Edith MacQueen PhD (1900-1977)

Aileen Fyfe
Monday 22 March 2021

Edith Edgar MacQueen (1900-1977) MA 1922, PhD 1927 (later Mrs Haden-Guest, later Lady Haden-Guest)

Edith MacQueen appears to have been the first woman historian to be awarded a Ph.D. in History by the University of St Andrews. She submitted her thesis in 1927, on the topic ‘The General Assembly of the Kirk as the rival of the Scottish parliament, 1560–1618′.

Ph.D. degrees, awarded for research, were a relatively new phenomenon in the UK. St Andrews had only begun awarding them in 1920, just a few years behind Oxford and Cambridge. Edith MacQueen appears to have been just the fourth person to be awarded a History Ph.D. at St Andrews. (The fifth person was also a woman, Edith Thomson, in 1928).

Edith MacQueen was the daughter of George MacQueen, of Mongus, Angus. We are still investigating her early/family history, but since research theses had to be accompanied by a ‘career statement’, we do know something about her impressive academic achievements at University. She wrote:

“I matriculated in the University of St Andrews in 1918, and followed a course leading to graduation in Arts with First Class Honours in English and History in October 1922. I was awarded the Berry Scholarship in History for the academic year 1922-23 and submitted a Monograph upon the Life of John Duke of Albany which was awarded the Hume Brown Essay Prize in Scottish History in June 1923. In October 1923 I commenced the research on the results of which the present thesis is being submitted. I was appointed in October 1923 to a Carnegie Scholarship in History which was renewed in 1924-25. Since October 1925 I have held a Carnegie Research Fellowship.”

This pattern of education, prizes and fellowships is very similar to that of her near-contemporary Edith Thomson.

Through the recommendation of principal James Irvine, MacQueen was awarded a Commonwealth Fund scholarship to pursue postdoctoral research at Yale University 1927-30. She worked on Scottish emigration to north America. She applied for academic jobs in Britain after the end of her fellowship, but  was unable to find a position. She took a job with the BBC in August 1930, initially based in Edinburgh, but she had moved to London by 1934. She organised speakers for educational broadcasting, wrote several series of historical programmes for BBC Radio’s programming for schools [see, for instance, this Radio Times listing for November 1938], and also wrote for various magazines.

In 1944, she married the Labour MP, Leslie Haden-Guest. When he was raised to the peerage as Baron Haden-Guest, in 1950, she became known as Lady Edith Haden-Guest. After his death, she became an archivist at the University of Glasgow. The University of St Andrews holds her papers, including unpublished material relating to Scottish emigration to north America.

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