Edinburgh’s Women Writers
Plaques and Statues
Edinburgh as a city is rife with literary achievement. There are plaques and statues flanking many of the streets and courtyards, dedicated to the lives of Edinburgh writers, poets, essayists and more. Yet upon inspection, so few pay homage to the women writers of the city.
As it stands, there are currently more statues dedicated to animals than women in the city – something that Edinburgh City of Literature Trust aims to change over the coming years.
Dedicated to championing Edinburgh’s women writers, the City of Literature Trust was pleased to announce the selection of three of Edinburgh’s women writers to receive commemorative plaques. The scheme, run by Historic Environment Scotland, celebrates the significant historic figures by awarding plaques to be erected on the building where they once lived or worked’.
The three women chosen to be commemorated in this way were initially nominated by the Trust in 2016, and are: Sarah Siddons Mair, campaigner for women’s education and suffrage, Susan Ferrier, a novelist widely recognised as ‘the Scottish Jane Austen’, and Dorothy Emily Stevenson, author of the Mrs Tim books and cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Edinburgh is not just a Man’s World
Women writers have been hugely under-represented in the city’s public plaques and statues, and commemorating the life, works and achievements of these writers are part of Edinburgh City of Literature Trust’s mission to bring important women writers to the streets of Edinburgh, so that people living in and visiting the city are aware of the literary heritage that surrounds them.
Ali Bowden, Director of Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, said –
‘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.’
The City of Literature Trust is continuing its work this year with Historic Environment Scotland to bring more plaques, dedicated to some of Edinburgh’s talented and prolific female writers, to the streets of the city.
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier 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.
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).
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.
Her work has recently been reprinted by Persephone Books, and by Bloomsbury, who reprinted Mrs Tim of the Regiment in 2009. To find out more about this popular author and to read her work on the Persephone Books and Bloomsbury website.
Sarah Siddons Mair
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.