First Women Graduates

Happy International Women’s Day! Today we celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women worldwide, as well as reminding ourselves of the gender inequalities which continue to exist today. The theme of this years International Women’s Day is #pledgeforparity – thousands of supporters will sign a pledge to collectively  accelerate gender parity (you can too!).

With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to celebrate our early female medical graduates who took the first steps in breaking down the gender barriers within education at the University of Glasgow. Today nearly 60% of students studying at the University are female, but if we look back just over a hundred years ago, women were still the minority. For example, between 1894 and 1914 there were only 168 women Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MB ChB) graduates at the University compared to 1,483 men. You can see that we’ve come a long way! The biographies below explore the lives of three trailblazers:

We begin with Elizabeth Dorothea Lyness, who graduated MB CM from the University of Glasgow on 8th March 1894. She was one of the first four female graduates of the University. She was born on 12th March 1871 in Lisburn, Ireland, daughter of Robert Lyness.


Elizabeth matriculated at the University of Glasgow in 1892 aged 21, to study medicine. Over the course of her studies Lyness enrolled in various classes, passing all of her exams. In her first year at the University she took Chemistry, Botany and Natural History. In her second year of study, Lyness studied Anatomy, and Physiology. During her third year she took Regional Anatomy, Materia Medica, Pharmacy and Pathology. For her final year, Lyness studied Surgery, Clinical Surgery, Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Midwifery and Forensic medicine. She won prizes in Pathology, for the academic year 1892-1893, and in Pathology, Medicine, and Midwifery for the academic year 1893-1894. By 1925 Lyness had married Mr William C. Smith. She died on 21 May 1944, aged 73. You can view her entry on University Story here.

Next we have, Alice Lilian Louisa Cumming, who graduated MB CM from the University of Glasgow on 26th July 1894. She, like Lyness, was one of the first four female graduates of the University.


Cumming was born on 22nd November 1870 in Houston, Renfrewshire, daughter of James Simpson, a Doctor of Medicine. Whilst she was studying at the University, her address was given as 24 Blythswood Square.

Throughout her time at the University, Cumming enrolled in various classes. In October 1892 she took exams in Chemistry, Botany and Natural History. The following April 1893 she completed exams in Anatomy and Physiology. In April 1894 Cumming took exams in Materia Medica and Pharmacy, and finally in July 1894 she completed exams in Surgery, Clinical Surgery, Medicine and Clinical Surgery, Midwifery and Forensic Medicine. During her studies, Cumming was awarded First Class Certificates in Pathology and Practical Pathology, as well as a Second Class Certificate in Medicine. You can view her entry on University Story here.

Cumming was in the same graduating class as Marion Gilchrist (1864-1952), who was the first woman to gain a medical degree in Scotland and the first female graduate of the University.

Lastly we have Mary Baird Hannay, who graduated MBCM from the University in 1896. She was born on 18 April 1871 in Glasgow, daughter of Thomas Hannay, an Iron Merchant.


Mary Baird Hannay in the Postgraduate Pathology Class 1897

Hannay first matriculated in the University during the summer of 1892, aged 21, to study for a degree in Medicine. Over these four years of study, Hannay enrolled in various classes, including; Clinical Medicine, Midwifery, Clinical Surgery, Anatomy, Physiology, Practical Anatomy, Surgery and Pathology. In the 1892-93 sessions, Hannay was awarded a First Class certificate for Physiology, a class taught by J. McGregor Robertson. She later achieved a Second Class certificate for Materia Medica and Therapeutics in the 1893-94 sessions, after being selected by her lecturer Charles O. Hawthorne.

Hannay went on to study for a second qualification at the University, graduating MD in 1909. Her final thesis, which is held in the University’s Special Collections Department, was entitled Observations, post mortem, upon the sane and insane.  Special Collections also holds a photograph of Mary Hannay, found within A manual of pathology by Joseph Coats. The photograph is of the Postgraduate Pathology Class of 1897 and includes the names of Prof Coats, Dr L. R. Sutherland, Dr Alex Ferguson, Dr Malcolm Black, Dr James Nicol and Dr Mary Baird Hannay. Underneath Hannay’s name is the description: ‘first woman to take the class at the University’.

After leaving University, Hannay worked as a Doctor.  You can view her entry on University Story here.

You can find out more about women’s history at the University of Glasgow here!

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