Six Scotswomen 'overlooked' by history to be honoured

They broke the mould and now, decades later, they have been recognised.

Filmmaker and poet Dr Margaret Tait, writer Rebecca West and Arctic explorer Isobel Wylie Hutchison are among six Scots women to be honoured with a commemorative plaque this year. PICS: Orkney Library and Archive, Creative Commons, The Alpine Club.

From Scotland's first female solicitor to a film director, a town planner and an Arctic explorer, a group of women will have their achievements recognised by a commemorative plaque from Historic Environment Scotland this year.

The plaques celebrate 'some truly inspirational women' when Scottish history 'often overlooked' their achievements, Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage at HES said.

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Among the six to be honoured are Madge Easton Anderson, born 1896, who graduated in law from Glasgow University and became the first woman admitted to the legal profession in the United Kingdom.

She joined a Glasgow firm in 1917 as an apprentice but she was refused professional registration from that year given she began work before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which reversed the legislation that no woman could qualify as a law agent.

Read More

Read More
Scotland’s pioneering women who broke new ground in the mountains

She went on to become the first woman to practise law in both England and Scotland and a partner in the first known law firm to be led entirely by women.

Her plaque will be installed at The Stair Building, which houses the University of Glasgow’s School of Law.

From the world of arts, Dr Margaret Tait, from Orkney, will also be honoured. She was an avante garde filmmaker who spent her life making short films and prolifically publishing poems.

In 1992, she became the first Scottish woman to direct a feature length film with Blue Black Permanent, a piece which flicked between Edinburgh and Orkney to tell of a woman's attempts to deal with the death of her mother and an islander's all-encompassing relationship with the sea.

Dr Tait was 71 at the time the film was made. She died in 1999 and the plaque will be fixed to her old home in Kirkwall.

A plaque will also appear at Liberton Bank House in Edinburgh to commemorate the work of Mary Burton (1819–1909), a social reformer and suffragist. In 1869, she successfully campaigned for the Watt Institution and School of Arts - now Heriot-Watt University - to admit female students.

Cicily Isabel Fairfield (1892-1983), who wrote under the pen name Rebecca West, will also be remembered. The novelist, travel writer and journalist famously reported on the Nuremberg Trials for the New Yorker with several books published on war and fascism. Time described her as "indisputably the world's number one woman writer" in 1947.

The plaque will be installed at Hope Park Square in Edinburgh, her childhood home and inspiration for her novel The Judge.

Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982), the Arctic traveller and botanist who risked life and limb collecting plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew will also be commemorated at her lifelong home of Carlowrie Castle in West Lothian.

She is credited with pioneering new routes across inhospitable terrain, boarded ghost ships and captured some of the earliest documentary footage ever recorded.

The work of Elizabeth Buchanan Mitchell (1880-1980) will too be honoured. An early female town planner and a pioneer in the profession, she campaigned tirelessly for the importance of open spaces, gardens and quality mass-housing. Her plaque will mark her old home in Biggar, Lanarkshire.

Barbara Cummins, Director of Heritage at HES, said: “The contribution of women in Scotland’s history is often overlooked, and I’m pleased that this year’s Commemorative Plaque awards give us the opportunity to celebrate the life and work of some truly inspirational women.

“Through our plaque scheme, we want to highlight the important link between people and places, connecting these exceptional individuals to the built environment that shaped their life and work.

“As we look forward to marking Women’s History Month, I hope that awarding these plaques will bring some much-deserved recognition to some of the leading female figures from Scotland’s past.”

Eleven influential men who lived and worked in Scotland - from artists and an actor to naturalists and a nautical engineer - have also been recognised in this round of commemorative plaques.

The eleven are:

- Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax (1883-1953)

Composer, whose music was greatly influenced by his time spent in the Highlands. The plaque will be installed at The Morar Hotel, where he completed many of his scores.

- James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933)

Naturalist, known as the first experimental animal breeder in UK since Darwin. The plaque will be installed at the house where Ewart resided in Penicuik between 1895-1905.

- James Faed and family (1821-1911)

Family of accomplished Scottish landscape painters, originally from Dumfries and Galloway. The plaque will be installed at the site of the family’s home in Comely Bank, Edinburgh.

- Ned Haig (1858-1939)

Rugby Union player, notable as the inventor of the Rugby 7s. The plaque will be installed at Melrose Rugby Club, home of the Melrose Sevens.

- Sir Thomas Hope (1573-1646)

Prominent lawyer and Lord Advocate under Charles I. In 1638, Sir Thomas signed the National Covenant, a document rejecting Charles’ religious policy in Scotland. The plaque will be installed at the site of the medieval Granton Castle in Edinburgh, where Hope lived from 1619 until his death in 1646.

- Andrew Keir (1926-1997)

Hammer House of Horror actor with "considerable range and undeniable distinction”. Made his big break acting at the Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow. The plaque will be installed at the building in Bridgeton, Glasgow, where Keir lived in the 1950s.

- Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884)

Chartist, detective and spy, who left Scotland for the United States in 1842. He is best known as the founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. The plaque will be installed at Legal House in the Gorbals, Glasgow, close to his birthplace.

- David Robertson (1806-1896)

Naturalist who established the University Marine Biological Station at Millport. The plaque will be installed at the property in Millport where which Robertson first leased in 1860, taking up permanent residency there in 1886.

- John Scott Russell (1808-1882)

Pioneering nautical engineer and writer of The Modern System of Naval Architecture. In 1835, he developed the “wave line” ship hull design, revolutionising naval architecture. The plaque will be installed at the site of the workshop which Russell maintained on Stafford Street, Edinburgh.

- John Thomson (1837-1921)

Towering figure in 19th century photograph, acclaimed for his photography in China. The plaque will be installed at the childhood home of Thomson on Brighton Street in Edinburgh.

- William ‘Willie’ Wilson (1905-1972)

Scottish glass artist, etcher, printmaker and watercolour painter. He is best known as the father of post-war stained glass in Scotland. The plaque will be installed at the building on Belford Mews, Edinburgh, which housed Wilson’s studio for more than 20 years and where he created much of his work.