Isabella Elder


Isabella Elder, née Ure (1828–1905) was instrumental in promoting higher education for women in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and in the foundation of Queen Margaret College. Daughter of a Glasgow writer (lawyer), she married in 1857 John Elder who was a partner in the marine engineering firm Randolph, Elder & Co. The business enjoyed great success and international recognition under John Elder's direction and by 1868, it was known as John Elder & Co. and operated the Fairfield Shipyard in Govan. John Elder died at the age of 45 in 1869. For nine months, she became director of the firm before it was transferred to a partnership led by her brother, John Ure.

For more than 30 years after her husband's death, Isabella Elder devoted herself to philanthropic activities. In Govan, she had a public park laid out close to Fairfield Shipyard, which was named in memory of her husband and father-in-law, and founded a school of domestic economy and a cottage hospital. In Glasgow, higher education captured her keen interest. In the spirit of her husband's interests, large endowments were made to the University of Glasgow to support the chair of Engineering and to establish the Elder Chair of Naval Architecture, and contributions were made to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (forerunner to the University of Strathclyde) building fund and to provide lectures in Astronomy.

She was a supporter of higher education for women: her friend Janet (Jessie) Campbell was vice-president of the Glasgow Association for the Higher Education of Women, which was incorporated as Queen Margaret College in 1883. The same year, Elder purchased North Park House, north of the university, as premises for the College, the first in Scotland to offer tertiary education for women in arts and sciences. It was not until the Universities Act of 1889, however, that women could be awarded a degree. Queen Margaret College Medical School was established in 1890 and the first female medical students in Scotland graduated in 1894. A new building was constructed for the medical school in 1894–5 and was financially supported in part by Elder.

In recognition of her support of the university and promotion of women's education, Isabella Elder was awarded an honorary LLD in 1901 and is commemorated with Janet Galloway in a stained glass window in the University of Glasgow's Bute Hall, and on the University's Quincentennial Gates. For her work in Govan, she is commemorated with a statue in Elder Park. 1

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1: The Glasgow University Story, [accessed 23 October 2011].