A deeper look into the history of Mary Somerville and 1911 Scottish census & suffrage movement.

This is the closest I have been able to get with my Heroine!

I have had a fascination with Mary Somerville (1780-1872) ever since reading a letter she wrote to publisher John Murray –

It was a mixture of business and exchanging gossip! Since then I have been researching about her when time has allowed, spending many happy hours in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the National Library of Scotland, and other places around the country. I am writing a full length biography about her, and was honoured that an article I wrote about her for the Dangerous Women project was published on their website on International Women’s Day. 

Talk: Dangerous Women Project

I have given various talks about Mary, for example at the ‘Women in the Science in the Archives‘ seminar at the Bodleian Library, online for the University of Edinburgh and Previously History festival, among others.
Talk: ‘Women in the Science in the Archives

On 18th November 2021 I appeared on an episode of BBC World Service Radio Programme ‘The Forum’ with Prof Jim Secord and Dr Brigitte Stenhouse talking about Mary
BBC: Mary Somerville

1911 Scottish census & suffrage movement:

In 2018, the centenary of partial suffrage in Britain, I was able to visit the statue of Millicent Fawcett in London. Such important words she holds up!

While giving a talk about the Women’s Land Army in Scotland during World War Two one day I heard about an amazing woman called Catherine Blair. Among other things she started the Women’s Rural Institute in Scotland (WRSI) in 1917, and was also a suffragette.

I decided to do some research on her, and while doing so I discovered that during the 1911 census she put her occupation down as farmer’s wife and suffragette. This fascinated me and I wondered if others similarly proclaimed their suffrage support this way.

There has been incredible research in the 1911 census and the suffrage movement in England by Jill Liddington and Elizabeth Crawford but nothing I could find on the census and movement in Scotland.

So that is the research I am currently undertaking (when my funds and Covid restrictions allow!).

I gave a talk about the research I had done so far for the National Archives of Scotland.

Talk: No Vote, No Census

I have also given papers on the topic at two conferences in 2018, held to commemorate the centenary.

If you are doing family history or other research in Scotland, using the 1911 census, and come across anything you think which would indicate suffrage protestors, please do get in touch as I would love to hear more!

Ruth Boreham

Tour guide and historian

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