At 2:40 am on 21 April 1926 at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London, the cries of a new-born girl were to be heard, announcing the arrival of our future Queen Elizabeth II.
Today is a very special day for our longest reigning monarch as she celebrates her 90th Birthday and encourages the nation to look back at almost a century’s worth of history.
But what kind of world was the Queen born into? What did 1926 look like for a young woman in a Scottish University? Read on to find out . . .
Key Figures Achievements Debates Events Anecdotes
Key Figures in 1926
Pictured below from left to right are the Earl of Rosebury and Midlothian, K.G., K.T, (Chancellor), Sir Donald MacAlister (Vice-Chancellor & Principal), Sir Austen Chamberlain (Rector) and Frances Melville (Mistress of Queen Margaret College)
In 1926 the University had 4598 students, over 200 members of staff, 6 faculties and around 50 student societies.
A great many things were achieved by the University amongst staff and students alike between 1925 and 1927. Too many to list all here nevertheless, key achievements include:
- The foundation of a new lectureship in Gynæcology, which was generously funded in part by the Samaritan Hospital for Women. The surgeon, David Shannon, MD became the first lecturer to hold the post.
- The new Sports Pavilion and new Stand for Glasgow University’s Athletic Club (G.U.A.C) was opened in Westerlands. It was funded by the ‘Students’ Welfare Scheme’.
No longer need we stand shivering in the rain while eight other teams finish changing, nor turn away from the “home” bath with an inky blue . . . What a place! Hot baths and sprays without number, dressing rooms in profusion and a full length mirror for Q.M . . . Student’s Handbook 1925-1926
- Dorothy Rowntree became the University’s first female graduate in engineering science.
- Significant gifts and donations to the University: a Lister medallion, a portrait of Lady Kelvin, a selection of Arabic tombstones, a geological collection for the Hunterian, and above all, a model of the original Television Transmitter given to the University by Television Ltd on behalf of John Logie Baird, the inventor of Television and an alumnus of the University. It now sits in the Hunterian museum.
- The Amusements Committee of the Students Representative Council (S.R.C) was particularly active and successful in 1925-27. It founded the S.R.C band and the College Pudding, raising money for the ‘Students’ Welfare Scheme’.
- In sport, for the first time, the Scottish Inter-‘Varsity Boxing Championship was won by Glasgow
Boxing Section, Glasgow University Magazine, 1926-27, DC198/1/33
‘Innocence Abroad More or Less: the S.R.C. Band in Canada’
The S.R.C. Band, ‘or as it is officially known, The University of Glasgow Students’ Dance Orchestra’ was made up of eight musicians drawn from the Orchestra. According to its constitution it performed at special functions and ‘except under special circumstances’, performed no more than twice a week. In the summer of 1926 it successfully gained passage to Canada ‘with the Anchor-Cunard people’ on the “Aurania”, playing for passengers at lunch, tea and dinner. In this way the band enjoyed free board and food whilst going abroad on holiday.
The ‘College Pudding’ – a variety show hosted by the S.R.C in winter time – was first staged in December 1925. It successfully raised £48 13s 7d for the ‘Students Welfare fund’. In its second annual performance in 1926, the Pudding met with mixed reviews with one commentator commending the actors and another stating that it ‘fell as flat as the usual top notes of the S.R.C. Band’. Nevertheless, the College Pudding enjoyed enough success in its early days to persist and become a standard feature of mid-20th Century student life in Glasgow.
Sir Austen Chamberlain Welcomed: A New Rector
Here he is, on the Summit, the very Gilmore hill, stepping up to that dais . . . whereon Lord Rectors parade
The Rector of the University is elected by the students of the University and in 1926 they voted in Sir Austen Chamberlain. A well-established politician and Foreign Secretary in Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative Government (1924-1929), Chamberlain was a recognisable figure, distinguished by a top hat and eye monocle. His distinctive style did not go unnoticed by Glasgow’s students, and when he visited on the 29 March 1927 he was greeted by a sea of monocle-clad faces. Footage of the event is available here. Chamberlain was well-regarded by the students. The G.U.M described him as ‘a man impeccable in honour and in garment . . . with a sense of the most scrupulous loyalty’. By all accounts respect was mutual as Chamberlain made it clear he was honoured to have been elected rector:
I feel it is a great privilege to be associated by your act with your ancient and illustrious University, the Alma Mater of so many famous men . . . May the University flourish for ever!
‘A Woman’s place is at University’: Gender conflicts in Higher Education
In letters addressed to the Editor of the Glasgow University’s Magazine (G.U.M), the position of women in Higher Education continued to be vigorously debated by the students. Queen Margaret’s College had achieved much by 1926 – the most recent being the graduation of Dorothy Rowntree as the first female graduate in engineering and the opening of the Lorrimer bursaries to women – however, female students still had cause to complain, especially about the attitude of some male students towards them:
There are certain men who write for the G.U.M who seem to think it worthy and proper to constantly remind Queen Margaret students how undesirable is their continued membership of the University . . . The Queen Margaret student is impelled to marvel at the colossal presumption of these ones, who seem to take it for granted that they and they alone are the ideal children of the Alma Mater
This disgruntled student had good reason to complain, according to S.Phillips writing (and drawing) under the pen-name Psi, “women never acquire any sense until after they are married [and] co-education is a bugbear of university life”.
In 1926 Glasgow’s women were making headway in higher education but there was still work to be done.
To wear, or not to wear? Academic dress on campus
A fierce debate amongst the students concerned the wearing of formal academic dress. In a letter to the G.U.M’s editor one student complained that:
When I came up here some few people actually did appear about the place in red gowns . . . But to-day, the red gown is, it would seem, quite forgotten. . . Glasgow students should see to it that they wear the gown regularly
It appears the S.R.C shared some of the views set out by this student declaring that:
the Council has been actively interested in the reintroduction of the Toga, and it is hoped that the movement will be supported by the students’ them-selves
It is unclear whether or not the Toga was re-adopted by students in 1926, but what is clear – as revealed by other letters to the GUM’s editor – is that the incentive to wear formal academic dress on a daily basis was not universally welcome.
Anecdote : Billiards on Sunday
And finally, on the 2 December 1926 the S.R.C petitioned the University Senate ‘to permit the playing of Billiards on Sunday’. Sadly, we don’t know what the Senate’s response to the request was. Let us hope they were successful.
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DC157/18/35, Students’ Handbook, 1925-1926
DC157/18/36, Students’ Handbook, 1926-1927
DC198/1/32, Glasgow University Magazine, Vol.37, 1925-1926
DC198/1/33, Glasgow University Magazine, Vol.38, 1926-1927
IP6/11/21, Press-cuttings, 1925-1927
C1/1/33, Glasgow University Court Minutes, 1925-1926
C1/1/34, Glasgow University Court Minutes, 1926-1927
SEN1/1/31, Glasgow University Minutes of Senate, 1925-1926
SEN1/1/32, Glasgow University Minutes of Senate, 1926-1927
SEN10/67, University Calendar, 1925-1926
SEN10/68, University Calendar, 1926-1927