Updated: Oct 31
Many thanks to Anabel Marsh from Glasgow Women's Library for writing this post.
In 1894, two women graduated in Medicine from the University of Glasgow. The first of those, and thus the first in the whole of Scotland, was Marion Gilchrist. Her route there wasn’t easy and it took determination and perseverance to break through the cultural barriers placed in the way of women who wanted to be doctors.
Marion was born on 5 February 1864 at Bothwell Park Farm, the youngest child of Margaret and William Gilchrist, a prosperous tenant farmer. Her father and one of her brothers, Douglas, thought it pointless for a girl to study academic subjects. Girls were expected to be wives and mothers and too much education was considered a waste of time. However, another brother, John, encouraged her and after school she was able to attend Queen Margaret College in Glasgow, where she became “A Lady Literate in the Arts” (LLA) in 1890. That same year, she started her medical studies.
After graduating in 1894, Marion became a general practitioner in the West End of Glasgow, specialising in eye diseases. Following the death of her father in 1903 she set up her own practice at 5 Buckingham Terrace, remaining at that address for the rest of her life. To me, the most touching fact about her work is that in 1905 she was the doctor who signed the death certificate of the woman whose contribution to funding Queen Margaret College made her education possible: Isabella Elder (who also has a Gallus Pedals bike named after her).
There are many facets to Marion’s life other than medicine. For example, she was part of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, actively lobbying the political establishment, and continued all her life to advance women’s rights. She was also an early motoring enthusiast - her garage and chauffeur's house were situated in Ashton Lane, in what is now Bar Brel. In 1940 Marion donated the Gilchrist Garden to the citizens of Bothwell, her home town, to which a memorial sculpture, by Adrian Wiszniewski, was added in 2013.
The cut-out shapes represent organisms seen under a microscope, the black represents Marion’s inner strength and the pink her femininity and sensitivity. She also commissioned a window in Bothwell Parish Church in memory of her family.
Marion is also commemorated at the University of Glasgow where the Gilchrist Postgraduate Club is named after her. When she died, on 7 September 1952, she left a bequest to the University to establish the Marion Gilchrist Prize which is still awarded annually to "the most distinguished woman graduate in Medicine of the year."
For more information about this remarkable trailblazer, check out her entry on The University of Glasgow Story.
This blog is part of a Trailblazers collection, celebrating the lives of 10 women who we decided to name our bikes after! To find out more and click to see some of the other blogs, please click on Trailblazers: The 10 Women who inspired Gallus Pedals.
** Disclaimer - The original image was sourced from the University of Glasgow Library and can be accessed here. This particular image used to depict Marion was downloaded without alteration from this Wikimedia Commons page **
Anabel Marsh is a volunteer tour guide with Glasgow Women's Library (GWL). GWL now has six women's history walks, three longer trails, and one bike ride, all of which can be downloaded as self-guided tours from GWL's website. Guided walks take place during the summer months and can be booked via the library's events calendar.