Any views expressed within media held on this service are those of the contributors, should not be taken as approved or endorsed by the University, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University in respect of any particular issue.

‘Race Relations’ in Britain: 1965-1970

Newspaper articles (Coll-64)

Collected over the course of years and with painstaking care by Rev Kenneth Mackenzie (Coll-64) –an activist for human rights, members of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, and later assessor of the Race Relation Act 1968 under invitation of the State Secretary–, a staggering number of newspaper articles in our archives detail the history of ‘racial relations’ in Britain during the years when the Civil Rights Movement was making waves across the pond, and political and cultural debates about the issue of racial discrimination were beginning to take centre stage all across the UK and Europe. This section of history, as gathered by Rev Mackenzie, offers an insightful and illuminating look into the legislative and institutional fight for racial equality in Britain, a fight that begins in Mackenzie’s collection with the text to the Racial Relations Act 1965:

A person discriminates against another person, within the meaning of the Act, if he refuses or neglects to provide entry, service or facilities to another person on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins, or if these services or facilities are not offered on the same terms and in the same way as to general public. Discrimination includes the segregation of persons within a public place, or the provision of facilities or services only after unreasonable delay, or overcharging.

Annotated, highlighted and grouped into folders according to thematic strands, a number of newspapers clippings in the Mackenzie collection delineate the political background to the Act, as well as its reception and the weight of public opinion on the process of decision making. The overall feeling of dissatisfaction with the new legislation is evident in the many letters gathered by Mackenzie and addressed to the Editors of a number of national newspapers. The problems with the 1965 Bill were multiple: on the one hand, racial discrimination was only taken into consideration in the context of ‘public places,’ to the exclusion of a number of venues of community gathering and social interaction; on the other hand, only ‘the provision of services and facilities’ was accounted for within the Bill, so as to forego many other social circumstances of equal significance to community life. The effective exclusion of such a wide range of potential areas of contention neglected to take into account the consequences of discriminatory acts in the fields of labour, marketing, finance, health and education. In addition, the Race Relations Board, the institutional organisation officially charged with investigating complaints of racial discrimination, was only empowered to act by ‘try[ing] to settle’ complaints ‘by means of conciliation between the two parties concerned, and by getting an assurance from the person against whom the complaint was made that he will not practise unlawful discrimination in future.’ Because the Board did not have the power to carry out penal and or civil proceedings –penal proceedings not being contemplated by the Bill, and civil ones only reserved for the intervention of the Attorney General and the Lord Advocate–, and because no official warning nor threat of repercussions could, within the parameters of the Act, come into effect, the Bill practically resulted in the absence of any significant change in favour of the deterrence and prevention of racial discrimination.

Newspapers articles and other materials (Coll-64)

The string of articles selected by Mackenzie clearly depicts a rapid and conscious turn against the 1965 Bill, as the editorial boards of both national and local newspapers chose to put racial relations at the forefront of public media, and dedicated front pages, in-depth reports and supplements to the issue. Mackenzie, whose ‘crusade interest was no mere sentimental or uninformed passion,’ took great pains to collate a selection of different outlets looking at the Act from different angles and perspectives, and accounting for the variety of coverage that ‘racial relations’ demanded. When voices regarding the creation of a new and amended Racial Relations Act started to circulate in 1968, then, Mackenzie ensured the opinions of supporters of a new Bill would be documented:

What is disturbing is that no mention was made […] about enforcement procedures, in which the current legislation is particularly deficient. (Tribune, 1.3.1968)

As the newspaper clippings demonstrate, those who promoted amendments to the 1965 Act were particularly vocal about the necessity to broaden the definition of discrimination as well as empowering the Board of Racial Relations with the ability to impart punishing measures onto uncooperative offenders. Despite leaving some unsatisfied –Mackenzie highlighted a number of articles detailing the grievances of political parties and the public alike–, the new Bill, eventually coming into effect in November 1968, did present significant alterations to the 1965 Act. As the original text suggests:

For the purpose of this Act a person discriminates against another if on the ground of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins he treats that other, in any situation […], less favourably than he treats or would treat other persons.

With a detailed lists of potentially discriminatory ‘situations’ that included, but was not limited to, advertising, housing, banking, and employment, the Act now covered significantly more ground than its predecessor, and was welcomed by many, including Mackenzie himself, as a step forward in the protection of Britain’s racial minorities. However, as events immediately following the release of the 1968 Bill would demonstrate, the reach of these changes was not, as yet, quite as far as Britain would have needed given the political climate of the time.

Newspaper articles (Coll-64)

Indeed, as Parliament prepared for the circulation of the revised statute, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton Enoch Powell was reported by national press to have called, in a speech at the Rotary Club of London Annual Conference, ‘for large-scale repatriation’ of immigrants, ‘preferably organised by a special ministry’ (The Guardian, 18.11.1968).  Mackenzie dedicated a number of folders to the issues surrounding Powell’s speech, in an attempt, undoubtedly, to highlight the scale and magnitude of the MP’s inflammatory claims. Powell’s focus on ‘coloured immigrants,’ though condemned by many politicians and citizens alike as inhuman and unreasonable, yet evidently received widespread coverage, prompting one reader of The Guardian to question why ‘ideas that were ignored as typical fascist lunacy ten years ago’ (18.11.68) might be receiving such attention on all fronts.

According to Mackenzie’s collection of letters and articles, what made Powell’s tirade against ‘coloured migrants’ particularly appealing to sympathetic audiences was the use of statistics and data that turned the question from one of humanitarian relevance to one made of ‘numbers.’ Yet, as Mackenzie highlights in one of the clipped articles, Powell’s take on ‘facts’ allowed him to ‘select only those facts which enable him to play up to […] fears and prejudices.’ Widely blamed for ‘produc[ing] inadequate statistics and giv[ing] them a false interpretation,’ for ‘confusing the actions of individuals with patterns of behaviour,’ and for ‘obscuring understanding by the rhetoric of unreason’ (The Scotsman, 18.11.1968), Mr Powell himself began being accused of racial discrimination. However, in a bitterly ironic turn of events that underlined the inadequacy of the new Racial Relations Act 1968, no provision was made in the Bill for the prosecution of inflammatory and discriminatory speech. As The Morning Star sorely complained,

In vain did we warn in April that the Bill needed more teeth, and in particular punitive provisions. (26.11.1968)

In Mackenzie’s folders, the storm caused by Powell’s speech, then, is followed by a series of articles examining the merits and demerits of the new, amended Bill, opening the way for a more open investigation in and criticism of the general governmental stance toward the protection and safeguarding of people of colour across the country. In one particularly well-loved 1969 article,  whose yellowing paper carries the marks of Mackenzie’s underlining, Frank Cousin, chairman of the Community Regulations Commission, pointed out further inadequacies in the Act’s text by observing that the ‘legislation could combat direct racial discrimination but much voluntary work would be needed to achieve equal opportunity’ (The Guardian, 26.2.1969). By underlining the Act’s inability to forge a long-lasting cultural shift toward a more accepting and equal society, Mr Cousin –and Mackenzie as the attentive reader and collector– put his finger on the hypocritical features of both popular opinion and Government involvement in racial discrimination, wherein the creation of the Act in itself was to be considered as a conclusive solution to the problem of racial discrimination, rather than a mere first step toward what Mr Cousin termed ‘equal opportunities.’

That blind faith in the Act’s power to ‘cure’ Britain of its ‘racial problem’ was indeed a misguided belief became evident with the publication of an inquiry carried out the following year by the National Council for Civil Liberties for a report to the Select Committee on Race Relations, which claimed that ‘coloured immigrants are subjected to hostile treatment by the Home Office and immigration officials’ (The Guardian, 26.5.1970). Mackenzie highlighted the following section:

The report […] accused the Home Office of neglecting human interpretations of the law; aiming to control and exclude at all costs; and of seeing cases as ‘black and white –metaphorically as well as physically.’ (The Guardian, 26.5.1970)

The report demonstrated governmental bias against people of colour, and rendered the issues of racial discrimination once again central in the political debate. Yet, it wouldn’t be until the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, 30 years after the publication of the report, that legislation began to include a statutory duty on public bodies to promote race equality, and to demonstrate that procedures to prevent race discrimination would be effective. Still today, over 50 years after the Race Relations Act 1968, the ‘equal opportunities’ that Mr Cousin advocated for are far from being a reality, but the history of struggle, revision and amendment collected by Reverend Kenneth Mackenzie can show a path for more radical, inclusive and constructive system of reforms.

Newspaper articles (Coll-64)


Carefulness, Initiative and Industry: Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh

Born in Teluk Anson, Malaysia on 1st May 1920, Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh attended the K. E. Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he graduated with an M.B.B.S. in 1948. After facing considerable financial difficulties both during and immediately following his undergraduate studies, Dr Singh found employment in 1950 at Irwin Hospital in New Delhi, where he took up a six-months Surgery and Medicine internship. This was to be the beginning of an illustrious medical career that made Dr Singh an immensely prominent figure in the field of Malaysian and world pathology.

Dr Bhagwan Singh conducting an experiment in the Bacteriology Lab, 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

Indeed, after his brief employment in New Delhi, Dr Singh returned, in 1951, to Malaysia, where he was appointed first Senior Bacteriologist and, subsequently, then Head of Department of Bacteriology at the Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur. During his tenure at the Institute, Dr Singh distinguished himself for his keen interest in innovative research and obtained, in the years 1960-1961, a WHO Fellowship to study Public Health and Vaccine Production in Manila, Philippines, and Bangkok, Thailand. Upon his return and given the success of his medical journey, Dr Singh was then sent on a government funded PhD in the field of Bacteriology at the University of Edinburgh.

Despite numerous struggles related to visa requirements –documented in a thick bundle of three-way correspondence between the University, the Malaysian government and Dr Singh himself, Dr Singh successfully moved to Edinburgh in October 1963. While at Edinburgh, Dr Singh gained the respect and appreciation of colleagues and supervisors alike, who all describe him as someone who ‘carried out his work with carefulness, initiative and industry’ and who ‘was conscientious, persistent and enterprising’. Dr Singh himself took great pride in his work, which he described as an effort ‘To strive, to seek and to venture into pastures new’. It is with this positive and proactive mind-set that Dr Singh obtained his Doctorate in 1965 for the thesis ‘Pathogenesis and Control of Experimental Salmonella Infections’.

Dr Bhagwan Singh at his graduation ceremony, 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)
Dr Bhagwan Singh in Edinburgh, ca. 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

Upon his return to the Institute for Medical Research, Dr Singh established the Division of Bacteriology at the WHO Research Centre on Salmonellosis. Then, in 1971, after over ten years of dedicated and invaluable contributions, Dr Singh became the 18th Director of the Institute for Medical Research, a post that he held until his retirement in 1975. As a further recognition to his outstanding career, Dr Singh was also made an Honorary Member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Health Laboratory Service in 1973.

Dr Singh passed away on 13th June 1987. According to former colleague Dr Lim Teong Wah, who wrote Dr Singh’s obituary for the Malaysian Journal of Pathology:

He donated generously to students in various universities and academic institutions through goodwill loans, scholarships and prizes.

In 1982, Dr Singh had indeed bequeathed his house and the rest of his estate to the Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh Endowment Fund to be run by the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry in Malaysia. The Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh Grant, a result of Dr Singh’s generous donation, is still active today, granting funds up to RM 30.000 to support medical and biomedical research carried out by a Malaysian researcher residing in Malaysia.

Dr Bhagwan Singh’s passport photograph, ca. 1962, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

According to an official letter inviting applications for the 2014 Grant:

[Dr Singh’s] funds were primarily established to promote the education of the poor and needy, irrespective of race, colour, or religion.

Despite having officially left the world of medical research over 40 years ago, Dr Singh’s legacy survives today, ensuring that social, financial, and environmental circumstances should not stand in the path of progress and achievement for marginalised and underrepresented students throughout Malaysia.

Department of Bacteriology staff photograph, 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

‘A Marked Degree of Capacity’: Female Social Historians at The University of Edinburgh

While leafing through the archives in search of new materials for this blog, it becomes impossible not to think of those who made it their job to research the wealth of information and knowledge hidden in archival materials and analyse it so as to give voice to the big issues and public debates of times past. With that in mind, then, the spotlight today is on the stories of two equally brilliant social historians, one a former staff member and one a prestigious alumna of the University of Edinburgh:

Copy of ‘The Making of the Old Scottish Poor Law’ from Past & Present, 1974 (Coll-1066)

Dr Rosalind Mary Mitchison

In 1942 Dr Rosalind Mary Mitchison, known to friends and family as ‘Rowy,’ graduated from the University of Oxford with a First Class Degree in Mathematics and History. An excellent student with a distinct inclination for academic work, between the years 1943 and 1946 Dr Mitchison worked as an Assistant Lecturer at the faculty of History of the University of Manchester, before moving to Edinburgh with her equally academic husband to take up a post as Assistant Lecturer in the History Department at the University of Edinburgh.

Marked by numerous part-time appointments and several breaks dictated by the necessity of looking after her children and family, Dr Mitchison’s early career was certainly not an easy one. Yet, as one colleague remarked in her Memorial –collated by her husband–, if Dr Mitchison ‘did not find the University’s male-dominated ethos very welcoming to a woman who interleaved her teaching commitments with having babies,’ she remained ‘unlikely to be intimidated’ by such injustices, and continued pursuing her research.

In 1967, with her children grown to a more manageable age and the help of a part-time housekeeper, Dr Mitchison was finally able to take up a full-time employment at the University of Edinburgh, where she first covered the post of Lecturer, being soon promoted to Reader and, eventually, coming to hold the title of Professor. She was, by all accounts, ‘a great teacher’:

Exacting, kindly, never letting anyone get away with their second best. Always on top of her subject.

She was also, despite never calling herself so, a feminist, or so she was described by her former colleague R. J. Morris in an obituary published by The Guardian:

I never heard Rowy use what we would now call feminist language, but she had many qualities and ambitions that a later generation of women will recognise. […] At work, she took care to make spaces for other women academics, and occasionally pointed out to colleagues that women faced a variety of pressures.

A passionate academic, Dr Russel Moller officially retired in 1986, though she continued to follow her research interests and remained actively involved in the university community. In 1992, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of St. Andrews, and she was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1994. In 2000, Dr Mitchison published her lifetime work under the title of The Old Poor Law in Scotland: The Experience of Poverty, 1574 – 1845 (Edinburgh University Press). The book, a culmination of a career-spanning interest, was labelled as ‘splendid’ by many a reviewer, and considered a great contribution to the field of Social History.

Portrait photograph of Dr Mitchison, date and hptographer unknown (Coll-1066)
Portrait photograph of Dr Mitchison, date and hptographer unknown (Coll-1066)

Dr Asta Winifer Russel Moller

Between 1916 and 1920, Dr Asta Winifer Russel Moller attended the University of Edinburgh, where she pursued her undergraduate degree by attending classes in English. Moral Philosophy, British History, Political Economy, Economic History and Political Science. During her time at Edinburgh, Dr Russel Moller took part in numerous extra-curricular activities, and took up residence in Masson Hall, where she proved keen to forge connections with her fellow female students.

A dedicated and brilliant scholar, Dr Russel Moller graduated from the University of Edinburgh on 8th July 1920 with a Second Class Honours Degree in Economic Science, and later moved on to attend Somerville College, Oxford, where she began a one-year post-graduate degree programme in Social History.

Graduating again in 1921 with a Bachelor of Letters on the subject of English Coal Mining in the 17th Century, Dr Russel Moller impressed her supervisors at the University of Oxford, who were keen to praise ‘her knowledge of the history of Industry’ and who repeatedly claimed ‘it has been a great advantage to have in the College an advanced student of her ability and keen interest in economic and social questions.’

Between 1921 and 1926, Dr Russel Moller applied for a number of academic posts, among which those of Lecturer in Economics at King’s College for Women, London, and of Warden of Crosby Hall. Then, in 1926, Dr Russel Moller returned to Oxford, joining New College to pursue a DPhil on the history of coal mining. As a scholar who ‘des not spare herself pains’ and whose ‘judgement is sound,’ Dr Russel Moller was considered a great asset for the University, with her supervisor claiming that any ‘institution which secures her services would find her influence steadily growing’ thanks to the ‘thoroughness, originality and vivacity’ or her research work.

 She has exhibited in a marked degree of capacity for sustained hard work, and she has not shrunk from work of which some has been necessarily laborious and detailed in character.

In 1933, seven years after the start of her research project, Dr Russel Moller was awarded her DPhil for the thesis ‘The History of English Coal Mining, 1500-1700,’ a seminal work and still a significant reference for scholars in the field.

A Lady and a Surgeon: Margaret Mary Rae Martin, MB ChB

Born in Inverness on 4th March 1941, Dr Margaret Melville Rae Martin, known to friends and family as simply Rae, was a member of a distinguished medical family. Her mother, Margaret Wylie Martin, and her father, Russell Dickson Martin, met while working as doctors in the Inverness area, with Dr Russell Martin serving as Medical Officer of Health for Clydebank at the time of her birth. Her paternal grandmother, Dr Emily Winifred Dickson, was also a medical practitioner and the first woman to be appointed Fellow of the Royal Academy of Surgeons in Ireland.

Passport photo of Margaret Melville Rae Martin, ca.1969 (Coll-1541)

After gaining recognition from the Scottish University Entrance Board, who, in 1958, certified to her ‘fitness to enter upon a course qualifying for graduation in any faculty in a Scottish University’, Rae decided to follow in the footsteps of her family, and, in 1959, began classes at the Medical School of the University of Edinburgh. Soon after her enrolment, Rae was granted the Whiteside Bruce Bursary, ‘awarded [to her] as the student who, having attended the Chemistry, Physics and Biology classes during the past winter and summer sessions, had obtained the highest number of marks in the class exams in these subjects.’ A diligent and brilliant student, Rae graduated with Honours in 1965, winning, in the same year, the Buchanan Scholarship in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and being appointed part-volunteer doctor in Labrador (Canada) under the International Grenfell Association.

Upon her return from Canada in 1966, Rae took up a series of posts throughout Scotland, first as House Surgeon in the General Surgical Unit of Bangour General Hospital in West Lothian, then as House Officer in the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion and Gynaecological Wards of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh – where she was promoted to Senior House Officer—and Senior House Officer in the surgical department at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, and, finally, as Resident Registrar at the Royal Samaritan Hospital for Women in Glasgow. In October 1972, she admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Her interest in travelling, sparked by a medical volunteering trip to Poland in the early days of her career, led Rae to move, in 1973, to Ethiopia, where she worked at consultant in charge at St. Pauls Hospital in Addis Ababa. While in Ethiopia, Rae also held the post of honorary assistant professor at the university in Addis Ababa, as well as taking part in the training of nurses and family planning workers. From 1974 onwards, Rae also covered a part-time position as gynaecologist at the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia, and was appointed official lecturer to the Ethiopian Family Planning Association.

Class photo of Margaret Melville Rae Martin, 1966 (Coll-1541)
Margaret Melville Rae Martin’s first house, ca. 1941 (Coll-1541)

In 1976, after almost four years abroad, Rae decided to permanently return to the UK, taking up a job as consultant at Newmarket General Hospital in 1977, where she remained until her retirement in 2001. In 1985, Rae was awarded a Fellowship to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and in 2005 she became a Fellow of the British Medical Association, an organisation she had partnered with for over 25 years.

Always keen to share her medical expertise and to visit new places, during her time in Ethiopia Rae attended numerous conferences in Northern Africa, forging connections with local medical practitioners and fostering her passion for travel and photography. Her travel accounts, held with her professional and personal papers in the University’s Special Collections, are rich of vivid descriptions of the places she visited and her encounters with local culture and fellow travellers. Often irreverent and ironic, Rae demonstrates in her writing a vivacious character and a witty mind:

 The club is near the fort of Quait Bay –15th C. now a museum and officially a military object – and not photographable! I did! –the guardian agreed it was a stupid rule.

Passport photo of Margaret Melville Rae Martin, ca.1958 (Coll-1541)

Ever self-aware and keenly independent, Rae was capable of appreciating the liminality of her position as a female doctor and surgeon, jokingly remarking on the perceived paradox of it in one of her journals:

The men went sightseeing in old Cairo after lunch, but the ladies –and I was temporarily a lady, not a surgeon – were invited to the presidential house.

Rae’s witty explanation that she could either be a ‘lady’ or a ‘surgeon’, but never both at the same time, speaks of her understanding of the social constraints to which female doctors of her time seemed to be subjected, but her willingness to slip ‘temporarily’ from one role into the other at her will highlights her desire to live freely, and makes us agree that the depiction of ladies and surgeons as opposite too was, indeed, ‘a stupid rule.’

Margaret Melville Rae Martin’s photo in the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School Yearbook, 1965 (Coll-1541)

A Rounded Diversity: Scotland Africa ’97

If Africa is going to move away from being seen as a homogenous entity with intractable problems, then it is essential to create an environment for discussion where Africa is seen, not only in a positive light, but also in a rounded way. […] One needs to present diversity in a rounded way, not merely counteract negative images. (Pravina King)

The Black Umfolosi, 1997 (Coll-67)

Scotland Africa ’97 was a nation-wide initiative started by the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. With planning beginning as early as 1994 and the first influx of funding being received from The Binks Trust in 1995, the initiative encompassed an astonishingly large number of events all throughout Scotland, and attracted the participation of a range of institutions and organisations both within Scotland and around the African continent.

Kenyan artists Patrick M Mazola and Stanslaus Shake Makelele, 1997 (Coll-67)
Kenyan artists Patrick M Mazola and Stanslaus Shake Makelele, 1997 (Coll-67)

The primary aims of the initiative are described in an introductory brochure as being:

  1. To increase the awareness, understanding, and appreciation of Africa among people of Scotland;
  2. To examine the many bonds which, from the past and in the present, intimately link Africa and Scotland;
  3. To highlight the current issues which influence the daily lives of people in the many countries of Africa and in Scotland.

In a 1998 interview over the impact of the Scotland Africa ’97 project, general coordinator Pravina King of the Centre of African Studies stated:

Scotland has had such a long relationship with many African countries, especially certain former British Colonies, covering spheres such as education, medicine and governance.

Scotland Africa ’97 Scholarship Dinner, 1997 (Coll-67)

It was exactly these connections that were celebrated by the Scotland Africa ’97 programme, with events and workshops ranging from the visual and performing arts, to lectures and seminars, social and historical exhibitions, children’s activities, fairs, and even sporting events, all taking place between May and October 1997. With funding from prestigious institutions such as The Scottish Arts Council and the City of Edinburgh Council, as well as the University of Edinburgh, the programme certainly proved to be ‘a celebration and exploration of the rich diversity of experience that link Africa to Scotland and vice-versa,’ so much so that it gained the patronage of the Princess Royal as well as South African President Nelson Mandela, who stated in a letter to the Director of the Centre of African Studies, Dr Kenneth King, to have been ‘pleased and honoured for receiving such a prestigious invitation.’

Choir of the Presbyterian Training College from Akropong – Akuapem, Ghana, 1997 (Coll-67)
Choir of the Presbyterian Training College from Akropong – Akuapem, Ghana, 1997 (Coll-67)
Choir of the Presbyterian Training College from Akropong – Akuapem, Ghana, 1997 (Coll-67)

Visits from the Black Umfolosi acapella and dance performance group, the Ghanian choir of the Presbyterian Training College of Akropong – Akuapem, and a number of African authors, artists and academics who offered public lectures and seminars were only a few of the highlights of Scotland Africa ’97. A fundraising dinner was organised by the University of Edinburgh in support of a scholarship for a student from Africa to study at the Centre of African Studies, and Professor Olywole Akinwande Soyinka was recognised with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science in Social Science for ‘his contributions as educator, social commentator, and activist’ as well as ‘his plays, his poetry and his writing.’ The impressive and diverse range of activities and connections fostered by Scotland Africa ’97 was characterised by a positive spirit of community and cultural exchange, in which traditions, artistic outputs, and daily issues could be openly discussed and explored through a variety of media and practices.

Graduation ceremony for Professor Olywole Akiwande Soyinka, 1997 (Coll-67)

International Women’s Day Sketchathon

What a week it has been for your Gender and Equality Images PhD Intern* (a.k.a. myself). Last Friday was, of course, International Women’s Day, which, incidentally, is also one of my favourite days of the year. I kicked off the celebrations with a brief appearance at Argyle House, where I presented my work on notable Edinburgh women as part of the IWD Wikipedia Editathon run by the wonderful Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew. It was an absolutely lovely event, with great attendance (we even broadcasted live to South Africa via Skype) and a bunch of very cool IWD-themed badges. What a great start to the day!

After that, I dashed off to prepare for my very own International Women’s Day Sketchathon – fun, game-based workshop mixing art challenges with stories of women in the collections! The event was held in the Research Suite at the Centre for Research Collections, where tables were set up to encourage collaborative work and refreshments were offered to lighten up the mood (and feed the starving host!).

We had an incredible group of attendees from all backgrounds, both staff members and students, of all ages, genders and ethnicities, and everyone took part in the challenges with great enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter and the creative means. We learned about notable Edinburgh women (some of which are featured in various articles on this blog), Edinburgh-based artists Jessica Harrison, Phyllis Bone and Susan Collis (whose work has either been collected in the University’s Art Collection or commissioned by the University), and we discussed the ways in which female artists at Edinburgh University chose to mark public spaces. Some incredible original artwork was created by our attendees in response to the visual prompts offered by the speakers, and I’ve collected a few examples to preserve for the future.

A huge thank you goes to everyone who helped make the event possible, and to everyone who attended with a big grin on their face and a can-do mind-set. It was wonderful meeting you all, and I look forward to many further occurrences! Now I’m off to dive once more into the collections and uncover new and inspiring stories. Wish me luck.


*Yes, even typing this job title leave me breathless.

The Business of Understanding: Professor Annie Altschul

Portrait of Prof. Altschul (Coll-1000)

Born in Vienna on 18th February 1919, Annie Altschul spent her formative years in Austria before moving to England in the wake of Hitler’s invasion of Austria in 1938. Years later, recalling her departure from her home country, Annie wrote in the Journal of Mental Health Nursing:

 As a socialist with Jewish background, it was really rather urgent that I leave.

Leaving the place where she grew up proved initially difficult for Annie, who began her life in London working as a nanny to try to improve her English. Yet, as Annie herself often put it, ‘having confidence in people facilitates success,’ and, thanks to her positive attitude, she soon became a proficient speaker and a well-respected member of her new community.

Then, with the official start of the war in Britain, Annie decided to enrol for training as a nurse, a decision that would change her life forever. After beginning her education as a general nurse in a voluntary hospital in Ealing, London, Annie promptly moved on to become a staff nurse at the Mill Hill Hospital, which, after the end of the war, was returned to its original grounds at Mauldsley Hospital, a renowned psychiatric centre. At Mill Hill first, and Maudsley then, Annie’s interest for psychiatric nursing was sparked, an interest that would last a lifetime.

Indeed, soon after the end of the war, alongside her duties as a nurse and her part-time position as a mother’s help to the Parfit’s family –a job that led Annie to a lifelong friendship with Jessie Parfit–, Annie started taking evening classes at Birkbeck College, classes that eventually resulted in a degree in Psychology.

It was exactly the combination of nursing and psychiatric services that won Annie, in 1964, a one-year, WHO-funded post at the University of Edinburgh. Having proved herself an invaluable asset for the University, at the expiration of her one-year post, Annie was invited to become a full-time member of staff in the relatively new department of Nursing Studies. There, Annie was able to reach the position of senior lecturer in just a handful of years, before becoming the University’s second ever Professor of Nursing and Chair of Nursing Studies in 1976.

Interview with Prof. Altschul on The Student (Coll-1000)

During her tenure, Professor Altschul oversaw the introduction of master’s courses in nursing administration, nursing education, and health education. In 1978, she was awarded a Fellowship by the Royal College of Nursing,

In recognition of the contribution […] made to the advancement of the science and art of nursing, in particular […] psychiatric nursing.

Of her work at the intersection of nurses education and psychiatric nurses, Professor Altschul said,

In some kind of a way, I represent something of a unified nursing profession; but only in some sort of a way. And in other sort of ways I feel I have a great deal more in common with some other professions who care about the mentally ill […] than I have with certain kinds of general nurses.

In 1983, following an illustrious career, Professor Altschul decided to retire from the University of Edinburgh in order to

leave the way clear for a younger woman, who by dint of youth will be “full of ideas.”

Upon her retirement, Professor Altschul was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor, as well as a CBE in recognition of her services to mental health nursing.

Of her attitude toward patient care in psychiatric nursing, Professor Altschul wrote in 1999:

At some point I came to the conclusion that what a schizophrenic person is saying makes sense to them, and my business is to try to understand it. They code messages differently from the way other people code them, rather like some forms of painting or music. And if I don’t understand the meaning, that’s my fault.

It was this attitude, as well as her expertise and knowledge of the nursing profession that rendered Professor Altschul a pillar of the nursing community:

She project the modest, down-to-earth, honest, practical, straight-talking, genial, humorous, self-effacing, challenging and, all too often, irreverent characteristics that many nurses believe lie at the human heart of psychiatric nursing.

This University BLOGS: Archives of University of Edinburgh Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Society (1973-1999)

BLOGS official logo (EUA IN20/SOC/BIS)

In celebration of LGBT+ History Month this February, I thought it might prove interesting to look back at the archives of the University of Edinburgh Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Society (BLOGS) to see how the Society and its aims developed over the course of the years, and what are some of the innovative initiatives that were launched by the society to safeguard and promote the well-being of LGBT+ students at the University.

The history of the LGBT+ student society at Edinburgh begun in 1973, when the Edinburgh University Gay Society was officially founded. Originally catering exclusively to male homosexual students, the Society was created, according to its original constitution, in an attempt to

Meet the social needs of the 10% of the student population of Edinburgh University who are basically homosexual in orientation.

Under this banner, the Society operated on a variety of fronts, from the offering of a befriending service, to the mounting of campaigns bringing awareness on the problem of homophobia and its effects on the gay community.

In the academic year 1982-83, the society officially changed their name from ‘Edinburgh University Gay Society’ to ‘University of Edinburgh Gay and Lesbian Society’. The addition of the word ‘lesbian’ to the official title demonstrated the Society’s willingness to pursue inclusivity by continuing to develop and revise their policies. In 1985, the Society established a newsletter divulged to both members and non-members, and in 1988 they sought association to national lesbian and gay organisations so as to provide access to resources and services for their members.

In 1989, in a bid to redress the cultural imbalance discriminating the homosexual student community, the society applied to the Student Association for the provision of funding aimed at building a Lesbian and Gay Library:

It has been noted by the society that Section 28 has been used against public libraries to prevent the further acquisition of gay literature and books relating to gay life and issues. It was further noted that such books are proportionately more expensive to buy than more mainstream heterosexual publications and often not purchasable by students on a low income. These gay students are deprived of their very own form of that written culture which the heterosexual world esteems so highly for its openness, liberality and freedom of thought.

This bid was followed in 1997 by a second attempt at acquiring relevant literature to be held by the society and shared with members on a lending and consulting basis. Simultaneously, the Society decided to take up subscriptions to relevant academic and non-academic journals, so as to provide access to a constant stream of fresh and updated materials.

BLOGS newsletter (EUA IN20/SOC/BIS)

Meanwhile, in 1996, the Society voted again to change their definition, this time including the term ‘bisexual’ in their title. BLOGs was officially adopted as the Society’s name and new banners were ordered to honour the occasion. During the same academic year, the Society organised, in partnership with the Student Association, the first Sexuality Awareness Week, an annual event that, under different titles, continued for a number of years. Prominent non-binary speakers were invited to participate in the Society’s events and speak on a number of different issues, ‘positively promot[ing] images’ of the bisexual, gay and lesbian community.

The aim of the Society was re-defined accordingly

To represent the interests of bisexual, lesbian and gay students at Edinburgh University by campaigning within the university and organising regular meetings, speakers and social events.

And a new ‘right to self-definition’ principle was added to the constitution:

The Society accepts its members and others attending meetings as being the gender, sexuality and sexual orientation which they choose to define themselves, regardless of birth certificate, physical appearance, usual gender role or sexual or other behaviour. They will be accepted thus for the purposes of attending regular and special meetings, and in how they are addressed and treated in the group.

Throughout the years from 1990 to 1999, the Society organised a number of outings to the London Pride, begun providing ‘coming-out leaflets’ and leaflets on sexual health at Fresher’s Week events, and collaborated with other LGB organisations and groups to provide their members with a range of helpful information.

BLOGS programme (EUA IN20/SOC/BIS)

In 1999, the Society applied for a grant aimed at acquiring a new banner:

We do have a banner at present, and intend to continue using it. However, at our AGM at the end of last term, the name of the society was changed from Bisexual, Lesbian or Gay Society to include the term Transgendered, and this needs to be shown on all of the society’s publicity.

The introduction of the term ‘transgendered’ into the Society’s name and the ‘right to self-definition’ principle into the Society’s constitution marked a further step along the road to a project of inclusivity that had started more than 25 years earlier. The attention to the ever-developing language surrounding LGBT+ identity and the support afforded to self-definition initiatives made the Society one of the most progressive organisations within the Student Association, and helped shape the student community into a more understanding, equal and inclusive one.

7 Tips for Running a Successful Campaign (according to Helen Lowe)

Courtesy of Lothian Health Services Archive, Edinburgh University Library

When Helen Lowe conducted her campaign in favour of the preservation of the special status afforded to the Bruntsfield Hospital for Women and Children and the Elsie Inglis Maternity Memorial Hospital as hospitals staffed exclusively by female medical professionals, her experience taught her a great many lessons on the running of an effective campaign. Luckily for us, we can access these lesson and learn from Helen’s success. Here are some of the tips and tricks that Helen’s papers –hosted by the Lothian Health Services Archive—seem to recommend:

1. Have a clear objective

Sometimes, issues surrounding certain specific campaigns can be complex and multi-faceted. It is important, however, to keep actions focussed on specific aims and to be able to explain those aims concisely and clearly.

‘A mass meeting is to be held in the Usher Hall on Wednesday, April 17th at 7.30 p.m. with the object of passing a resolution to initiate action to safeguard the maintenance of the status quo of the […] hospitals as hospitals for women patients, staffed by women.’

Despite not being unaware of the larger issues facing female medical staff and patients throughout Scotland and the UK, Helen knew that in order for her campaign to gain momentum, it needed to maintain a solid, central statement of intent. This ensured all efforts would be geared toward achieving the most important or most pressing goals.

2. Find allies

As Helen’s correspondence demonstrates, building a strong network of interested participants in relevant organisations and institutions is fundamental to a fruitful campaign. And it’s important to remember that allies can be found where one least expects them:

‘Several of the most distinguished medical men in Edinburgh are on the side of the women.’

Despite the staffing of the hospital being primarily a female concern, gaining the trust and support of ‘the most distinguished medical men in Edinburgh’ proved an essential boost for Helen’s campaign, for it served to fight the gender stereotyping attached to the issue, and thus leave space for more administrative, medical and legal discussions.

3. Raise public interest

Support from appropriate political, professional or cultural groups can certainly do much to improve the chances of a campaign, but nothing is more powerful than public opinion. As Helen puts it in one of her letters:

‘The wider the support, the more likely we are to succeed.’

Once the aims and methods of the campaign have been established, it is time to shout about it and make sure more and more people take the cause to heart.

Courtesy of Lothian Health Services Archive, Edinburgh University Library

4. Create easily actionable tasks

Getting people to listen to your concerns is certainly an essential part of the success of a campaign. Taking action, however, is what makes the difference. So as to encourage a larger number of supporters to transform that support into action, it’s important to come up with simple and effective steps that everyone can take with relative ease:

‘At the meeting each member of the audience took away a card […] in order that they might send it to their Member of Parliament. […] We wish to impress our Members of Parliament with the sincere demand there is for the retention of the women’s hospitals.’

By providing all supporters with a pre-written postcard, Helen ensured that everyone who wished to take part in the action to save the hospitals would be able to do so without requiring too much effort or commitment.

5. Avoid misconceptions

Sometimes, information doesn’t seem to come across the way it is supposed to. Be it the consequence of an honest mistake or an attempt on the part of the opposition to sabotage the action, this can result in losing supporters and, in the long run, will damage the campaign. In order to avoid misunderstandings, give supporters, allies, and collaborators a chance to ask questions and clarify issues. As a letter to Helen states:

‘Another lady, who has now sent a card to her MP, said that she had refused to sign before because she was under the impression that this was an anti-male doctor campaign. She now fully understands the situation. ‘

The mass meeting in Usher Hall offered Helen and the other campaigners an opportunity to set the record straight as to the aims of their campaign, so that supporters could be reassured in their loyalty to the cause.

6. Oppose misrepresentation

Media coverage can be a significant ally for a campaign, yet not all press is indeed good press. When issues at the core of the campaign get repeatedly misrepresented, the campaign’s aims run the risk of becoming overshadowed. As Helen’s letters to newspaper show us, accurately and systematically opposing misrepresentation allows for the running of a fairer and more open campaign:

‘Mr. Nixon Browne, however, in his reply as reported made statements which could lead to serious misconceptions.’

With politeness and decision, Helen called out Mr. Nixon Browne’s ‘misconception’ as to the campaign and the way the press had reported on these, so as to project a more accurate image of the struggles to maintain the status of the hospitals.

Courtesy of Lothian Health Services Archive, Edinburgh University Library

7. Do not give up

Setbacks are a natural part of every campaign. Thinks don’t always run smoothly, and, sometimes, carefully planned action doesn’t lead to the expected results. Don’t lose heart, though.

‘It was decided at the meeting to pursue our cause until Justice is done. ‘

In the face of failure, it’s crucial to remember the reasons behind a campaign, and to know that, with the support of allies and a little extra time and effort, anything can be achieved.

Gender and Equality: First Semester Overview

From the Papers of Annie Hutton Numbers (Coll-649)

A little over three months ago, I began my internship at the Centre of Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh. My aim was that of uncovering hidden stories of marginalised groups, and I started my research by focussing primarily on narratives of women whose remarkable lives have gone, until now, unnoticed. As the first semester draws to a close, I thought it might be interesting to put together an overview of some of the marvellous finds I bumped into whilst searching the University collections — finds that, due to a lack of time or the need for more in-depth research, haven’t quite made yet it into fully fledged blog posts:

Annie Hutton Numbers – Numbers graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1918 with the degree of MA (hons) Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and then again in 1920 with the degrees of BSc in Mathematics and BSc in Chemistry. She was among the first women to obtain a degree from the Department of Chemistry, and went on to work for the University in the capacities of Assistant Lecturer and Demonstrator. While on the university staff, Numbers undertook research towards the award of a PhD in Chemistry, which she eventually gained in 1926 for the thesis The Influence of Substituents on the Optical Rotary Power of Compounds.

Numbers has a Wikipedia page, as well as her own entry in the Our History directory of the University of Edinburgh.

From the Papers of Annie Hutton Numbers, photographer unknown (Coll-649)
From the Papers of Annie Hutton Numbers (Coll-649)

Marjorie Rackstraw – After suffering from many health-related issues, in 1924 Rackstraw became Warden of Masson Hall at The University of Edinburgh, a position that she held until 1937. In her capacity as Warden, she served as an adviser to women students, counselling on matters regarding accommodation, education, and future careers. In 1937 Rackstraw moved from Edinburgh to London, where she took up many volunteering projects in favour of the elderly, war refugees, and homeless. Thirty years after leaving Masson Hall, Rackstraw contributed financially to the building of a new hall of residence.

Entries on Marjorie Rackstraw can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Our History directory of the University of Edinburgh, and intern volunteer Elsie talks about the Papers of Marjorie Rackstraw (Coll-705) in her blog post on Carpe Librum.

From the Papers of Marjorie Rackstraw, photographer unknown (Coll-705)

Susan Binnie – From 1915, Binnie studied Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where she was one of the first female students allowed to participate in medical education alongside her male colleagues. Binnie graduated with the degrees on MB and ChB in the early 1920s, and went on to work at her brother’s newly set-up practice in Midcalder before taking a post as a pathologist at Bangour Hospital, West Lothian. Official records show Binnie leaving the profession after her marriage and the birth of her two children. New evidence, however, suggests that Binnie might have continued practicing medicine well after this, although more research is required to ascertain the facts.

Susan Binnie, photographer unknown, 1920s (Coll-1052)

Margaret Stuart Tyndall Bruce of Falkland – Daughter of Robert Hamilton Bruce, Bruce was a heiress and landowner who inherited Falkland Palace from her uncle John Hamilton Bruce in 1826. Despite most of her achievements both as a business woman and a charitable figure being attributed to her husband Onesiphorus Tyndall-Bruce, it was Mrs Bruce’s fortune that funded many initiatives crucial to the life of her community, including the construction of new buildings, land purchases, employment and charitable work.

A digital image of Bruce’s portrait, part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection, can be found on the Art UK website, while more about the life of the Tyndall-Bruces is described in this leaflet for the Tyndall Bruce Monument.

Marjorie Jean Oswald Kennedy – Born in 1915 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, during the Second World War Kennedy begun serving with the Women Royal Naval Service before moving, in 1943, to Bletchely park, were she worked as a codebreaker for allied forces trying to decrypt encrypted messages transmitted through the German Enigma machine. Following the end of the war, Kennedy moved first to London, and, then, to Edinburgh, where in the 1980s she worked as a librarian at the University of Edinburgh. She engaged in much charitable work and was the inspiration behind the foundation of the Rock Trust, a charity aimed at helping homeless people.

Wikipedia hosts a page on Kennedy.

This is it for the first semester, but I look forward to many more fascinating discoveries in the new year.

From the Papers of Marjorie Rackstraw, photographer unknown (Coll-705)



Report this page

To report inappropriate content on this page, please use the form below. Upon receiving your report, we will be in touch as per the Take Down Policy of the service.

Please note that personal data collected through this form is used and stored for the purposes of processing this report and communication with you.

If you are unable to report a concern about content via this form please contact the Service Owner.

Please enter an email address you wish to be contacted on. Please describe the unacceptable content in sufficient detail to allow us to locate it, and why you consider it to be unacceptable.
By submitting this report, you accept that it is accurate and that fraudulent or nuisance complaints may result in action by the University.