This week my beloved alma mater, Scotland’s first (and prettiest) university, the illustrious University of St Andrews, made the following announcement:
“Students at the University of St Andrews have voted to name their biggest hall after the University’s first female graduate.
New Hall, which opened in 1993, will now be named after Agnes Forbes Blackadder, who first made her mark on the University’s history when she graduated 117 years ago.
The official renaming, which co-incides with the University’s 600th anniversary, will finally give New Hall a permanent title, 19 years after it opened.”
The University of St Andrews was founded 600 years ago, but it took well over 450 years for them to allow women to study there. Legend tells that when women were first admitted to the university the male students walked down to the pier and threw their mortar boards into the sea in protest, and to this day hats for men have not returned (although it is worth bearing in mind that this same story is told at least 6 other institutions, so take this story with a wee pinch of salt, eh?)
Anyway. Agnes Forbes Blackadder, a local girl, who had been a pupil at Dundee High School, before beginning her degree at St Andrews in the 1892/93 academic year. She received her MA on March 29th 1895, and eventually moved to Glasgow University to study medicine, earning her MD in 1901.
That same year she married another doctor, Thomas D. Savill, but was widowed after only 9 years.
Blackadder was a respected suffragette, and in 1912 she was one of three doctors (the other two were male surgeons) who conducted an inquiry into the appalling forced feeding of women hunger strikers in prison, and during the First World War, she went to France to work in a hospital there, and her work on x-rays of gangrene were extremely influential in speeding up diagnosis and treatment.
After the war she returned to London and, as well as continuing her own medical career, she worked on editing her late husband’s book on clinical medicine, and wrote her own book on the life and times of Alexander the Great. Apparently she continued seeing patients when she was in her seventies, and died in London, in 1964, aged 88.
Here’s to her, a trailblazer for the rest of us alumnae.
In summary: thank you, Agnes.