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Britain’s first female students to be commemorated

Posted: 10th September 2015

The first women to be admitted on a degree programme at any British University were commemorated today (10th September) with the unveiling of a plaque at the University of Edinburgh, where they matriculated to study medicine in 1869. They are known collectively as ‘The Edinburgh Seven’.They are one of eight historical groups or figures to be recognised by the Historic Scotland Commemorative Plaques Scheme, now in its fourth year. The scheme is designed to celebrate the life and achievements of significant historic figures, through the erection of a plaque on the home where they lived, or a building synonymous with their achievements.

Nominations for the scheme are submitted by the public  before an independent panel of experts review and select the final recipients. The Edinburgh Seven plaque was unveiled by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop at a ceremony in the University of Edinburgh Anatomical Museum this morning.
Unveiling the plaque, Ms Hyslop said: “Historic Scotland’s commemorative plaque scheme aims to celebrate the lives of those who have made a difference to our society, and few have had a more far-reaching impact than those brave women known as the Edinburgh Seven. Their determination to simply attend university and study medicine is an endeavour we take for granted these days, but at the time their actions were extraordinary enough to attract widespread criticism from all areas of society, even inciting a riot on the streets of Edinburgh.“Their situation put women’s right to study on the national political agenda, and helped lead to women being admitted to universities in Britain for the first time. It would be difficult to overstate how important this development was, as it gave the opportunity for women to participate in professions which were previously unattainable and determine their own career paths.” “My hope is that in the years to come, even a tiny percentage of the many thousands who walk past Surgeons’ Hall, notice this plaque and take inspiration of what can be achieved when a determined few decide to stand up and make a difference.”

Professor Jane Norman, Vice Principal of People and Culture at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The Surgeons’ Hall Riot marked a turning point in the campaign for women’s right to a university education – attracting widespread publicity and winning greater political support. I am delighted that the Edinburgh Seven are being recognised for their role in this important historical moment and the drive for equality in education.” The Edinburgh Seven were Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell. They were nominated for the Commemorative Plaque by Jo Spiller, Learning Technology Senior Advisor at the University of Edinburgh.

The plaque is due to be mounted on one of the gateposts of the Royal College of Surgeons on Nicholson Street in Edinburgh as soon as maintenance work to that building is complete. Martin Ross, Policy and Projects Manager at Historic Scotland said: “In the last four years the number of nominations to the scheme has grown rapidly, and this latest round produced a wide range of potential recipients, from a broad spectrum of society. The end result is eight recipients who have undoubtedly contributed significantly to the advancement of their particular field, both in Scotland and in many cases further afield. “I would like to thank all those who submitted applications, and remind them that nominations for the next round of plaques are being accepted from the end of this month.”

Other recipients of the Commemorative Plaque Scheme

  • Henry Bell, Scottish engineer who introduced the first successful passenger steamboat  service in Europe.
  • Andrew Blain Baird, 1862-1951- First All-Scottish Heavier-than-Air Powered Flight Aviation Pioneer.
  • Sir William Alexander Smith – 1854-1914, Founder of the Boys Brigade.
  • Baroness Florence Horsburgh 1889-1969 Scottish Conservative Party politician and  Champion of Social Welfare issues (especially child welfare).
  • Jane Mathison Haining 1897-1944 Christian missionary, killed at Auschwitz, along with orphan children in her care
  • Sorley Maclean – 1911-1994 One of the most significant Scottish poets of the 20th century (Gaelic poetry).
  • Hercules Linton – 1837-1900 – Scottish surveyor, designer shipbuilder, antiquarian, & local councillor, – best known as the designer of the Cutty Sark.
  • The Edinburgh Seven – 1869 The first women to be admitted on a degree programme at any British University-led by Sophia Jex-Blake.

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