From groundbreaking discoveries to world-changing ideas, we celebrate the impact of 20 inspiring Glasgow women.

Jumai Abioye is currently studying for a PhD in biomedical engineering


‌Marion Gilchrist (1864–1952)

Marion Gilchrist

Today, nearly 60% of students studying at Glasgow are women. Yet women have only been permitted to study at Scottish universities since 1892 and Glasgow was the scene of many significant achievements in the campaign for women’s access to higher education.

In 1894 Marion Gilchrist was the first woman to graduate from the University, and the first woman in Scotland to graduate with a medical degree. Medicine was considered a very unfeminine subject but she ploughed ahead regardless. She worked as a GP in Glasgow, specialising in eye diseases, and eventually became an ophthalmic surgeon. She was also a prominent member of the British Medical Association and the first woman chairman of its Glasgow division. Her penchant for cars probably also raised a few eyebrows. She was an early motoring enthusiast and her garage and chauffeur’s house were situated in Ashton Lane. Aware that there was still a long way to go for women’s equality, she became a leading figure in the suffragette movement. Change did not happen overnight. It would be another 34 years after Marion graduated before women were finally granted full voting rights. Glasgow degree: MB CM 1894

Marion Stewart (1909–1968)

In 1930 Marion Stewart was the first woman to be registered as a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in Scotland. Following graduation, Marion decided to work with small animals and, by 1931, she had her own veterinary practice in Kensington. She moved to Rhodesia in 1948 where she built a large and prosperous practice with a veterinary hospital attached. Marion attended Glasgow Veterinary College which became part of the University in 1945.

Dame (Anne) Louise McIlroy (1874–1968)

Dame Louise McIlroy

Hearing from the UK government that “the battlefield is no place for women” was not something that would turn young doctor Louise McIlroy against her sense of duty. When the First World War broke out, Louise and some fellow female doctors established the Scottish Women’s Hospital of Foreign Service, and served in France, Serbia and Salonika. Louise showed her commitment to the medical profession from an early age, studying medicine as an undergraduate, then becoming our first female research student, gaining an MD in 1900. She became an expert in the field of gynaecology, publishing a groundbreaking book on pregnancy in 1936. Glasgow degrees: MBChB 1898, MD 1900, LLD 1935

Professor Dorothy Geddes (1936–1998)

Both artistic and scientific, Dorothy Geddes chose a career in dentistry so that she could combine her passions. Described as a force for good in her profession, Dorothy made great impact in both research and teaching. Working in Scotland, England and the United States, she gained a breadth of experience. She brought that valuable perspective with her when she came to Glasgow as Professor of Oral Biology, the first female to hold a chair in dentistry in any UK university.

Professor Delphine Parrott (1928–2016)

Delphine Parrott

Immunologist Delphine Parrott made history when she became our first female professor in 1973. Delphine was a pioneering scientist who made major contributions to the emerging field of immunology, including the science of T-cell immunology which led to many clinical advances. As co-founder of our BSc Immunology programme – the first course of its kind in the UK – she placed Glasgow at the forefront of immunology research.

Professor Rona Mackie

At a time when gender barriers were dropping but equality was still a long way off, Rona Mackie was excelling in her field. In 1978 she became the first female Professor of Dermatology in the UK and the first female appointed to an established chair at the University. Her research into melanoma dramatically changed our understanding of this type of skin cancer. The world-renowned dermatologist demonstrated the dangers of using organ donations from people who have had melanoma and saved lives as a result. Glasgow degrees: MBChB 1963, MD 1970, DSc 1994

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, outside the new ICE building.

Hailed as a “woman with heart”, Anna Dominiczak is one of the world’s leading cardiovascular scientists. She is also a driving force for precision medicine in Scotland and the world. These roles have seen her leading on big-build projects: the BHF Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre in 2006 and the new teaching and learning facilities at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Most recently, she spearheaded the new Imaging Centre of Excellence. Appointed Regius Professor of Medicine in 2009, she is the first woman to hold a Regius Chair at the University. She is also Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences. Glasgow degree: MD 1990 ‌


Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

As a PhD student in the 1960s, Jocelyn Bell Burnell ruled out her colleagues’ theory that “little green men” or man-made interference were the causes of the signals her telescope had picked up. She had been looking for twinkling quasars but instead stumbled upon a signal from a pulsing star. After analysing 3,500 miles of data, she wrote up her thesis, quietly mentioning the discovery of the new type of star. The world of astrophysics exploded with excitement and the new discovery was named radio pulsars. Controversially, she was not named as a co-recipient of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for the research. She has since received numerous honours and is a dedicated role model for women in science. Glasgow degrees: BSc 1965, DSc 1997

Jocelyn Bell Burnell describes how she discovered pulsars

Professor Sheila Rowan

Leading Glasgow’s role in the international effort to prove Einstein’s last theory, Sheila Rowan was at the heart of one of the most exciting discoveries of the century – gravitational waves. It was therefore very fitting that our groundbreaking professor took over the role of Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland after Professor Muffy Calder. 2016 continued to be a big year for Sheila: her hard work and pioneering research were recognised when she won a prestigious Hoyle Medal and prize from the Institute of Physics. Glasgow degrees: BSc 1991, PhD 1996‌

Professor Muffy Calder

Professor Muffy Calder

Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Science & Engineering, Muffy Calder is one of our many leading scientists and specialises in computer science. For three years, she was Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, drawing on over 20 years of experience in science research at the University, advising ministers and being a champion of science for all. In 2016 she was ranked in the Daily Telegraph’s UK Top 50 Women in Engineering.

Dr Kay Carmichael (1925–2009)

Breaking into a naval base to plant flowers in a stand against nuclear weapons resulted in a two-week prison sentence for the young Kay Carmichael. This did not curb the ardent activist’s commitment to numerous causes, however. She worked extensively with people in custody. She fought for gay rights and sought justice for deprived communities. Kay was an inspiring lecturer at Glasgow in the 1960s and 70s and an influential policy adviser. She was responsible for developing the UK’s first training programme for probation officers, as well as playing a huge part in the Social Work Scotland Act 1968 and the set-up of the children’s panels. The open Scotland we know today has been influenced by her unwavering dedication to social justice. Glasgow degree: PhD 2001

Professor Christian Kay (1940–2016)

Christian Kay didn’t set out to be an academic, she simply loved language. A committed linguist, she worked for around 40 years to produce the world’s first Historical Thesaurus of English – which, when it was published in 2009, became the first complete historical thesaurus of any language. Containing a staggering 800,000 words from Old English to the present day, the resource is treasured by writers, researchers, historians and linguists around the world. A combination of Christian’s intellectual, practical and leadership abilities not only made the thesaurus project a success, but also contributed to groundbreaking developments in English studies and digital humanities. Glasgow degree: DLitt 2013

Lady Marion Fraser (1932–2016)

Lady Marion Fraser

In 1996 Marion Fraser became “a lady in my own right” when the Queen created her a Lady of the Order of the Thistle. Married to a Knight, she was accustomed to having the title Lady Fraser, but the 1996 honour was for her impressive contribution to Scottish public life. Roles included Chair of the Scottish Association for Mental Health, Founding Chair of the Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy, Chair of the Board of Christian Aid for Great Britain and Ireland, and Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Lady Marion also played a significant role at the University. As an undergraduate in the early 1950s she was active in student politics, and was elected President of the Queen Margaret Union in 1953, standing on the ticket “Keep the Men’s Union Board out of our Hair”. In 1956, she married William Kerr Fraser, a former President of the SRC who later became Principal and then Chancellor. During the period Sir William served as Principal, Marion worked with tireless energy to foster a sense of community across the campus. The Principal’s Lodging was a place for lively academic, cultural and political debate and she took much pleasure from getting to know many of the students. The University acknowledged her public service and services to the University by conferring the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1995. Glasgow degrees: MA 1954, LLD 1995


Madge Anderson (1896–1982)

Very little is known about Madge Anderson. But the few facts that we have tell the story of an ambitious character who was prepared to smash through the glass ceiling to become our first female law graduate and the first female to be admitted to the legal profession in the UK. It was 1920 and the professional landscape was changing for women after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed, allowing women to enter the legal profession. Madge did exactly that, qualifying in both Scottish and English jurisdictions. Glasgow degrees: MA 1916, BL 1919, LLB 1920.

Hazel Josephine Cosgrove, Lady Cosgrove

Walking into the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, as a new permanent judge would be a significant moment for anyone. For Hazel Cosgrove it was poignant in both her personal history and in legal history. In 1996, she walked through those doors as the first woman to be appointed to a permanent seat as a judge in the Court of Session since it was created in 1532. No stranger to firsts, however, she was also appointed the first female Sheriff of Glasgow and Strathkelvin back in 1979. Glasgow degrees: LLB 1966, LLD 2002.

Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon MSP

Law graduate Nicola Sturgeon made history when she secured the top job in Scottish politics – becoming the first female First Minister of Scotland in 2014. Irrespective of your political allegiance, Nicola is an inspiring figure for ambitious women, and she says she feels “very acutely” the responsibility and privilege of her dual role as political leader and role model for women. Gender equality, and equality generally, are issues close to her heart. “Your ability to succeed in life should come down to your ability, not your gender or your race or your family background.” Glasgow degrees: LLB 1992, Diploma 1993.

Muriel Robertson (1883–1973)

While on a research trip to Uganda in 1911 zoologist Muriel Robertson made key discoveries in the life cycle of trypanosomes, which cause the deadly African sleeping sickness, and their transmission through tsetse flies. Her work underpinned future studies and breakthroughs in trypanosome research. Thanks to continued control methods, the disease is steadily declining. Glasgow degrees: MA 1905, DSc 1923, LLD 1948.

Professor Sarah Cleaveland

Professor Sarah Cleaveland

Seeing the devastating impact of rabies first hand is an image that cannot be forgotten. It’s one that has driven Sarah Cleaveland’s commitment to finding ways to control the deadly disease. The pioneering work that she has carried out with the rabies research team at the University has changed the way the disease is tackled; a world without rabies is now in our sights. Building on this work, she is now tackling several other neglected diseases that spread from humans to animals – zoonotic diseases – and is having a life-changing impact on people living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Selina Hales

Sociology graduate Selina Hales has made Glasgow a city that not only welcomes refugees but embraces them. Her award-winning charity Refuweegee gives refugees arriving in Glasgow a community-built welcome gift including Scottish items like Tunnock’s teacakes and other donated essentials such as toiletries. At the heart of the gift, however, is a very personal touch. Each pack includes a letter from a local offering messages of kindness and support, which have a hugely positive impact on refugees arriving in an unfamiliar city. Over 5,000 letters have been received so far.

Maybe I’m brave. Maybe. But for me it’s always about the bigger picture of creating change and making sure more people can have a better life.
Jumai Abioye

Jumai Abioye

Looking to the future, we have an abundance of inspiring students currently hatching new ideas that will have an impact on the world we live in. Jumai Abioye from Nigeria is one of these students. Currently studying for a PhD in biomedical engineering, her research could create a tool capable of cutting viruses such as HIV out of the genome. She’s also building a company with a vision of improving the quality of education in her home continent. The aim is to promote studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in a way that can be applied in an African context – overcoming challenges such as reliable access to electricity or an internet connection. Glasgow degree: MSc 2014.

Jumai Abioye

This article was first published in May 2017.

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