This International Women’s Day the University of Glasgow is celebrating women, and their roles and achievements in the University, by recreating a 19th century image of University professors and staff.
The image is dramatically titled ‘The Exodus from the Old College’ and depicts the professors positioned on the staircase of the Old College on High Street (the site of the University from its medieval beginnings) preparing to leave for the new University site in Gilmorehill in 1870 and we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gilbert Scott building this year.
The original picture was published in the ‘University of Glasgow Old and New’ and is in fact a composite image created using the photogravure process, an intaglio photomechanical printing process where a photographic negative is transferred to a metal plate which is then etched and printed. In 1871 the photographer Thomas Annan had published ‘Memorials of the Old College of Glasgow‘ as a record of the University, it’s Old College and the members of Senate at the time of the move to Gilmorehill in 1870. In 1891, the firm of T & R Annan and Sons published the ‘University of Glasgow Old and New’ as an updated and expanded version of Memorials which repurposed the 1870 photographs by Thomas Annan of University of Glasgow professors and of the Old College into a new volume of photogravure prints (James Craig Annan having learnt the photogravure process in 1883 from its inventor, Karl Klič) including this illustrative composite image imagining the ‘Exodus from the Old College’ in 1870.
The ‘Exodus’ image centres on the Old College staircase which featured the distinctive Lion and Unicorn and was moved stone by stone to the Gilmorehill site where the ‘Lion and Unicorn Staircase‘ has become an iconic feature of the Gilbert Scott building, acting as a touchstone to a previous period of change and new beginnings for the University, as well as representing an opportunity for the updated 2020 version celebrating women.
Leading the ‘exodus’ from the Old College is Professor John Caird (1820-1898), shown on the front far right and then Professor of Divinity. By the time the 1891 volume was published Caird had been Principal of the University for nearly twenty years and had guided it through a period of radical reorganisation which followed the move to Gilmorehill and the changes to the structure of the University’s governing bodies that the Universities of Scotland Act introduced in 1889.
Caird was also a prominent supporter for the movement for the higher education of women, becoming President of the Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women in 1877, which later became Queen Margaret College, the first and only college in Scotland to provide higher education for women. The college’s stated aim was “to perform for women work similar to that done by colleges and universities for men.” Caird was to play an important part in the discussions that led to the 1892 merger of the University of Glasgow and Queen Margaret College bringing women fully into the University of Glasgow student community and able to obtain degrees equal to that of their male peers.
In an 1892 letter from the University of Glasgow Court to Janet Galloway, who was the honorary secretary of the Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women, the University, states “in the opinion of the University Court it is desirable in terms of power conferred by Ordinance 18 to provide University instruction for women as a general rule by the institution of separate classes for that purpose” (Ref: DC 233/2/4/4/33). Galloway became a university official after amalgamation and she promoted the formation of a women graduates association and the Queen Margaret Guild which provided lectures for the university extension movement. She was also a founder of the students’ residence, Queen Margaret Hall.
The image of ‘The Exodus from the Old College’ represents the uniformly male University of 1870 with all the assembled professors and representatives as well as the student population of the day being exclusively men. The 2020 recreation of this image for International Women’s Day in 2020 is an opportunity to celebrate and champion the women who educate, research and work in the University today.
There is still work to do towards achieving equality and diversity but what this original image also tells us is that even where we might not see diversity reflected back to us we can nevertheless find evidence of progressive values and the slow blossoming of change in the form of individuals open to challenging the status quo. This International Women’s Day we’re delighted to see this image from our heritage brought up to date and hope it stands as example of progress for our colleagues in another 150 years’ time!
Further information is available about the ‘University of Glasgow Old and New‘ and you can learn more about the history of women and women’s education at the University of Glasgow on our University Story website.
Categories: Archives and Special Collections