Early women lecturers

Aileen Fyfe
Friday 16 April 2021

When we began this project, we thought we knew that the old department of Mediaeval History had a better track-record of appointing women than the old department of Modern History. Local memory ‘knew’ about the arrivals of Lorna Walker, Ann Kettle and Barbara Crawford to lectureships in Mediaeval in the 1960s (all of whom spent decades in St Andrews, and still remain part of our extended community in their retirements); and we thought we ‘knew’ that the first group of women in Modern History had been appointed only in 2001 and 2002. It seems we were wrong about that…

Here are some of the earliest women lecturers in History (we believe):

Janet Isabella Low MA OBE (d.1962): she grew up on the estate at Blebo (near St Andrews), and graduated MA with Honours in Classics in 1907. During the First World War, the University’s one-and-only Lecturer in Modern History (i.e. not Ancient History), John Mackie, was one of many staff absent on military or other war roles. In the academic year 1918-19, his role was partially covered by Janet Low (though the advanced, Honours, classes were taken by John Herkless, professor of Ecclesiastical History and then-Principal of the University). Janet Low’s appointment appears to have been very short-term, but she lived in or near St Andrews till her death, and was active in local politics and affairs (including serving as Justice of the Peace, and working with the Preservation Trust). She retained a link with the University, to which she donated her collection of photographs and lantern slides. She endowed the Janet I. Low Prize for Modern History, which continues to be awarded for performance in Honours Modern History.

Caroline Doris Mabel Ketelby MA FRHistS (1896-1990): was appointed an Assistant Lecturer in Modern History in 1934 or 1935; and became Lecturer in 1945, as part of a wave of post-war appointments that expanded the group of St Andrews historians from two to seven (in 1950). She retired in 1958 as a Senior Lecturer, but continued to live in St Andrews for another three decades, writing local and family history. As well as her work in the University, she was the author of a highly successful textbook of modern history; regularly gave talks to local organisations; represented the University at international relations conferences; and spent six months in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) advising on the establishment of the History department at the University there.

Margaret Lambert BA PhD (1906-95) was appointed Lecturer in Modern (European) History in 1956. She was the first woman on the History staff to have a doctorate (and one of the few staff of any gender to have one!). She resigned in 1960, to return to her earlier role as editor-in-chief of the Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945 at the Foreign Office. Read more about her from LSE.

Anne Chaloner Wright (c1925-1981) was the daughter of the St Andrews philosophy professor John N. Wright. She was appointed to a lectureship in Modern History in 1966 (possibly part-time, in conjunction with a role as warden of Hamilton Hall). She remained in post until her early death from cancer. Her interests were in the Civil War.

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