered in the winter, in Latin, Mathematics and the Theory of Music. Written examinations were set in all subjects, and essays were required for some, as the Association sought to provide courses of study which replicated those for a University Arts degree. In the first year, more than 318 women attended classes.

In June 1883 the Association was incorporated under the Companies Act as Queen Margaret College, the first and only college in Scotland to provide higher education for women. It was named for Margaret (d 1093), the wife of King Malcolm III and a patron of arts and literature, who was canonized in 1250, and its aim was "to perform for women work similar to that done by colleges and universities for men." The first resident secretary and superintendent was Janet Galloway, who had been an Honorary Secretary to the Association from its inception.

The College was housed in North Park House on the banks of the River Kelvin, a splendid mansion which was purchased and gifted by the Glasgow philanthropist Mrs Isabella Elder. Lecturers were appointed, many of them from the ranks of the University's teaching staff, and classes were offered on a wide range of Arts subjects. More courses were offered in later years; for example, science laboratories were equipped in 1888 for teaching subjects such as Chemistry and Physics.

In response to growing demand from women for access to medical education, a medical school was established within the College in 1890 with laboratories, a dissecting room and all the facilities that would be required for teaching. Mrs Elder agreed to meet the initial running costs of the school and Glasgow Royal Infirmary set aside beds for the clinical instruction of female medical students. The women were able to study for licences to practice medicine from the Triple Qualification Board of the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Scotland and the Universities of London and Dublin.

In February 1892 the Scottish Universities Commissioners published an Ordinance authorising the universities to make provision for the instruction and graduation of women. The College authorities had already been in negotiations with the University about the possibility of amalgamation, and the College was now dissolved. Its property and endowments were made over to the University, on the condition that they would be reserved for the "separate University education of women equal to that of men."

Women students settled quickly into academic life as University students. In July 1894 Marion Gilchrist, Alice (Lily) Cumming, Elizabeth Lyness and Margaret Dewar became the first women to graduate in Medicine from a Scottish university, and in 1895, Isabella Blacklock (MA) became the first woman graduate in arts. Ruth Pirret was the first BSc graduate in 1898; the first diploma in education was awarded to Mary Biggar, MA, in 1904; the first BD was awarded to a woman in 1912. The first women graduate in Law was Madge Anderson (BL, 1919) and became the first woman to be admitted to the legal profession in the UK following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919. In 1921, Sister Bernardine of Notre Dame College became the first woman and only the second person to be awarded a PhD by the University. Marion Stewart in 1930 was the first woman BRCVS and was the first woman to be registered as a veterinary surgeon in Scotland.

In 1892, only 6 per cent (131) of the students studying at the University were women. By 1908 the number had grown to 695 (nearly 26 per cent) and the percentage of women students fluctuated between 20 and 30 per cent (with a sharp but temporary rise during the First World War) until 1939. Initially, women studied in the Faculties of Arts, Medicine and Science, and the first women students entered Divinity in 1909 and Law in 1912. In 1913-1914 the Appointments Committee noted that the majority of women graduates went into secondary school teaching and medicine.

The rise in the number of women students at the University during the early 1900s resulted in overcrowding at the Queen Margaret College, and women were increasingly expected to attend mixed classes at Gilmorehill. Subsequently, many of the College lectureships were converted to lectureships in the University departments. By the late 1920s the College was being used for little more than administrative purposes and in 1934 the buildings and grounds were abandoned (the building was sold in 1935 and became the home of BBC Scotland). The rising number of women students also created a demand for more hostel accommodation. Queen Margaret Hall, which had opened in Lilybank House in 1894, was extended in the 1920s to accommodate thirty-five women and Robertson House in Lilybank Terrace opened in 1926 to provide rooms for twenty-one more.

The women students were interested in social as well as academic activities at the University. Many of the Queen Margaret College societies and clubs merged with their Gilmorehill equivalents, some of which maintained distinct women's sections. However, the University Union remained as an all-male institution, and so the Queen Margaret Union continued to provide eating, social and recreational facilities for the women. It occupied a number of premises after the amalgamation until, in 1912, it moved to 1 University Gardens. In 1931 the QMU moved across the street to the old University Union premises in the John McIntyre Building. The QMU's constitution was altered in 1979 to permit men to join, and the University Union voted to admit female members the following year.

The first women were appointed to the University's teaching staff in 1908, when Janet Spens and Agnes Picken became assistants in English Language and Anatomy respectively, and Theodora Keith became the University's first woman lecturer (in the Department of Economic History) in 1919. The percentage of female staff remained low for many years thereafter, and the relatively few women who found career opportunities at the University were generally employed as assistants and research assistants. Delphine Parrot became the first woman to hold a titular Chair at the University in 1973, and she became Gardiner Professor of Bacteriology in 1980. Rona MacKie was the first woman to be appointed to an established Chair, when she became Professor of Dermatology in 1978.

In 1990, the number of women Professors doubled with the appointment of Sheila McLean, International Bar Association Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine, Noreen Burrows, Jean Monnet Professor of European Law and Lorraine Smith, Professor of Nursing Studies. Professor Andrea Nolan became the University's first woman Dean in 1999 when she was appointed Dean of Veterinary Medicine. She was appointed Vice Principal (Learning and Teaching) in 2004 and became Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2009.

 

 

 

 

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