Honouring Edinburgh’s women: Contenders for new city statue

Mary Erskine's grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Picture: Neil Hanna
Mary Erskine's grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Picture: Neil Hanna
Have your say

IT’S the campaign that has already sparked debate in the corridors of power – there are more statues of animals than women in Edinburgh, and we want to change that.

This week, we won the support of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the two other women at the top of Scottish politics – Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson.

Elsie Inglis is the favourite, but today we bring you more contenders to be honoured with a new monument in the Capital.


A crest is emboldened with her name and troops of “Mary Erskine girls” trail from the school founded by her philanthropy and readied for the world by an education she believed was crucial for young women.

Born in 1629, Mary Erskine lived in on a close off the High Street, to the east of St Giles’ Cathedral, a then fashionable suburb.

Left in debt by the death of her first husband, Mary turned the modest wealth left from the death of her second husband into profit to become a successful businesswoman.

In 1694, she helped establish a girls’ school in the Cowgate – The Merchant Maiden Hospital. The school was for the daughters of Edinburgh burgesses which boarded and educated orphaned, impoverished girls of the city’s middle classes.

In 1706, Mary Erskine bought land and buildings for the hospital and, on her death in 1707, bequeathed a large sum to the foundation, which became the Edinburgh Ladies’ College in 1896, and was named the Mary Erskine School in 1944.


Recognised for her contribution to art, Elizabeth Blackadder has dedicated her life to painting, printmaking and teaching.

Early in life, Elizabeth was encouraged by her mother Violet to pursue education in the hope she would avoid the life of domestic service she herself had to endure.

Elizabeth developed an affinity to botany which would later inform her art.

And her journey to become the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy of Arts in London began when she arrived in Edinburgh in 1949.

She began the newly approved Fine Art degree and graduated with first class honours in 1954.

Since her first solo exhibition in 1959 at Gallery 57, solo exhibitions of her work have been held almost every year to date, both nationally and internationally.

From 1962 to 1986 she taught at the Edinburgh College of Art.

In 2001, she was appointed Her Majesty’s Painter and Limner in Scotland and in 1982 she was awarded the OBE for her contribution to art which was promoted to a DBE in 2003.


The world she has created is loved the across the globe.

It has been translated into 68 languages and the books where it unfolds have sold over 400 million copies.

JK Rowling began her rags to riches story in an Old Town cafe, where the fictional world of Harry Potter started to unfold.

As well as her success as a novelist she is a prolific charity donor, giving £10.6 million to deserving causes last year.

In 2010, she donated £10 million to the University of Edinburgh to found a clinic in her mother’s name. The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, located at the Royal Infirmary, focuses on a wide range of neurological conditions.

Her generosity has also helped women and children throughout the world.

The Lumos charity, of which Rowling has pledged to be president for life, aims to help the eight million children in institutions worldwide to regain their rights and to end the institutionalisation of children.

Named for the spell she created in Harry Potter, to bring light to some dark and frightening places, Lumos is to shed light on the lives of millions of children separated from their families for reasons of poverty, disability and discrimination and it is this legacy, as well as the fictitious characters she created, that is worthy of recognition.


In the world of sport, few competitors are more inspiring than Katherine Grainger.

She has been described by Sir Stevn Redgrave as being “a rare combination of athletic ability and determination to succeed that can only be seen in great champions”.

She moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh to study law in 1993, took up rowing at Edinburgh University and, in 2008, was inducted to the university’s sports hall of fame.

Her rowing prowess has led her to be honoured with an MBE in 2006 and a CBE in 2013 for services to rowing.

She was also named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours list.

Grainger is the most decorated female Olympian, having rowed her way into the record books as a gold and four-time silver medallist.

She is also a six-time world champion and the first British woman to win medals at five successive games.

In 2009, she was named as Scottish Sportsperson of the Year and awarded the “Emirates Lonsdale Trophy” by Commonwealth Games Scotland, the first female to win this prestigious award.


A popular nomination, the novelist Mary Stewart has been acknowledged as the writer who developed the romantic mystery genre over a career spanning 40 years.

Not only were her stories engaging and novel, but she shunned the traditional female characterisation and presented a new adventurous heroine who recoiled from the “normal” weak mould portrayed at the time.

Women in Mary’s books could drive fast cars, they could hold their own in dangerous situation and would fight their corner.

It was a new take on leading women in novels and readers were enthralled.

Born in 1916 Mary trained as a teacher before moving to Edinburgh in 1956 with her husband.

Her background in English and a classical education gave her the ability to spin wonderfully engaging and compelling tales littered with casual and intelligent literary allusions, earning the plaudit as a natural successor to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

Her storytelling was a quality she believed was inherent, saying “I am first and foremost, a teller of tales”.

Mary’s first novel – Madam, Will You Talk? published shortly after arriving in Edinburgh – was followed by many other successful works over the years, including her bestseller The Crystal Cave.