As a key part of our social history, the changing contribution of women to Scotland’s society and culture is fascinating. But it has not been systematically documented until now.
Looking ahead to International Women’s Day on March 8, the Saltire Society was inspired this year to establish a permanent archive to celebrate the multitude of Scottish women who have helped shape modern Scotland – right up to the present day.
We want as many people as possible to get involved, hence we’ve chosen to launch the campaign via Twitter this week. Using #saltirewomen, members of the public can tweet their own nominations to be included in our list of outstanding women of Scotland. The only qualifying criterion is to demonstrate that the chosen nominee has made an outstanding contribution to Scottish life, culture and society.
The achievements of many potential candidates are rooted in the history of the Scottish capital.
Successful 17th century businesswoman and philanthropist Mary Erskine spent most of her life in Edinburgh and was the founding benefactor of independent girls’ school the Mary Erskine School, still operating today near Ravelston Dykes.
On Edinburgh’s High Street, a plaque commemorates the life of Elsie Inglis, who established a maternity hospital for poor women in the city, a forerunner to the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital at Abbeyhill which operated from 1925 until its closure in 1988.
Mary Burton was a prominent campaigner for educational reform. In 1869, she successfully persuaded the Watt Institution and School of Arts (forerunner to Heriot-Watt University) to open its classes to female students and in 1874 became the institution’s first female director.
Early in the 20th century, Edinburgh also became a key battleground for the women’s suffrage movement. On October 9, 1909, thousands lined Princes Street to witness the Edinburgh Procession and Women’s Demonstration organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union.
Many Scottish women went on to join the suffragette cause and, in February 1914, artist Ethel Moorhead became the first Scottish suffragette to be forcibly fed in Calton Jail.
A long-time member of the Warrender Baths Swimming Club, double Olympic silver medallist Ellen King spent 40 years as a swimming teacher at Edinburgh schools until her retirement in 1974.
Edinburgh-born writer Naomi Mitchison completed more than 90 books during her lifetime. An anti-fascist campaigner and good friend of JRR Tolkien, literary critic Geoffrey Sadler once described Mitchison as “unquestionably one of the great historical novelists.” She died in 1999 at the age of 101.
From singer Shirley Manson to TV presenters Kirsty Gallacher and Gail Porter and actress Georgia King, from leading entrepreneurs Ann Budge and Mary Contini to bankers Eileen MacKay and Lady Susan Rice, so many contemporary Edinburgh women continue to make outstanding contributions to this country and far beyond.
By establishing a permanent archive documenting their many varied lives, the Saltire Society wants to ensure the outstanding women of Scotland are celebrated for many years to come.
• Sarah Mason is programme manager at the Saltire Society.