A brief history of women at St Andrews

From 1877 onwards, the innovative St Andrews LLA qualification  enabled women from across the UK (and beyond) to be examined and certified to degree level, at a time when few universities were willing to award degrees to women. History was one of the subjects available, which meant that women could be examined and certified in History at St Andrews before their male counterparts, who were studying for general M.A. degrees, could be!

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.

In 1900, the first two students graduated with Honours in History; 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 HistoryJanet 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 was the first woman appointed to a long-term lectureship, in Modern History: she began as assistant lecturer in 1935, retiring in 1958 as senior lecturer. Just before she retired, the University apointed Dr Margaret Lambert to a lectureship in Modern European History – and so, we briefly had two women historians on the staff. But Ketelbey retired, and Lambert resigned in 1960.

In the 1960s, however, a small group of women historians were appointed: Lorna Walker, Ann Kettle and Barbara Crawford in Mediaeval History, and Anne Wright (d.1981) in Modern History.

But we did not have a woman professor until 2009, when Frances Andrews was promoted.

So far, our research has 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.