Jamaican family jets in to honour tragic student

Lauren McGregor and her daughter Grace look through papers relating to Stephanie McGregor. Picture: Neil Hanna
Lauren McGregor and her daughter Grace look through papers relating to Stephanie McGregor. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A FAMILY from Jamaica has travelled to the Capital to receive the posthumous degree of a courageous Edinburgh University student whose life was cut short when she was only 25.

Relatives of Stephanie McGregor have made the trip almost 80 years after her death from rheumatic fever.

Tragic student Stephanie McGregor

Tragic student Stephanie McGregor

Stephanie’s great niece, Lauren McGregor, will accept the degree during today’s medical graduation ceremony at the Usher Hall.

While in Edinburgh, the family will visit Stephanie’s grave, as well as the Centre for Research Collections in the university’s main library.

There they will be shown Stephanie’s student record, a photograph from her time at university and some related items.

Ms McGregor, who will be joined by a further 15 family members, said the journey to Edinburgh had been an emotional one.

I want to thank everyone who helped bring Stephanie’s story to light, and to life

Lauren McGregor

She said: “I am so overjoyed. I just want to thank everyone who has helped to bring Stephanie’s story to light, and to life.”

Stephanie was born in Gayle St Mary, Jamaica, in 1911 – the daughter of plantation owner Peter James McGregor and his wife, Julianna Marsh.

She began her medical studies at Edinburgh in 1931.

Despite struggling with finances – her allowance was partly tied to banana harvests back home – Stephanie excelled, earning merit certificates and awards.

Her first year of study saw her take classes under professors James Hartley Asworth, George Barger and William Wright Smith, and she went on to pass her first professional exams in 1932.

The Advisor of Women Students wrote at the time that Stephanie was “one of the best in her class”.

But she continued to face challenges – her father’s death in 1934, additional financial worries and a bout of illness which hospitalised her in January 1936.

Released from the Royal Infirmary after 15 days, she travelled north to Argyll to convalesce, but this left her weakened and bedridden for a week.

She wrote to the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine to say she was worried about her studies after being forced for the first time to miss classes.

In her letter, she said: “I am still quite unfit to face classes and work.

“I am very troubled about my attendance and classes. This is the first time in the five years of my academic life, Sir, that I have for any reason or other been forced to miss my classes.”

After a bout of tonsillitis that affected her heart, the student developed rheumatic fever and died on July 4, 1936. Her funeral was held at St John’s Episcopal Church, where she had been a member of the congregation, and she was buried at Piershill Cemetery.

Senior university figures have hailed Stephanie’s achievement during a time when few women were admitted to higher education.

Edinburgh University first allowed women to matriculate in the 1890s and only in 1916 did they gain equal status in the Faculty of Medicine.

Grant Buttars, the university’s deputy archivist, said: “Stephanie showed all the signs of a highly motivated and conscientious student.

“At the time Stephanie was studying, numbers of female students were very small compared with men.

“Although she probably never saw herself as such, Stephanie can be seen as a contributor towards a major change within medical education, paving the way for those who followed.”