Let’s Celebrate International Women’s Day!
written by Charlotte Bruce
In honour of this great day for women around the world, I decided to represent Scotland and write about three important women of our history. These stories not only inform me about Scottish History, but it also makes me proud to be a woman.
Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan:
Isabella MacDuff was a key figure to the Scottish Wars of independence and her story is horrifying and influential to women in every way.
Isabella was born around 1270 and was the daughter of Colban, Earl of Fife. The Earls of Fife had long been the ones to place the coronet (crown) upon the new king’s head. When Isabella was older she married John Comyn the seventh earl of Buchan. During the wars of independence the earl of Buchann was captured by the English and he pledged his loyalty to King Edward I. The earl disliked the English interference with Scotland, but he hated Robert the Bruce more because he killed the earl’s relative, also called John Comyn in a church. So Isabelle’s husband was firmly sided with the English.
However, Isabelle MacDuff was not happy with her husband’s or her clan’s loyalties to Edward I. So, she stole her husband’s fastest horse and while being fashionable late Isabelle MacDuff, Countess of Buchan crowned Robert the Bruce on the 25 March 1306 at Scone Palace. It was tradition for the MacDuff Clan to crown the future king’s and the ceremony would seem irregular. This brought legitimacy to Robert the Bruce’s reign and a chance get back the Scottish people’s loyalty, which he needed.
Months after the ceremony Isabella had to face terrible repercussions as she opposed her husband and Edward I, so she had to go on the run. Unfortunately, when travelling she was betrayed by an earl that supported the English and th en she was handed over to the King of England. Edward I sent her to Berwick castle where she was put in a cage that hung on the walls of the castle. She was imprisoned for 4 years, just to be made a spectacle of. Isabella faced atrocious elements and torment from the English people who came to see her. She was released from the cage in 1310, but it wasn’t until 1313 she was released to the custody of a relative.
Isabella faced the effects of her imprisonment and died soon after being released. She was a brave woman who sacrificed her life, because she believed that Scotland should be free.
Mary Somerville was born as Mary Fairfax on 26 December 1780, Jedburgh, and Roxburghshire, Scotland. As a child Fairfax received little education, she was only taught to read. And when she was 10 she went to a girl’s boarding school for a year. When Fairfax returned she decided to educate herself because at that time government provided education for females did not expand into the depths of history, mathematics and science. She would seek refuge in the family library to learn.
In 1804 Fairfax married a cousin, Samuel Greig, who was a captain in the Russian navy. Her husband did not prevent her studies, but she later wrote “I met with no sympathy whatever from him, as he had a very low opinion of the capacity of my sex.” However, even though Samuel was sexist, Fairfax remarried after Samuel died 1807. She had the freedom to dedicate herself to her mathematical studies and William Somerville was very supportive and took pride in his wife’s achievements. She eventually published her first scientific paper, “On the Magnetizing Power of the More Refrangible Solar Rays,” in 1826.
Mary Somerville continued her education and became a scientist and studied botany, geology, geography, physics, mathematics and astronomy, and was nominated to be jointly the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) at the same time as Caroline Herschel. She brought new and great theories to science and wrote books which were available at low prices to the working class. The book ‘Celestial Mechanics (1798-1827) offered a complete mechanical interpretation of the solar system. There was also a separate version that was more adva nced and was called the ‘Mechanisms of the Heavens’ which was acclaimed by British mathematicians and astronomers. Her book gave her the chance to join (RAS).
Mary Somerville had a dream and she achieved it, because she wouldn’t let anything stop her. Especially not by the people who invoked sexism in her life.
“The moral disposition of the age appears in the refinement of conversation.” – Mary Somerville
In 1914, 18-year-old Mairi Chisholm and the rest of Britain heard the terrible news that World War 1 broke out. People had different reactions, many cried because they were scared and young Mairi did the opposite. She got on her motor bike and drove straight to London to join the war effort as a dispatch rider. Initially she signed up for the Women's Emergency Corps, a corporation which helped organise women to become doctors, nurses and motorcycle messengers. She then got the training she needed and then transferred to Dr Hector Munro's Flying Ambulance Corps.
Also working with Dr Munro was Nurse Elsie Knocker, a friend of Mairi's and a fellow motor bike enthusiast. The desire of adventure and the two women shared led to them spending an incredible four years treating the wounded on the Western Front serving their country.
Mairi and Elsie set up a medical post in the cellar of a house in Pervyse, Belgium just 100 yards away from the trenches. Their bravery and the physical and spiritual benefits which they brought to the wounded would lead the Belgians to refer to them as the 'Madonnas of Pervyse'.
They were the only women to live and work in the Belgian front-line trenches during the First World War. It is an atrocity when women like Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker can work so hard for their country and not get to vote. It was a great day for women 21+ finally getting the vote in 1928, but it should have been sooner because Britain would have never won the war without the women’s war effort.