March – 2023 (Vol. 46, Number 09)
The Banner Says…
The Great Women of Scotland
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and takes place on March 8th.
This had me thinking of the many great Scottish women we have featured over the years for a wide variety of accomplishments and for breaking many glass ceilings along the way. Having grown up around a very strong woman and with many strong female role models in my family and life I have always felt that myself, and the wider world, is so very lucky to have the incredible contributions of women.
Most in the Scottish Borders town of Jedburgh in 1780 would not have expected the wee girl named Mary would go on to become a world leading scientist, mathematician and astronomer. Mary Somerville would receive very little formal education, however became a self-taught scientist, at a time when it was not considered possible for a woman to comprehend never mind teach science. In fact, the gender-neutral term ‘scientist’ was coined in 1834 and it was used to specifically describe Mary herself (thus making her the world’s first scientist). Mary would go on to help find the planet Neptune and champion the rights of women in education, politics and society. In 1835 she was one of the first women to be elected to the Royal Astronomical Society and even has a crater on the moon named after her, as well as a variety of places here on earth.
The Edinburgh Seven
What some women did during their time has gone on to pave the way for generations of women to accomplish with much more ease and assurance. For example, seven pioneering women changed the world at the University of Edinburgh in 1869- Sophia Jex–Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell were the first women to study medicine at any UK university. They endured many roadblocks including riots against them and a medical board who said that ‘the poor intellectual ability and stamina of women would lower professional standards.’ Sadly, the women were not awarded degrees from Edinburgh, but five would go on to get medical degrees in Europe and the group fought to allow future women to qualify as doctors in the United Kingdom. It was not until 1894 that the University of Edinburgh allowed women to graduate and the first doctors graduated in 1896.
In 2019, the University of Edinburgh posthumously awarded all seven women the degrees they should have received all those years ago.
In this issue
Another pioneering woman which we feature in this issue is Dorothée Pullinger. Though born in France, Dorothée would grow up in Ayrshire, and became a prominent businesswoman and automaker. Her company Galloway Motors would begin production in the 1920s. The company produced a car, the Galloway, for Arrol-Johnston that was designed for women. Dorothée would become the first female Member of the Institution of Automobile Engineers and quite literally paved the road for women to enter the industry.
If you find yourself in the gentle countryside of the Scottish Borders perhaps you have noticed the beautiful Eildon Hills, located just outside Melrose. The Eildon Hills are an iconic part of the Scottish Borders landscape and if you have been lucky enough to make it to the top on a clear day, they offer commanding views of the surrounding districts. The Eildon Hills are also a reminder of the volcanic past of this stunning area and remain a focal point for visitors to enjoy to this day.
Shinty is considered to be Scotland’s most historic sport and is a team game played with sticks and a ball. The games spiritual home is certainly in the Highlands of Scotland and today is still a very important part of local Highland communities. The game is thought to pre-date Christianity and in Scotland was introduced by migrant Gaels from Ireland (bringing with them the game of hurling). Shinty was brought to North America by Scottish settlers and some have also suggested that it was shinty that would lead to the development of ice hockey in the continent. Regardless, this ancient Celtic game has a rich history in Scotland and is a key community sport for many.
As we go to press with this edition it has been announced that Scotland’s longest serving First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be stepping down. Regardless of what side of politics you sit on it is interesting a woman has served in the role the longest and it certainly seems she gained more international media coverage than her male predecessors ever did. Perhaps her spotlight on the world stage was due to some major events happening during her tenure such as Brexit, Covid, Scotland’s response to the Ukraine war and planning for a new referendum.
The First Minister also strongly supported the petition, which was launched on International Woman’s Day in 2020, demanding an official pardon for those (mainly women) accused of being witches under the then Witchcraft Act of 1563. This was at a time a woman could be called a witch for being different, single, poor, disabled or simply for being a woman.
These women were also not allowed to speak in a court and were convicted on hearsay, dislike or rumour and then publicly executed. Last year First Minister Nicola Sturgeon formally apologised for the persecution of those accused of witchcraft, saying it was an “injustice on a colossal scale.” This finally was a wrong formally acknowledged that was done to women across Scotland, in a time we thankfully will not see again.
Have you been shaped by a strong Scottish woman? Do you have a favourite woman from Scottish history? Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us
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