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10 inspiring women who have shaped the city of Glasgow

As a passionate feminist, I was delighted to join the Glasgow Women's Library in 2016 as their first ever Digital Marketing Officer. I love being able to share the stories of inspiring women to our growing digital audiences. For this blog, I have chosen five women from the past and five from today to highlight the immeasurable influence of the women of Glasgow and the places to visit to admire their achievements.


Hannah Wright

12 Sep 2019
11 minute read


Archivist Nicola discussing materials at one of our Open Archive events c GWL 995Archivist discussing materials at Glasgow Women's Library. Image Credit: Glasgow Women's Library

I've worked at the Glasgow Women's Library (GWL) for three years now and everyday we warmly welcome visitors from around the corner and around the world through our doors. As the only museum of its kind in the UK, our library, museum and events programme celebrates the lives and achievements of women.

We are based in an award-winning building in the east of the city, but we are open to all and have a presence across Scotland through a national programme of events and activities, including our very popular heritage walks and cycling tours. It is not an easy task to pick just 10 women who have had a positive impact on the city in the past and present. But here we go...

Five inspiring women from the past who have helped shape Glasgow

1. Marion Gilchrist, 1864 – 1952

Marion Gilchrist Uni of GlasgowMarion Gilchrist. Image Credit: University of Glasgow

Uni 430University of Glasgow

In 1876, parliament passed an act which allowed universities to grant degrees to women but it wasn’t until 1892 that women were allowed to matriculate at any Scottish university. Professor Milligan, of the University of Aberdeen, thought that women were biologically too weak to take the strain of constant study!

The trailblazing Dr Marion Gilchrist was the first woman to graduate from the University of Glasgow with a high commendation in medicine.

Follow in Marion’s footsteps with a visit to the The Hunterian, Scotland's oldest public museum that has its home in the University of Glasgow campus and houses major scientific and art collections.

2. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, 1864 – 1933

Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. Image Credit: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh was one of the key figures in the emergence of the ‘Glasgow Style’ movement in the 1890s. Margaret and her sister Frances studied at The Glasgow School of Art and established a studio together. Her output was wide-ranging and included watercolours, graphics, metalwork and textiles, although arguably she is best known for her work in gesso, a plaster-based medium, which she used to make decorative panels for furniture and interiors.

Margaret’s works can be viewed across the city. One of her most famous gessos (O Ye, All Ye, that Walk in Willowwood), which was made in 1903 for the Room de Luxe in the Willow Tea Rooms, can be seen at the Mackintosh and Glasgow Style Gallery at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. There is also an exact replica of this gesso at Mackintosh at the Willow – the beautifully restored Willow Tea Rooms, which opened in 2018.

Or visit House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park and see the building and interiors that Margaret and her husband, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, designed together for a competition entry in 1901, with it finally realised in 1996.


House for an art lover 995House for An Art Lover


3. Jessie Stephen, 1893 1979

heritage walk west end 430Suffrage Oak. Image Credit: Glasgow Women's Library

Jessie Stephen was politically active from a young age and remained so throughout her life. Jessie was a domestic servant and in 1912 she started organising maidservants in Glasgow into a domestic workers' union branch. As a Suffragette, she dropped acid into pillar boxes to destroy mail while dressed in her maid's uniform, which made her less suspicious to the authorities.

On the leafy Kelvin Way you can find the Suffrage Oak, a tree planted by suffrage organisations in 1918 to celebrate the first opportunity for some women to vote in a general election (it was another ten years before the vote was extended to women on the same terms as men). 

In a city with only a handful of statues of women, the Suffrage Oak is a proud and lovely place to go to reflect upon the remarkable women of Glasgow who, like Jessie, fought for women to have the vote.


4. Maggie McIver, 1879 – 1958

barrowland ballroom neon signBarrowland Ballroom

The archway to the Barras market and the neon starburst frontage of the Barrowland Ballroom are iconic images of Glasgow, but do you know the story of the woman behind them?

The rags to riches tale of Maggie McIver “the Barras Queen” reads like something from a novel. Born in 1879, Maggie started life as a barrow girl selling fish and fruit. She and her husband had such success renting barrows to other hawkers that they went on to open the Barras Market in 1920 – and nearly 100 years later it is still the place to go in Glasgow for a bargain and for banter. Maggie then went on to open the Barrowland Ballroom on Christmas Eve 1934. As legend has it, the usual place she booked for the hawkers annual Christmas dance was booked so they decided to build their own ballroom. The Barrowland Ballroom is known as one of the best live music venues in the UK.


5. Maud Sulter, 1960 – 2008

Maud Sulter Street Level PhotoworksMaud Sulter. Image Credit: Street Level Photoworks

Maud Sulter was a Scottish contemporary fine artist, photographer, writer and curator. Born in Glasgow, of Scots and Ghanaian descent, the active feminist exhibited internationally and won critical praise for her work across different artforms.

Maud was amongst the first three women to be honoured at Glasgow Women’s Library’s annual Open the Door event in 2017 – a festival of Scottish Women’s Writing. The aim of Open the Door is to celebrate a new canon; to go beyond Scotland’s literary heritage that has been passed from father to son, from Burns to Hogg, from Kelman to Gray.

Maud’s poetry, prose and photography can be found on the shelves at GWL, in our historical Carnegie Library in Bridgeton, alongside other literary foremothers whose names are not as well-known as they should be.


Five inspiring women from the present who are helping shape Glasgow today


1. Adele Patrick, Co-founder of Glasgow Women’s Library

 Denise Mina at Work with Adele 430Author Denise Mina with Adele Patrick. Image Credit: Glasgow Women's Library

Staying in Bridgeton, our first contemporary woman is our very own Adele Patrick, co-founder of GWL. Adele has been involved in Glasgow Women’s Library since its launch in 1991, first as a volunteer. She now manages Lifelong Learning and is also responsible for the Creative Development of the organisation. Adele, who is a tireless campaigner for equality, diversity and inclusion, was awarded Scotswoman of the Year in 2015.

Adele manages a team of staff and volunteers who bring our programme of learning events and opportunities together and these seasonal programmes really do offer something for everyone.

From creative writing classes to our read-aloud story café sessions, there’s something happening every week and most of our events are only £2 or free.

Story Cafe in Glasgow Women's LibraryStory Cafe at GWL. Image Credit: Glasgow Women's Library

2. Lauren Davis, Glasgow Zine Library

LD 430Lauren Davis. Image Credit: Glasgow Zine Library

Lauren Davis is the director of Glasgow Zine Library (GZL), a community-based zine library in the south of the city.  The library runs Glasgow Zine Fest, as well as a year round programme of events celebrating the rich history of this wonderful DIY artform (small-circulation, self-published magazines).

GZL have a brand new home at 636 Cathcart Road. They also work closely with the cultural arts hub, the Centre for Contemporary Arts.


3. Charlotte (they/them) and Fionn (they/she) Duffy-Scott, Category Is Books

Charlotte and Fionn, owners of Category is Books shopCharlotte and Fionn Duffy-Scott. Image Credit: Category Is Books

The more we find out about Category Is Books, the more we love them. Category Is Books is a fiercely independent Queer Bookshop in the south of Glasgow that was started by wife and wife team, Charlotte and Fionn Duffy-Scott. Together they hope to create a space for the LGBTQIA+ community and allies to learn about, be inspired by and share in their love of queer history, culture, writing and storytelling. Category Is Books opened in September 2018 and has already gained a loyal following. They stock new and second hand queer books, magazines, graphic novels, zines and (lots of) badges. 


4. Beldina Odenyo Onassis, Heir of the Cursed

Heir of the Cursed430Beldina Odenyo Onassis. Image Credit: Heir of the Cursed Facebook 

Beldina Odenyo Onassis, who performs under the name Heir of the Cursed, is one of Glasgow’s most exciting musical talents. She was one of eight recipients of a funded residency as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's starter programme, has been named as one of Young Women's Movement's “30 under 30” and was featured in The List magazine’s Hot 100 list.

Her hauntingly beautiful music touches on themes such as the African diaspora, her experiences of living in Scotland as a young black woman, and mental health.

Glasgow is renowned as a UNESCO City of Music that helps support artists to thrive. We asked Beldina which venue in Glasgow we should highlight here and she picked the one where it all came together for her - The Hug and Pint.


"Where it all came together for me and my favourite venue are one and the same; The Hug and Pint. I played my first gig as Heir of The Cursed there a couple of years ago and have played there so many times, it’s always a joy!  But when it really came together was Celtic Connections this year. I sold out the venue and had people queuing to try to get in. It was surreal and affirming to go from playing to literally the other musicians performing (and my very excellent sister who always comes to my gigs) to a room full of people whose faces I largely did not know. The team there have always been so supportive and generous with their spirits. I love it there."
Beldina Odenyo Onassis

5. All the sisters, Soul Food Sisters 

Soul Food Sisters 995Image Credit: Soul Food Sisters

The wonderful Soul Food Sisters are a group of migrant women based in the east of the city, who are creating a vibrant, female-led collective based around their (and our) favourite thing – food!

By swapping recipes, ideas and skills, they make women’s lives brighter. Soul Food Sisters are a not-for-profit organisation that brings together women from all over the world, ending social isolation and empowering them to develop their talents – in the kitchen and beyond. You can experience their incredible food for yourself at their cafe in Gallowgate on Saturdays and Sundays.

Find out more about inspiring women and unsung heroines at the lively and informative Glasgow Women's Library. Join one of their popular Women's Heritage Walks around the city, which operate seasonally, or take part year-round by downloading their pdf maps and audio tours.