The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women: From the Earliest Times to 2004

By Elizabeth Ewan; Sue Innes et al. | Go to book overview
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Introduction

I

Why a biographical dictionary of Scottish women? It's a legitimate question, and it has several answers. The shortest one is that it aims to provide accurate, readable and stimulating information, not readily available anywhere else despite the otherwise impressive amount of Scottish historical writing in recent years. But a dictionary with this title also makes larger claims. It should both contribute to 'a statement of national identity', and be 'a stay against oblivion', a memorial 'designed to stir thoughts on fame and obscurity, on mortality and immortality'.1 It is the contention of the editors, shared we imagine by our contributors, that Scottish national identity has so far been largely construed in terms of the recorded achievements of men. Oblivion and obscurity was often the historical fate of women. There are various reasons why this was so in the past; at least part of the explanation was a lack of knowledge. But scholarship has moved on. Much more is now known about the women who have, in every thinkable way, contributed to the Scottish nation and its identity, and more than 1,000 of their names appear in the following pages.

The detailed thinking behind this dictionary is addressed at greater length in part II below. But readers consulting biographical dictionaries often prefer to skip the introduction and plunge straight in to the entries themselves. So we have started with an answer to the question every reader will probably want to ask (who's in, who's out?), by stating the criteria for inclusion and an explanation of nomenclature, before offering a more general essay, to which readers may return at leisure. See the Readers' Guide above for quick reference.


Criteria for inclusion

No living persons have been included. This was the only non-negotiable criterion for selection. We have, though, included a few quasi-historical figures whose claim to have been 'living' at all could be questioned (see for example Braidefute, Marion). Secondly, while virtually all the entries are indeed on women, one or two subjects are strictly speaking 'girls' (see Fleming, Marjory), and there is at least one case of disputed sexual identity (see Barry, James). Thirdly, the chronological range covered by the dictionary runs from the earliest records, taken to be Roman Britain, until a date of death before January 2005. Fourthly, geographically, while the great bulk of entries assume a Scotland within its present-day borders, some of those on early women relate to the area covered by the kingdoms of Northumbria/Bernicia, which included large parts of southern Scotland in the seventh and eighth centuries.

The criterion on which the editors have exercised most flexibility, but which has occasioned most discussion, is of course Scottishness. We have tried to be generous in our application of the term, within the limited scope of this single-volume dictionary. Broadly, to be included an individual should have been born in Scotland; or have lived in Scotland for an appreciable period; or have influenced some aspect of Scottish national life. Being born outside Scotland to Scottish parents was not regarded as qualification enough, unless the woman concerned met one of the other two criteria. (We should otherwise have had to include an impossibly huge number of persons who may certainly have thought of themselves as Scottish.) On the other hand, we have included a representative sample of women born in Scotland, but who made their mark as part of the 'Scottish diaspora' in Africa, Australasia, India, North America and other regions of the world another potentially large group. We wanted to have a fairly open approach, in order to indicate that Scotland has not been a closed society: it has been alive to many influences from across the border and across the seas, and vice versa. At the same time, we felt that there was a strong case for the dictionary to confine itself to a defensible version of Scottishness, since existing dictionaries about 'British women' contained comparatively few Scottish names. As Sue Innes has put it, Scottish women have been doubly marginalised, in Scottish history because of their sex, in British history because of their nationality.2

But this is not a Women's Who's Who of Scottish History, in that 'fame' has not been a key

-xxv-

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