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Women and Scotland

Marie-Odile Pittin-Hedon

Women in Politics and Culture

“The Lass o’Pairts”; the working class female student in literature and reality in Scotland

Alison Taylor McCall


In the late nineteenth century a new genre of Scottish writing emerged; the kailyard novel, a subgenre of domestic "realism" which sentimentalised Scotland, portraying it as a rural nation full of kindly characters, in which young men (but not young women) strive for academic success. In response there was the anti-kailyard movement. The relationship between kailyard and anti-kailyard literature, fiction and reality and gender is complex. Novels which are regarded as grittily realistic, such as Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song suggest that a girl studying Latin, becoming school dux and dreaming of academic success falls within the ambit of realism at least in novels. Other novelists who grew up within the Scottish education system found a fictional lass o’ pairts entirely credible. This paper will explore the relationship between these literary icons and their real-life counterparts.

Texte intégral

1The Programme of the Educational Congress of the Educational Institute of Scotland (E.I.S.) held in Aberdeen in 1896 included a short history of education, which included the following:

  • 1 pulpit
  • 2 Official Guide and Programme; Congress of the Educational Institute of Scotland at Aberdeen 29th an (...)

In all the North of Scotland, and especially in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, there was not a family, however humble, whose heads might not cherish the desire to send at least one “lad o’ pairts” to the University, in the hope of one day seeing him “wag his pow in a poopit! ”1 And each October saw a little army of young intellectual gladiators swoop down upon Aberdeen, some carrying the proverbial bag of oatmeal in the crook of a hazel stick; some walking forty miles to join in that intellectual tug of war, yclept the Bursary Competition.2

  • 3 Other kailyard writers included J.M.Barrie and S.R. Crocket.
  • 4 See e.g. Anderson, R. In Search of the “Lad of Parts”: the Mythical History of Scottish Education H (...)

2The term “lad o’ pairts” in Scots, rather than “man or fellow of (many) parts” had been coined only two years earlier but had quickly become part of everyday parlance. It originated in “Domsie,” the first in a collection of short stories Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush by Ian Maclaren, the pen name of Rev John Watson. This book was part of a new genre of Scottish writing which had emerged in the late nineteenth century, the “kailyard” school.3 It was a sub-genre of domestic realism which sentimentalised Scotland, portraying it as a rural nation full of kindly characters and supportive communities. The name “kailyard” came from the name for the cabbage patch or kitchen garden. In this society poor but clever boys were nurtured at the village school by a dedicated schoolmaster (or “dominie”) and supported to gain a bursary and attend University. These boys or “lads o’ pairts” were the pride of the community. In “Domsie”, the lad, Geordie Howe, wore himself out studying on a diet of oatmeal, and died shortly after graduating with highest honours. Kailyard novels were very popular, both in Scotland and with the Scottish diaspora worldwide. Many men identified themselves or were identified by others, as “lads o’ pairts.” The lad o’ pairts became a story which represented an idea of Scotland, the land of the democratic intellect, a land in which poverty was no barrier to academic success. There has been considerable debate as to how many poor boys were actually able to go to University and progress in a career.4 Certainly, in the late nineteenth century, many of those who were most closely involved in education either believed in the concept or cherished it as an ideal. Those reading the extract above in their conference programmes were at the chalk-face of teaching in 1896. The history was written in the context of a convivial Congress, rather than as a piece of searching analysis. It was, therefore, written to please and not to challenge. It is interesting that this account of Scottish educational history was regarded as pleasing and entertaining to Scotland’s teachers. Some attendees were rural schoolmasters, who might have nurtured a “lad” or two of their own. Many, however, were the female school teachers who had been trained at teacher training colleges; the Scottish Universities having only opened their doors to women four years earlier. Indeed, the writer of the passage was a woman; Mrs Isabella Low Skea, head teacher of St Paul Street School, Aberdeen.

3 Many of those who self-identified as “lads” came from the lower middle class, rather than the working class, or from an urban rather than rural background. However, the concept of the lad o’ pairts was, and remains, a popular one. McCrone claims that the “generic Scottish myth of egalitarianism has at its core the iconography of the lad o’ pairts, and is the key to explaining why educational values appear so central to a sense of Scottish culture” (McCrone 242).

4There were no “lasses o’ pairts” in kailyard literature. The female role was that of supportive and proud mother. The active roles were masculine; the university educated schoolmaster, the clever boy, and the lad’s fellow University students. It would be interesting to know how the female teachers at the Congress saw their own lives reflected within the kailyard trope of male scholar and male teacher. Did they identify with the “Domsie” the schoolteacher? Or did they regard their own route from school to college to teacher as similar to Geordie Howe’s progress to University? The majority of female schoolteachers were unmarried and could not have identified with the “proud mother” although some had helped younger siblings or nieces and nephews to follow their own lad / lass o’ pairts route.

5In response to the popular, sentimental fiction of the kailyard school there arose the anti-kailyard movement, novels in which Scotland was portrayed as a poor country, and the people who lived in its villages and small towns were depicted as narrow minded, judgemental and selfish. Novels such as the The House with the Green Shutters which tells the story of John Gourlay, is “anti-kailyard” rejecting a vision of Scotland as a winsome, pawky nation. Dickson makes an interesting point about this novel:

At every point, Brown’s narrative contradicts the myth: the boy does not even want to go to university; his father sends him so that he can provide for the family, not for education’s sake; the villagers take a malicious delight in his eventual downfall rather than his success. Brown is doing his utmost to characterise MacLaren’s version of Scottish education as unrealistic. Despite these bleak representations, Brown himself bears an uncanny resemblance to the lad of parts. For the illegitimate son of a farm servant, an education by sensitive, thoughtful teachers with high expectations offered entry into a way of life both interesting and financially secure. There is an acute dissonance between biography and fiction

6The anti-kailyard novels may be described as “hyper-real.” There are very few lads o’ pairts in these realistic novels. Curiously however, there are lasses o’ pairts. This raises the question; are the girls and young women in them a true reflection of Scottish society in Victorian and early twentieth century Scotland?

7 The lass o’ pairts is absent from the history books –educational histories tend to focus on boys, or on the institutional barriers to education faced by women. Paterson and Fewell claim that:

there is a need to recognise that it is no accident that the personification of this (national) identity is male: the lad o’ pairts, the dominie, the honours graduate. Indeed, it is a measure of the entrenchment of attitudes that it has taken until very recently for this to be pointed out. Standard texts on Scotland rarely refer specifically to women and girls, and when they do, the assumption is that the education of girls involves simply a slight variation on the central male educational theme.
Paterson and Fewell 2

8In this chapter I will examine some of the literary lasses o’ pairts to be found in novels, and then search for their real-life counterparts.

  • 5 One way that a country can present its identity is through its currency. The £5 note issued in 2016 (...)

9One example of the fictional lass can be found in The Quarry Wood by Nan Shepherd.5 The Quarry Wood is set at some point prior to the First World War, and centres round Martha Ironside. Martha is a ploughman’s daughter, living in the North East of Scotland, whose mother takes in illegitimate children as a source of income. Her home is dirty, overcrowded and chaotic. Martha, though, loves her schoolwork and gains a series of bursaries to let her continue at school. Martha

had learned as yet to be passionate on behalf of one thing only – knowledge: but for that she could intrigue like any lover. She had made her own plans for going, not to the (Teacher) Training Centre, but to the university. (Shepherd 32)

  • 6 Anna (Nan) Shepherd (1893-1981) graduated in 1915.

10Martha also dreams of travel. Martha’s home environment is not the rural idyll of the kailyard. The family poverty is explicit, but bursaries allow her to go to University, and then Teacher Training College. She gets a teaching post. Martha’s difficulties arise from her family; her mother becomes enormously fat and takes “turns”, her elderly aunt becomes terminally ill. Martha continues to teach, but family responsibilities constrain her ability to travel. The community is not universally supportive of this lass, and her mother’s pride is based more on scoring points off other relatives and the hope that Martha’s income might assist the family than actual pride in Martha’s abilities. However, this realistic novel does not question the ability of a ploughman’s daughter to obtain sufficient education to progress to University and gain a degree, in the early years of the twentieth century. Nan Shepherd was herself a graduate of Aberdeen University6, but she came from a comfortably off family.

11 In Lorna Moon’s Dark Star, set in a fictional village which was based on Strichen, Aberdeenshire, Nancy is illegitimate, abandoned by her mother and brought up by her grandmother. Nancy is aged “nearly 12” when her grandmother has a heart attack and “from that day all things were changed. Her school-books hung in their canvas bag behind the door and were never opened again. Baking and washing and sweeping filled her days…” (Moon 30).

  • 7 Nora Helen Wilson Low, 1886–1930

12After her grandmother dies, she regrets her lack of education and starts studying French in the evenings, taught by the local schoolmaster. Aged eighteen she becomes an assistant at the local library. Here Nancy could access education but is initially prevented from doing so by family responsibilities. Lorna Moon7, the pen name of Nora Low, grew up in Strichen and was writing of a community she knew, albeit she wrote Dark Star whilst living in Hollywood, where she worked as a script writer. Her work was criticised in Scotland for being too harsh on the community, but not for being unrealistic. Moon’s father was a plasterer and she grew up in a working class home.

  • 8 Catherine Roxburgh Carswell (née Macfarlane) 1879–1946.

13Catherine Carswell8 had a middle class upbringing in Glasgow. Her semi-autobiographical novel Open the Door! is set in Glasgow in the late nineteenth century and also features a family issue. In this case, Joanna Bannerman is twelve when her father dies. This does not however, affect her education – on the contrary it pushes Joanna to study as her mother, Juley, believes that both her daughters will have to support themselves:

Matrimony in Juley’s eyes was not a thing to be sought for its own sake, and if her daughters neither married nor felt the call to be missionaries, they would have to do something for themselves
Carswell 50.

  • 9 An explicit reference to one kailyard and one anti-kailyard novel. Gibbon, Lewis Grassic, Sunset So (...)

14The final fictional lass comes from a book regularly voted as one of Scotland’s favourite novels; Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. Sunset Song tells the life of Chris Guthrie, daughter of a tenant farmer in the early 20th century. Her home, Kinraddie in the Mearns is described by its minister as “the Scots countryside itself, fathered between a kailyard and a bonny briar bush in the lee of a house with green shutters.”9 She loves school and wins prizes of books. These books are the only books in her home other than the Bible. At school she shone at “Latin and French and Greek and history.” (Grassic Gibbon 44) Her education comes to an abrupt end when her mother kills herself and Chris takes over as housekeeper at home. Still she dreams of going to University one day. However, when, after her father’s death, she is finally able to realise her dream of University, she decides against it, choosing instead to continue to farm at Kinraddie. Sunset Song is regarded as one of the most important Scottish novels of the twentieth century. In Sunset Song Chris feels that there are two “Chrisses”; the Scottish one, attuned to the land and the seasons; and the “English” one, pulled by the lure of books and education. She does not regard education as intrinsically Scottish.

So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrisses there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.”
Grassic Gibbon 32

15Her mother advised her “there are better things than your books or studies or loving or bedding, there’s the countryside your own, you its, in the days when you’re neither bairn nor woman.” (Grassic Gibbon 27)

16It is interesting that Chris does not regard her love of learning as “Scottish” when in the kailyard novels love of learning was a very Scottish attribute of a lad. Devine claims that:

For the Scots in the nineteenth century, education was much more than a matter of learning, instruction and scholarship. It had become a badge of identity, a potent symbol of Scottishness and one of the ways in which a sense of nationhood was preserved.… Schooling promoted identity through the structures of education rather than through the subject matter taught in the curriculum… In Scotland it was believed that social barriers did not obstruct the path to success of the “lad o’ pairts”.
Devine 389

  • 10 Rebecca “Ray” Middleton (1901-1978).

17And yet, in Sunset Song education was not a badge of Scottishness for Chris; quite the reverse. But again, a girl studying Latin and Greek, winning prizes and dreaming of academic success falls within the ambit of realism. Indeed, Chris was partially based on Grassic Gibbon’s wife, Ray10, whom he had met when they were both at school. They grew up in a community like Kinraddie.

18This is the puzzle; there are few references to academically successful and ambitious schoolgirls in academic works which assume that in the classroom, ambition was a male preserve. And yet we meet them in the pages of realistic novels, written by authors who knew had lived experience of the environments in which they placed their characters. The relationship between kailyard and anti-kailyard literature, fiction and reality and gender is complex. While historians may cast doubt on the existence of the Lass o’Pairts, novelists who grew up within the Scottish education system find a fictional lass o’ pairts entirely credible. Is there historical evidence for girls such as Martha Ironside, Nancy Pringle, Joanna Bannerman and Chris Guthrie?

19If women were excluded from the lad o’ pairts narrative, did that make them less “Scottish”? If they were included, where are they in the history books? Virginia Woolf famously claimed “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” (Woolf 313) And yet, many of the iconic images of Scotswomen in the early twentieth century, images of women who had been born and educated in the late nineteenth century, suggest a strong identification with Scotland, whether it be the suffragettes marching down Princes Street in 1909 under a banner which read “A Gude Cause Maks a Strong Arm” or the tartan trimming on Elsie Inglis’ uniform. Did Scottish schoolgirls regard education and Scottish identity as less closely entwined than their brothers and derive their sense of Scottish identity elsewhere?

  • 11 McCall, Alison T. “’The Beloved Profession’; the Post-1872 Promotion of Women in the Public Element (...)
  • 12 Margaret Lyon was 67 when her mother died aged 90, Mary Ann Grieg was 65 when her mother died aged  (...)

20There is a clear difference between the fictional lad o’ pairts and the fictional lass o’ pairts. Both struggle against poverty, but the lad struggles also against ill health, whilst the lass struggles against the ill health of others. Both Nancy Pringle and Chris Guthrie are forced to take on household responsibilities following the death of their grandmother and mother respectively, whilst Martha Ironside’s career is curtailed by her mother’s ill health. By contrast, Joanna Bannerman’s education is uninterrupted by the death of her father. It may be that in this respect, the fictional lass closely mirrored real life. I carried out a study11 of forty-two women born between 1840 and 1865, who held promoted posts as head teachers, or deputy heads, in Aberdeen’s Public Elementary Schools. Forty of the forty-two came from a skilled working class background. I wanted to know what had enabled them to have successful careers. I had assumed that they would either have had few siblings or no brothers, allowing them to claim more family support. In fact, there was no correlation between family size or composition. The study showed that eleven of the forty-two had lost their father before the age of eighteen, like Joanna in Open the Door! Only three however had lost their mother and in each case, by the next census there was a replacement mother figure in the family (stepmother, unmarried aunt and elder sister respectively, the latter two described as “housekeeper”). By the age of twenty-five, fourteen were fatherless, but only four motherless. I postulate that while loss of a father did not affect a girl’s education, loss or illness of a mother forced a girl to take over some of her mother’s duties and responsibilities and did prevent girls from accessing education. (In fact the forty two women had remarkably healthy mothers, many of whom lived well into their seventies, eighties or nineties.)12 This seems to suggest that our fictional lasses experience was true; what prevented their success was not the lack of availability of schooling, but their inability to take full advantage, because family responsibilities took precedence.

  • 13 Flora M. Garry (nee Campbell) 1900-2000, graduated from Aberdeen University in 1922 and married Pro (...)
  • 14 Wheeler, Leslie W. (ed) Ten Northeast Poets, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press 1985, 65-67.

21An amusing view of the way in which the female role could thwart a girls’ ambition is to be found in Flora Garry’s13 poem “The Professor’s Wife”. In it the narrator recalls her crofter parents who maintained that “Learnin’s the thing… to help you up in the wardle.” Her dreams, however, failed to materialise for, having been “a student at King’s” she ended up “jist a professor’s wife.”14

  • 15 Lady Literate in Arts.

22It was not until 1892 that Scottish Universities admitted women. Prior to that there had been individual courses available and the St Andrews’ degree of LLA15, which was taught through distance learning. Teacher Training Colleges had admitted women since the late 1840s, and teaching was the main career open to women, which offered possibilities of promotion and status through membership of, for example, the E.I.S. Teaching, therefore, offered girls a chance of upward social mobility. The pupil teacher system, by which boys and girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen could earn a small salary as classroom assistants while continuing to study, before sitting an entrance examination to college, made teaching an achievable aspiration for working class girls. Here, social mobility follows the Weberian model of gradations of class, in which not only economic power, but social status determine class, and upward social mobility confers not only increased spending power and better living conditions, but also individual choice and control of life experience. This is clearly the class context in which the lad o’ pairts is described, and therefore is an appropriate model for examination of the lass. There are three aspects to this; firstly, did the Scottish education system enable girls to progress? Secondly, having gained an education, were there careers to enable them to use that education? Thirdly, did those careers enable them to be upwardly socially mobile? It seems logical to argue that only if all three were in place could a girl be the female equivalent of the “lad o’ pairts.” I would argue that all three were in place and will now give four examples of lasses o’ pairts, which I will then compare with the fictional lasses.

  • 16 Tom Begg, “Mackenzie, Dame Helen Carruthers (1859–1945)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (...)
  • 17 Marriage certificate of William Spence and Mary MacDonell 9 April 1859 135/00 008. Birth certificat (...)

23One example of extreme upward social mobility was Lady Leslie MacKenzie. In her ODNB entry she is described as the daughter of the Provost of Dufftown, in Banffshire, which sounds suitably respectable.16 Whilst it is true that her father was Provost of Dufftown, he didn’t attain that position until his daughter was in her late thirties. Helen Spence was born on 13 April 1859, four days after her parents’ marriage17. Her paternal grandmother, after whom she was named, was the unmarried mother of two sons, and earned a living as a washerwoman. Helen’s mother was a domestic servant. Her father initially worked as an agricultural labourer, and then served an apprenticeship as a tailor. The Spence family were upwardly mobile; Helen’s father’s tailoring business prospered. By the time that Helen passed the entrance examination for college, her father was a successful businessman. Her younger brother gained a bursary and graduated from Aberdeen University. Helen steadily worked her way up the career ladder, becoming Infant Mistress at Skene Street School, Aberdeen in 1886. In 1892 she married Dr W. Leslie MacKenzie. The couple worked together on social health projects, being employed by the government to research and compile statistics on child health in Edinburgh. She became a Lady when her husband was knighted in 1919 and was made a Dame in her own right in 1933.

  • 18 Thomson, D.P. Women of the Scottish Church, Perth: Munro & Scott Ltd, 1975, 265.

24Harriet Beck was born in Edinburgh in 1849, the daughter of a groom. Her teaching career in Edinburgh resulted in a salary which enabled her to support her twin sister Janet, an unsalaried missionary in Blantyre, Malawi18. Harriet Beck was promoted to First Assistant (i.e. deputy head teacher) at Milton House School, studied in her spare time for the degree of LLA, became a Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland, was a competent public speaker and served on several charitable committees with upper class women. Her salary enabled her to employ a live-in domestic servant. Her career conferred financial, professional and social upward mobility.

  • 19 Aberdeen Press & Journal, 29 May 1936, 8.

25 Another example was Lizzie Barnett. Born Elizabeth Isabella Abigail Mustard in Aberdeen on 27 February 1862, her father was a commercial clerk, having previously worked as a railway gatekeeper. Lizzie appears to have been their only child, certainly their only surviving child. The family lived in George Street, in a flat above a shop. The census returns suggest that many of their neighbours’ daughters ended up working in the local mills. Lizzie gained her LLA in 1884, whilst training to be a teacher. She taught at the Middle School until her marriage to a fellow teacher James Cordiner Barnett, a widower with two daughters. After her marriage Lizzie combined raising a large family with writing a series of pamphlets on an assortment of religious, moral and practical topics. Lizzie wrote recollections of being taken by a maid to childhood Christmas parties, wearing pretty party dresses. There is no sign of any servants in the census returns, and these recollections are either fictional, wildly exaggerated, or suggest that Elizabeth’s parents were stretching their resources to provide a more lavish upbringing for their only child than that of the average clerk’s daughter. She was involved in several committees, the “Onward and Upward” Club, the Scottish Mother’s Union, and the Aberdeen & North of Scotland Union of Women Workers and the High School for Girls’ FP club. When she died in 1936, her obituaries were written by Clementina Esslemont, whose husband was formerly MP for Aberdeen South and by Lady Aberdeen19.

26Isabella Chalmers was born in Bridge of Don, Aberdeen in 1845. Her parents were tenant farmers. She trained in Edinburgh then returned to Aberdeen where she taught at the East Sessional School, which was taken over by the School Board and became St Paul Street Public School. She was headteacher of St Paul Street School from 1868 until her retirement in 1908. After the school was extended in 1898, she was the first woman to be headteacher of a 1, 000 pupil mixed sex public elementary school. She was the fifth woman to become a Fellow of the EIS, and the first to be elected onto the General Council of the EIS. She married William Skea, journalist/printer in 1884. She wrote the “Combined Class Series” of textbooks, which were printed by her husband’s firm. A gifted public speaker, many of her speeches were reported in the local press.

27In what way do these four real-life lasses o’ pairts reflect their fictitious counterparts? One contrast is that the novelists make their characters love of learning and desire to “get on” clear. In the case of the real-life lasses, their achievements were often neatly elided to reflect something else. Harriet Beck is the most notable example. Her life narrative was interpreted not as one of career success and upward social mobility, but as one of a woman who facilitated the church’s missionary work by her financial support of her twin sister in the mission field. Her story was told as one of piety, not ambition. Her comfortable lifestyle, employing a servant, her high salary, her public position on charities were glossed over as mere appurtenances to a greater cause. Similarly, Helen Spence was clearly a lass o pairts but not identified as such because her family’s initial poverty was neatly elided by her father’s later status as Provost. Elizabeth Mustard’s autobiographical sketches deliberately disguised her humble origins. This is a gendered difference between the real-life lads and lasses. It appears that when narrating their lives men born in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century tended to emphasise early difficulties in life and early poverty, thus making their own eventual success more remarkable. Women however tended to gloss over early poverty and instead emphasise the respectability of their upbringing, by focussing on, for example, attendance at church. As a result, lasses o pairts did not claim the title. The anti-kailyard novels aimed to strip of pretence and show an unvarnished truth. Hence Martha, Nancy, Joanna and Chris need not be shown as pious churchgoers, to whom academic success came as a by-product of a respectable life, but as girls thirsting for a different life, and working their inky fingered way towards it by the light of a guttering lamp. The difficulties the fictitious lasses faced were, as detailed above, true; family illness, bereavement or other family responsibilities could suck a girl away from her vision of a different future. The loss of a father affected a lass less than the loss of a mother. Indeed, perhaps it was because many successful teachers and headteachers grew up fatherless that they sought out a career; a girl who has watched her widowed mother struggle was less likely to regard marriage as security for life.

28In 1896, at the E.I.S. Congress, Mrs Isabella Skea, the fourth real-life example in this paper, spoke on “The Status of Women in Teaching”. She claimed that the:

  • 20 Aberdeen Journal 31 Dec 1896, 6.

thirty years that succeeded the establishment of Normal Schools (i.e. Teacher Training Colleges) saw a marked advance in the spread of education, and a great career opened up for women – led them to be both independent and influential members of society… The women who first entered upon training for teachers were stigmatised as “new women” quite as freely as were the medical ladies of the sixties and seventies, or the emancipated daughters of our own day. But character would assert itself, and no amount of ridicule or contemptuous depreciation would hinder or check the advancement of women, which would go on as surely as the march of civilisation itself...20

29 This suggests that many women did seek to “get on” in the same way as the lad o’ pairts. This was a speech which would have gladdened the heart of young Martha Ironside and resonated with the young Chris Guthrie. I would argue that the working class lass o’ pairts of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, most recognisable today in her fictional form, should be incorporated into the representation of the idea of Scotland in the same way as her more acknowledged brother, the lad o’ pairts.



Primary Sources

Aberdeen Journal, Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Press & Journal, Aberdeen.

Official Guide and Programme; Congress of the Educational Institute of Scotland at Aberdeen 29th and 30th December 1896. (birth and marriage certificates)


Brown, G.D. The House with the Green Shutters, London: John McQueen 1901.

Carswell, Catherine. Open the Door! Edinburgh: Canongate Books 1996.

Gibbon, Lewis Grassick, Sunset Song Edinburgh: Canongate Books 1988.

Moon, Lorna, Dark Star, Aberdeen: Gourdas House 1980.

Shepherd, Nan, The Quarry Wood, Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2001.

Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, Oxford: OUP, 1992.

Secondary sources

Anderson, R. “In Search of the ‘Lad of Parts’: the Mythical History of Scottish Education” in History Workshop Journal 19, 1985.

Tom Begg, “Mackenzie, Dame Helen Carruthers (1859–1945)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Devine, T.M. The Scottish Nation 1700-2007, London, Penguin Books, 2006.

Dickson, Beth “Pathetic Reminders”? The Idea of Education in Modern Scottish Fiction in McGonigle, J and Stirling, K (eds.), Ethically Speaking; Voice and Values in Modern Scottish Writing Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.

McCall, Alison T. “The Beloved Profession; the Post-1872 Promotion of Women in the Public Elementary Schools of Aberdeen,” Unpublished M.Litt dissertation, University of Dundee, 2009.

McCrone, D. “Culture, Nationalism and Scottish Education: Homogeneity and Diversity” in Bryce, T.G.K. and Humes, W. Scottish Education: post devolution Edinburgh: E.U.P, 2003.

Paterson and Fewell, Girls in their Prime: the Scottish Educational Tradition, Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1990.

Thomson, D.P. Women of the Scottish Church, Perth: Munro & Scott Ltd, 1975.

Wheeler, Leslie W. (ed) Ten Northeast Poets, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press 1985.


1 pulpit

2 Official Guide and Programme; Congress of the Educational Institute of Scotland at Aberdeen 29th and 30th December 1896.

3 Other kailyard writers included J.M.Barrie and S.R. Crocket.

4 See e.g. Anderson, R. In Search of the “Lad of Parts”: the Mythical History of Scottish Education History Workshop Journal 19, 1985, 82-104.

5 One way that a country can present its identity is through its currency. The £5 note issued in 2016 by the Royal Bank of Scotland depicts Nan Shepherd.

6 Anna (Nan) Shepherd (1893-1981) graduated in 1915.

7 Nora Helen Wilson Low, 1886–1930

8 Catherine Roxburgh Carswell (née Macfarlane) 1879–1946.

9 An explicit reference to one kailyard and one anti-kailyard novel. Gibbon, Lewis Grassic, Sunset Song Edinburgh: Canongate Books 1988, 24.

10 Rebecca “Ray” Middleton (1901-1978).

11 McCall, Alison T. “’The Beloved Profession’; the Post-1872 Promotion of Women in the Public Elementary Schools of Aberdeen,” Unpublished M.Litt dissertation, University of Dundee, 2009.

12 Margaret Lyon was 67 when her mother died aged 90, Mary Ann Grieg was 65 when her mother died aged 100 and Helen Spence was 61 when her mother died aged 92.

13 Flora M. Garry (nee Campbell) 1900-2000, graduated from Aberdeen University in 1922 and married Prof. Robert Garry in 1928.

14 Wheeler, Leslie W. (ed) Ten Northeast Poets, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press 1985, 65-67.

15 Lady Literate in Arts.

16 Tom Begg, “Mackenzie, Dame Helen Carruthers (1859–1945)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

17 Marriage certificate of William Spence and Mary MacDonell 9 April 1859 135/00 008. Birth certificate of Helen Spence 13 April 1859 162/00 0025.

18 Thomson, D.P. Women of the Scottish Church, Perth: Munro & Scott Ltd, 1975, 265.

19 Aberdeen Press & Journal, 29 May 1936, 8.

20 Aberdeen Journal 31 Dec 1896, 6.


Honorary Fellow at the University of Dundee and a former Convener of Women’s History Scotland. Her research focuses on female education and on professional women, such as teachers, writers and missionaries, in Victorian Scotland. Her work uses genealogical techniques to construct narratives of familial background and social mobility.

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