The first woman in Scotland to graduate in medicine will be recognised in her home town this week. Marion Gilchrist (1864-1952), also the first female graduate of the University of Glasgow, will be honoured with the opening of an exhibition in Bothwell to mark her remarkable achievements on the 60th anniversary of her death.
Throughout her life, Marion battled the attitudes of her time to advance the education of women, and she became an active suffragette in the early 1900s.
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First female medical graduate in Scotland honoured in her home town
Born in Bothwell Park, the daughter of a tenant farmer, at a time when academic success was not expected of girls, she left school at 13 to work on the family farm. However, she continued to study taking correspondence courses and later attending Hamilton Academy. In 1887, she was admitted as an arts student to the Queen Margaret College for Women in Glasgow.
In 1890, having sat exams at Queen Margaret College and at Paisley, Marion Gilchrist was awarded the degree of Lady Literate in Arts (LLA) from the University of St. Andrews.
In this same year, Queen Margaret College set up a medical school, and Marion was one of the first nine women to enrol. In 1892, Queen Margaret College became part of the University of Glasgow, and women students were then able to obtain the same degree as men.
Marion graduated in 1894 with a high commendation, becoming the first woman to gain a medical degree in Scotland and also becoming the first female graduate of the University.
Marion became a general practitioner in the West End of Glasgow, specialising in eye diseases. From 1914 until 1930 she was Assistant Surgeon for Diseases of the Eye at the Victoria Infirmary. In 1927 she became an ophthalmic surgeon at Redlands Hospital for Women. She was also active in the voluntary sector, serving from 1903 to 1911 as physician to the Queen Margaret College Settlement’s Invalid Children’s School.
Marion was also an active suffragette joining the Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for Women’s Suffrage in 1903, but she left in 1907 to join the more radical Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Freedom League. She was a prominent member of the British Medical Association for 54 years and the first woman chairman of its Glasgow division. She was also a trustee of the Muirhead Trust.
Gilchrist was an early motoring enthusiast and her garage and chauffeur’s house were situated in Ashton Lane, in premises which are occupied by Bar Brel.
In 1940, Marion also donated an area of ground off Green Street as a garden of rest for the residents of Bothwell. The ‘Gilchrist Garden’ was refurbished in 2011 by the Brighter Bothwell Environmental Group who has also created the exhibition.
Archive Services at the University of Glasgow was able to assist the group with information and images on Marion’s time at the University. “Marion Gilchrist is an icon in history of women at the University” commented Lesley Richmond, University Archivist “It is a great privilege to be able to help Brighter Bothwell tell the story of her achievements in her home town.”
Gerry Campbell, General Manager of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Ltd. said “We are very proud of the legacy of our famous daughter, Marion Gilchrist who from humble beginnings achieved a tremendous amount. We hope that this exhibition will inspire those living in Bothwell to realise their potential.”
Professor Anna Dominiczak, The University of Glasgow’s Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences said “The University of Glasgow is very proud of the achievements of Marion Gilchrist as not just the first graduate of the University but also the first woman in Scotland to graduate in medicine. She was a true pioneer and a fantastic example of dedication and commitment at a time when it could not have been easy being a woman.”
The event will take place at Bothwell public library, main street, Bothwell at 7.30pm, 14 March 2012.
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