In 2016 the City of Literature Trust nominated Dame Sarah Siddons Mair to receive a plaque as part of the Commemorative Plaque Scheme run by Historic Environment Scotland. Today, on International Women’s Day, her plaque was installed at 29 Abercromby Place, where she was born, to commemorate her life and work towards promoting women’s education and suffrage.
Born in 1846, Mair was the great-great granddaughter of the actress Sarah Siddons, who was best known for her portrayal of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Sarah Siddons Mair carved a name of her own, however, as one of the most central figures in the Scottish women’s movement. She was a lifetime advocate for women’s education and suffrage, known for her work as a writer, reviewer, editor, and campaigner.
At the young age of 19, she was the founder and president of the Ladies’ Edinburgh Debating Society, which offered Edinburgh women the chance to practice speaking in public, acquire debating skills, whilst also exploring social issues. She would later go on to help found the Edinburgh Association for the University Education of Women, and become president of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1907.
Mair is also known for her work in promoting higher education for women, and notoriously founded St George’s High School for Girls in 1888. We were lucky enough to be joined by current pupils and teachers from the school, who read extracts from her work, as well as the Royal Scots Club, who organised a lunch in her honour.
The unveiling of Mair’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 in back in 2016; all of whom were chosen. The other recipients included Dorothy Emily Stevenson, an avid novelist, and Susan Ferrier, widely recognized as ‘the Scottish Jane Austen’. Last year, two further nominated female writers were also chosen to receive plaques: Mary Brunton and Christian Isobel Johnstone.
Siân Bevan, Programme Manager at Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust said:
The plaques are a great reminder of the vibrant women writers who make up the incredible literary history of Edinburgh. Some of them may have, for one reason or another, fallen out of the public’s memory so it’s fantastic to have plaques in public spaces which might encourage folk to find out more about their remarkable life and works.
This year, we look forward to the installation of a further two plaques commemorating the lives of Mary Brunton and Christian Isobel Johnstone. For more information about both women, explore the Women Writers’ page of our website.