Refugee Festival Scotland

Published: 31 May 2015

Refugee Festival Scotland runs from 3 June-21 June.The University of Glasgow has a long history of fostering equality in education. Here we take a look back in the archives.

Refugee Festival Scotland this year runs from 3 June- 21 June. It is an annual celebration of the contribution refugees make to the richness and vibrancy of life in Scotland and the welcome offered by local people. The University of Glasgow has a long history of fostering equality in education.

Ending the slave trade

In terms of campaigning for equality in education, the first Scottish petition to reach London in support of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire came from the University.

John Millar, a student of Adam Smith and Professor of Law at Glasgow from 1760-1801, was the author of this petition and he condemned the evils of slavery in his lectures.

Detail of petition to abolish the slave trade

The University of Glasgow was the alma mater of James McCune Smith: the first African American to receive a University medical degree.

McCune Smith was born in New York City in 1813. His parents were former slaves and he was barred from entering any medical school in the United States. He was helped to study at the University of Glasgow by the Glasgow Emancipation Society.

He received a bachelor's degree in 1835, a master's degree in 1836, and his medical degree in 1837.

James McCune Smith is still remembered in New York City where a school is named for him.

At risk academics

Robert Rait In 1933, the Council for At-Risk Academics (then the Academic Assistance Council) was established by William Beveridge who was concerned for the welfare of those persecuted by the Nazis.

A founding signatory of the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) was The University of Glasgow’s Robert S. Rait, Professor of Scottish History and Literature, 1913 to 1930, and Principal from 1929 until 1936.

The founding declaration sates the aim to collect:

“ funds … for University teachers and investigators of whatever country who, on grounds of religion, political opinion or race are unable to carry on their work in their own country ” 

 Founding fathers of modern genetics

Guido PontecorvoJust one example of an inspiring academic helped by CARA is Guido Pontecorvo (1907-1999).

Pontecorvo was the University's first Professor of Genetics (1955 to 1968) and has been described as "one of the founding fathers of modern genetics".

Born and educated in Pisa, Pontecorvo was forced to leave Italy in 1938 and with assistance from CARA came to Scotland to work at the Institute of Animal Genetics.

Pontecorvo was one of the leading figures of his day in the study of cell genetics.

The University also welcomed refugee students such as Emilie Ellen Guthmann. Guthmann graduated BSc from the University of Glasgow in 1937 and MBChB in 1940.

She was born in Mainz, Germany, daughter of a Jewish lawyer. The family had fled to the UK to escape persecution.

Guthmann worked as an honorary surgeon at the Royal Samaritan Hospital for Women in Glasgow and Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital, before moving to London where she was resident obstetrician and gynaecologist at St Alfege's Hospital, Greenwich.

Promoting the welfare of the poorer people

Another way the refugees were supported was through the University of Glasgow Settlement: an organisation that’s initial aim was to 'promote the welfare of the poorer people, chiefly of the women and children, in a district or districts of Glasgow' and to 'maintain a centre of work in the district'.

The Settlement was founded in 1897 by female students and graduates of the University’s Queen Margaret College.

The settlement quickly became a “launchpad for social reform” and raised Glasgow’s reputation, in particular, “for excellence and innovation in municipal reform”.

Student volunteers lived in the Settlement and from the 1940s refugees were often offered accommodation at their premises in Anderston.

South Africa apartheid

Glasgow University Guardian, 13th Dec 1963After the Second World War, the student population remained concerned about the plight of refugees and dispossessed people from all areas of the world, including those fleeing apartheid regime in South Africa and Pinochet's Chile.

Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli (c1898-1967) was University Rector from 1962 until 1965. He was President-General of the African National Congress from 1952 until 1960, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

He was widely admired for leading a non-violent campaign against apartheid in South Africa and for his dignity in the face of what was seen as state persecution.

The University campaigned to raise funds for the Luthuli Scholarship: a Scholarship for Black South African students to study in Glasgow, established through student fund-raising from 1960s to 1980s.

Find out more

You can find out more about the University’s current work during the Refugee Festival Scotland. Festival events at the University of Glasgow include:

  • the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network & University of Glasgow History Department present Refugee Lives in Scotland: Oral Histories from the last 30 years, on Wednesday 10 June in the Gilbert Scott Conference Suite,
  • Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network & Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) present: The Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) – Defending Academic Freedom, on Monday 15 June in The Fore Hall.

See the Refugee Festival Scotland programme for more events at the University and around Glasgow.

For any questions or further information about the University’s historical collections, please e-mail the Duty Archivist on:

First published: 31 May 2015

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