Women and the University of Glasgow

Published: 13 July 2007

In the first of a series of short summer articles written by the University of Glasgow's archive services, May Rosenthal Sloan looks at how the role of women at the University has evolved.

The relationship between women students and the University of Glasgow has not always been as positive and fruitful as it is today. 

As in most academic institutions, it has not been an easy journey towards acceptance, nor would an easy journey be one so important for us to remember. Rather, in the continuing quest for equality, it is necessary for those involved with the University to be aware of the resolve and integrity with which those early pioneers in women’s education sought to develop our institution.

The example set by Jessie Campbell, whose work in organising and promoting the education of women in the West of Scotland eventually led to the founding of Queen Margaret College, of Janet Galloway, first secretary of the Association for the Higher Education of Women, and of those around them, other staunch supporters of women’s education such as Principal John Caird, and Isabella Elder whose donation of North Park House provided QMC with a home, are an inspiration.

It is however equally important that whilst celebrating the past successes of women such as Campbell and Galloway, we also honour their work by looking forward, and continuing to strive for the place of women in the University of Glasgow.

There are many ways in which the University can claim excellence in its history of the education of women, not least that it was the first Scottish University to allow its female students to graduate into the medical profession on the same terms as their male classmates. Such barriers as the obstinacy of the Western Infirmary, in refusing to admit female students until 1919 did not stand in the way of this progress, and when, in 1894, Marion Gilchrist and Lily Cumming made Glasgow University history by becoming the first female graduates, it was in medicine that they received their degrees.

Indeed, this in itself is a significant symbol of the modernity of the University, for while the education of women was deemed by many contemporaries to be a mere addition to the domestic, considered the natural sphere of the female, the study of medicine could hardly be looked on in any light other than that of the potential to educate for the purpose of a career.

If it seems fair to talk of the inevitably masculine image of a somewhat Science orientated University within a large industrial city, then it is a testament to the passion and determination of Glasgow’s women to be educated, that they have overcome such an obstacle to the extent that the University’s students now number more women that men.

While in 2006, the number of female students at Glasgow University stood at the impressive figure of 59%, that of their professorial counterparts sat at a mere 14%. However, the statistics regarding female staff, from assistants to professors, demonstrate a steady if not rocketing growth, and with the potential for female graduates of today to become the professors of tomorrow, the future of women in Glasgow University can, and with their hard work, surely will, be ever increasing in its success.

May Rosenthal Sloan *
Archive services

* May is a final year History student currently on a placement as an Outreach Assistant with Archive Services. The placement was arranged through the University's Club 21 Placement Programme.

First published: 13 July 2007

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