Speculative Society agrees to admit female members

Alumnus: Stevenson. Picture: Edinburgh City Museums
Alumnus: Stevenson. Picture: Edinburgh City Museums
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IT’S the Capital’s most mysterious society and one of the oldest debating clubs in the world, its format and rituals unchanged since the Enlightenment.

But now the historic Speculative Society, based in Edinburgh University’s Old College, is to allow women to join for the first time following a three to one vote in favour from its membership.

A statement from the society said it was “delighted to announce its intention to admit female members” – with women set to be invited to join as early as October. The “Spec” has operated independently within university buildings for almost 250 years and boasts a raft of famous alumni including Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.

But last year a university review – carried out by vice-principal Professor Mary Bownes – gave the society six months to overhaul its traditions to allow women and insisted any future deal enabling the society to remain on campus be made clear and open.

The report followed concerns over the debating club’s relationship with the university after it emerged the Spec was occupying its Old College premises rent-free, with £35 million plans to revamp the campus set to leave the society’s A-listed rooms untouched.

A Speculative Society spokesman said: “The society has actively discussed female membership for many years and a consultation of our membership was concluded in February with members voting three to one in favour of admitting women.

“We have welcomed female candidates for membership since then and expect to admit female members in the next session which begins in October.

“We hope that our newly established position on female membership will strengthen the society and enable us to continue our 250-year-old tradition of advancing public speaking and literary composition long into the future.”

Long-time Speculative member and Midlothian East councillor Peter de Vink today welcomed the move, having previously argued the society would be “destroyed” if it failed to adapt.

He said: “I’m very pleased that the Speculative Society has seen sense. I’m absolutely over the moon. All I can say is that common sense has prevailed.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com