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13 Famous Scottish Women

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Scotland has produced an incredible array of talent throughout the years. From infamous war heroes and captivating poets to world-renowned authors and impactful scientists.

Most of the history books mention famous Scots as men, but did you know there are hundreds of famous Scottish women that have dedicated their lives to history, medicine, sport, charity, women’s suffrage and more? Find out more about the women who shaped history and explore their legacy.

1. Flora MacDonald (c. 1722-1790)

This is a famous Scot you are bound to have heard of before. Flora MacDonald rose to fame after aiding the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie following his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

MacDonald was visiting Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides when Bonnie Prince Charlie and a small group of aides took refuge there after the battle. One of his companions was distantly related to MacDonald and asked for her help. MacDonald had not joined the Rebellion and Benbecula was controlled by a pro-government militia commanded by MacDonald’s stepfather, Hugh MacDonald, at the time. This connection allowed her to help Bonnie Prince Charlie escape.

Find out more about Flora MacDonald
Visit the Flora MacDonald statue at Inverness Castle

 

2. Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

Mary Somerville was a Scottish scientist, writer and polymath, and led a very profound and changing life. In 1834, she became the first person to be described in print as a ‘scientist’. In 1835 she and Caroline Herschel were elected as the first female Honorary Members of the Royal Astronomical Society – an incredible achievement for women at that time!

When she died in 1872, The Morning Post acknowledged in her obituary that “Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science“. Somerville also helped to discover the planet Neptune after she was involved in discussions around a hypothetical planet perturbing Uranus, which was later confirmed in 1846 with the discovery of Neptune itself.

Find out more about Mary Somerville

 

3. Frances Wright (1795-1852)

Born in Dundee, Frances Wright was a Scottish-born social reformer, author, lecturer, feminist, utopian socialist, abolitionist, and Epicurean philosopher, who became a US citizen in 1825.

More commonly known as Fanny Wright, she was among the first women in America to speak publicly about politics and social reform. Wright advocated for universal education, the abolition of slavery, birth control, equal rights, legal rights for married women, and liberal divorce laws, to name a few.

Learn more about Frances Wright
See Wright’s plaque on the Dundee Women’s Trail

 

4. The Edinburgh Seven (1800s)

The Edinburgh Seven were a group of women in the 1800s, including Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell, who studied medicine at Edinburgh University. They became the first women to finish their undergraduate studies at any British university but were prevented from graduating by their male students.

This led the group to kickstart a political campaign to grant women the right to a university education. Their fight and campaigning led to legislation finally being passed in 1877 which ensured a future for women’s education.

Learn more about the Edinburgh Seven

 

5. Mary Burton (1819 – 1909)

Social and educational reformer and suffragist, Mary Burton was born in Aberdeen in 1819 before moving to Edinburgh in 1832. Burton was a supporter of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and an advocate for improving access to education for women and working people. However, in 1868 Burton attended court where she unsuccessfully fought for the right to register to vote.

The following year in 1869, she successfully campaigned for the Watt Institution and School of Arts (now Heriot-Watt University) to admit female students, 23 years before Scottish legislation was passed. Her niece, Ella Burton, was one of the early women students to benefit from this. Burton later became the institution’s first female director in 1874.

Learn more about Mary Burton

 

5. Elsie Inglis (1864 – 1917)

A Scottish doctor, surgeon, teacher and suffragist, Elsie Inglis was born in India but later returned to Scotland and trained at the Edinburgh School of Medicine.

When WWI broke out, Inglis tried to enlist and join the war efforts but was rejected. This led her to set up, independently run and fund the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (SWH), which established 14 hospitals across Europe. In April 1916, she became the first woman to be awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle.

Learn more about Elsie Inglis

 

7. Mary Slessor (1848 – 1915)

Mary Slessor was born in Aberdeen and was famed for being a Scottish Presbyterian missionary to Nigeria. In Nigeria, Slessor learned Efik, one of the local languages, and once she gained the trust of the locals, she was able to spread Christianity whilst promoting women’s rights and protecting native children.

Slessor also began teaching in Nigeria and because of her understanding of the native language, she is most famous for having stopped the common practice of infanticide of twins in Okoyong, an area of Cross River State, Nigeria.

Learn more about Mary Slessor
Visit Slessor Gardens

 

8. Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982)

Isobel Wylie Hutchison was a Scottish Arctic traveller, filmmaker and botanist. Hutchison also published poetry, books describing her travels to Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands, as well as articles in National Geographic.

She risked life and limb collecting plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew, and pioneered new routes across treacherous terrain, boarded ghost ships and captured some of the earliest documentary footage ever recorded.

Learn more about Isobel Wylie Hutchison

 

9. Victoria Drummond (1894 – 1978)

Victoria Drummond was born in Perthshire and was the first female marine engineer in the UK and the first female member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. Named after her Godmother, Queen Victoria, Drummond also served at sea as an engineering officer in the British Merchant Navy during World War II. She later received awards for bravery under enemy fire.

Learn more about Victoria Drummond

 

10. Liz and Eilish McColgan

Scottish mother and daughter duo, Liz and Eilish McColgan are well-known in the sporting world for being medal-winning middle-distance and long-distance track and road-running athletes.

Liz McColgan is a decorated former athlete, having competed at World Championships, Olympic Games, and Commonwealth Games, to name a few, all across the world. Eilish followed in her mother’s footsteps and is a middle and long-distance runner. She is the current 2022 Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres champion with the Games’ record, and 5,000 metres silver medallist. Another very well decorated athlete, she is a four-time European Championships medallist, with many more records and achievements in her pocket.

Learn more about Eilish McColgan
Learn more about Liz McColgan

 

11. Laura Muir

Born in Inverness and spending most of her life in Perthshire, Laura Muir is another sporting hero in the middle and long-distance running divisions. In 2020, she ventured to the Olympic Games in Tokyo where she fought her way to being a silver medallist in the 1,500 metres. Muir previously finished seventh in the same event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, so her achievements were even more jaw dropping!

Learn more about Laura Muir

 

12. Annie Lennox

Where to start!? Annie Lennox is a well-recognised name across the global music scene. A Scottish singer-songwriter, political activist and philanthropist, Lennox first made a name for herself in the late 1970s as part of the band The Tourists, then later ventured off to create the band Eurythmics with fellow band mate Dave Stewart in the 1980s.

Since then, she has gone on to achieve a successful solo career in music, as well as raising money and awareness for HIV/AIDS, founding the SING Campaign in 2007 and women’s empowerment charity, The Circle, in 2008. Lennox was also appointed an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011, then later performed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in 2012. In 2017, Lennox was appointed Glasgow Caledonian University’s first female chancellor.

Learn more about Annie Lennox

 

13. Dame Katherine Grainger

Another sporting name that has been in the rowing scene for years, Dame Katherine Grainger was born in Glasgow and is a former British rower and the current Chair of UK Sport. Grainger is a decorated veteran of the sport, being a 2012 Summer Olympics gold medallist, four-time Olympic silver medallist and six-time World Champion.

Aside from competing, Grainger has dedicated a large part of her life to sporting charities and promoting access to sports and exercise for middle and lower income families with children around the world.

Find out more about Katherine Grainger

 

That was just a taster of some of the incredible Scottish women that have contributed to sports, music, medicine, history and more throughout the centuries. Did we miss out your favourites? Tell us down below or share on our socials – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

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