On 24 May 2017, a plaque commemorating the life and work of Edinburgh author Dorothy Emily Stevenson was unveiled at 14 Eglinton Crescent, now known as the Victorian Townhouse, where she spent her childhood.
Best known for her Mrs Tim books, Dorothy Emily Stevenson authored more than 40 books, selling in excess of 7 million copies. She was a prolific writer, covering a number of genres, including drama, romance, and sci-fi, and according to her granddaughters, was known to ‘sneak into the attic of her home at Eglinton Crescent to write without anybody knowing’.
Stevenson’s granddaughters, Penny Kent and Wendy Simpson, came to Edinburgh for the occasion to help us unveil the plaque. It was Penny Kent who discovered five more of Stevenson’s book in her home in Hartfordshire, which then went on to be published by Grey Ladies Books in Edinburgh.
The unveiling of Stevenson’s plaque in the New Town came about as a result of the Commemorative Plaque scheme run by Historic Environment Scotland. The Trust nominated three female writers deserving of such commemorations; all of whom were chosen. The other women include Sarah Siddons Mair, campaigner for women’s suffrage and education, and Susan Ferrier, a novelist widely recognized as ‘the Scottish Jane Austen’.
Ali Bowden, Director of the City of Literature Trust, says:
‘As a UNESCO City of Literature we are proud to have the world’s tallest monument commemorating an author, the glorious Scott Monument on Princes Street. We are a city that has striking statues marking our great literary heritage, however, these all represent male writers and it is time that our many female writers, from across the centuries, are recognised and seen on our streets, and these plaques are a great way of helping us to redress this balance.’
Dorothy Emily Stevenson (1892–1973)
Born on 18 November 1892 into a family of well-kent engineers and writers, Dorothy Emily Stevenson authored more than 40 books selling in excess of seven million copies. After penning two books of poetry, her first published novel was Peter West, which originally appeared as a serial in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal. She then went on to write the popular Mrs. Tim books: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment (1932), Mrs. Tim Carries On (1941), Mrs. Tim gets a Job (1947), and Mrs. Tim Flies Home (1952).
Her work has recently been reprinted by Persephone Books, and by Bloomsbury, who reprinted Mrs Tim of the Regiment in 2009. D.E. Stevenson will be celebrated with a plaque at her former home, 14 Eglinton Crescent, which today is The Victorian Town House Bed and Breakfast. To find out more about this popular author and to read her work visit Persephone Books and Bloomsbury.
Sarah Siddons Mair (1846 – 1941)
Granddaughter of the actress Sarah Siddons, Sarah Siddons Mair was born at 29 Abercromby Place in Edinburgh and made her name as a writer, reviewer and founding editor of the Ladies’ Edinburgh Magazine. In 1865 she established the women-only Edinburgh Essay Society, the first formalised society in Scotland to debate the right for women to have the vote. Siddons Mair became president of the Edinburgh National Society of Women’s suffrage in 1906, and she received an honorary LLD from Edinburgh University in 1920 and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 193. She died at the age of 94 in 1941 and her funeral was held at Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Cathedral.
The plaque will be placed at 29 Abercromby Place, where Mair was born and where the Edinburgh Essay Society was formed. Today the building houses The Royal Scots Club, founded in 1919 as a tribute to those who fell in the First World War. To find out more about this inspiring women take a look at David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery’s The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland: Professionalism and diversity 1880–2000.
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782–1854)
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782 – 1854) holds an important place in the history of Scottish literature, standing alongside her contemporaries Mary Brunton and Christian Isobel Johnstone in developing a tradition of national domestic fiction in post-Enlightenment Scotland. She is widely considered to be Scotland’s Jane Austen. Ferrier wrote and published three hugely popular novels in her life: Marriage (1818), The Inheritance (1824), and Destiny (1831). Ferrier’s novels are known for the satirical way in which they observe society, and she was a close friend and long-time correspondent of Sir Walter Scott.
The plaque to Ferrier will be placed at East Morningside House, where Ferrier lived with her father and wrote much of her novel The Inheritance. Many of her novels are still in print and available at Book Depository, and you can find out more about her at the National Library of Scotland.