Today, just over half of the undergraduate History students at St Andrews identify as female. So do 45% of our academic research and teaching staff. Even so, we know that there are significant gender inequalities and imbalances in the School. We decided to turn our historical skills to an investigation of the history of women’s participation in, and experiences of, the study of History at St Andrews. This site reports our findings. This is a work in progress, and if you have information, ideas or contacts that might be relevant, please get in touch with us.
Women were first admitted to the University as degree students in 1892, and in 1895, Agnes Forbes Blackadder became the first woman to graduate with an M.A. You can read more about trailblazing women at St Andrews on the Special Collections blog.
The admission of women was part of a wider series of reforms to Scottish universities in the 1890s. Among them were changes to the degree regulations for the Faculty of Arts, and the introduction of new subjects in which Honours degrees might be taken. One of those new subjects was History, and a new University Lectureship in History was filled in 1896.
It was in 1900 that the first two students to graduate with Honours in History did so; and in 1903, the five Honours M.A. historians included our first two women: Elizabeth Peddie Steele Hutton and Helen Douglas-Irvine.
In 1920, St Andrews began awarding the Ph.D. degree, for postgraduate research. In 1927 and 1928, Edith Macqueen and Edith Thomson became the first women to be granted the Ph.D. in History (both for research into early-modern Scotland).
It took longer for any women to be appointed to lectureships in History. Janet Isabella Low served briefly as a Lecturer and Assistant in Modern History towards the end of the First World War; but we believe Doris Ketelbey became the first woman appointed to a long-term lectureship, in Modern History, in 1945. It was not, however, until the 1960s – by which time Ketelbey had retired – that a small group of women lecturers were appointed: Lorna Walker, Ann Kettle and Barbara Crawford in Mediaeval History, and Anne Wright in Modern History. And it was not until the 2000s that there were more than a handful of women, let alone any women professors.
So far, we have been focusing on women who held formal appointments, but we recognise that other women historians have been temporarily or informally associated with the University. We look forward to learning more about them.
We are also aware that there is a back-history to both the study of History, and to the presence of women students at the University. In particular, the innovative St Andrews LLA qualification, which ran from 1877 onwards, enabled women to be examined and certified in History at St Andrews before their male counterparts could be!
Our project aims to seek out the women who studied, researched and taught History at St Andrews, at any point in time.
Image of students of University Hall, 1902, photographed by Thomas Rodger, courtesy of University of St Andrews Library.