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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)

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.


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