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HISTORY OF THE CLUB 1973-2005

by Hilary Flenley

Since the two previous histories, covering the years 1920 to 1945 and 1945 to 1973, the club has changed again in many ways, but the purpose, to 'promote friendship', is still the same.

The original constitution limited membership very much to wives of academic staff only, but gradually over the years this has been extended, in 1963 to wives of administrative and library staff, and in 1971 to wives of post doctoral fellows and others such as editors of dictionaries and clinical wives.   So the membership was greatly extended but in 1992, a retired academic secretary enquired about membership, sadly under the terms of the constitution, this was not possible.    It was quite clear that a radical rethink was required and in 1992, the wording was altered to include 'all wives of present and past employees, all women who are present or past employees, wives of graduate students and women graduate students in this University' and ' the committee may extend membership to other women connected with this or any University'.   This amendment was passed unanimously by the Club at an Extra Ordinary General Meeting in the Old College Senate Room on 27 October 1992.

In 1973, the membership stood at 343 but has declined in following years.   Life has increased in pace, especially for women, who now nearly all have employment of some kind, paid or voluntary.   But for many, the Women's Club continues to offer enjoyment and friendship in many different areas.

The Women's Club presents a programme of general meetings, open to all members and a large number of special interest clubs which have meetings, weekly for sports and less frequently for others. At the beginning of a new academic session, a Welcome Party was for many years held in either Adam House or the Playfair Library. This required a lot of preparation by the committee and there could be difficulty in getting names of new members of staff to be invited.   Often names came with initials and no indication of sex and invitations were sometimes returned with a note claiming that membership wasn't open to men.   Artistic women created exotic displays of flowers. Marianne McMaster was especially outstanding, making trips to the flower market at 5am.   Originally flowers were provided by the Garden Group, but in 1973 the responsibility was handed back to the committee.   A large amount of appropriate food was prepared by committee members and husbands poured out wine liberally.   Sometimes entertainment was provided and group convenors gave accounts of the activities of their particular interest in the hope of attracting new members.   Later, group posters were displayed for the same purpose.   For the 1983 Welcome Party, 220 printed invitations were sent out, from which 13 accepted but only 6 new members of staff actually came. Suggestions arose that the Welcome Party should be scrapped due to lack of interest, but this did not actually happen until the nineties.

Another event of the autumn term was a tea party held in either the Talbot Rice Art Centre or the Playfair Library.   This again entailed making sandwiches and baking cakes, and some floral decorations, and friends were happy to meet again on dark November afternoons.   Invitations were also issued to members of the Heriot Watt University Women's Club and later a liaison was made with Napier University Women's Club through Susan Mavor, wife of the Principal of Napier University

When John Mavor held the Chair of Electrical Engineering at Edinburgh University, Susan was a member of the committee of the Women's Club, and recognised the value of contact between different Departments through the wives.

In 1997 it was decided to have a buffet luncheon instead of tea and this has been great fun, committee members excelling themselves in the provision of tempting food. Another event of the autumn term was the coffee morning, held jointly with the Young Mothers Group in the Club flat, but this was discontinued and the Young Mothers Group was disbanded in 1988.

A big occasion of the year was the children's party, at first held in Adam House, then because of declining numbers, in the Club flat.   There was a Santa Claus and presents, and lots of balloons were blown up.   The Christmas tree was passed on to a suitable charity such as Dr Barnardo's Homes or the University Settlement.   Eventually in 1990 it was decided that there was too much competition, and it all came to an end.

In January there was a Teenage Ball in Adam House, but by 1981 teenagers had become too sophisticated to enjoy adult supervision and the number attending dropped below an acceptable figure, so there were no more.

The last general event of the academic year was a wine and cheese party in the McEwan Hall, to which husbands were also welcome.   This took place in March and the committee tried hard to lift the atmosphere with light music and wonderful flowers.   The McEwan Hall kitchen is in the basement and committee members scurried up and down stairs carrying hot sausages and savouries to produce a feeling of warmth.

In 1984 there was a decision to combine the March wine and cheese party with the Welcome Party in a meeting for new staff in the Playfair Library, and this was again revised in 1996 to shift what had been the Welcome Party to a date in February.   This is perhaps rather late to engage new members but the longstanding ones continue to enjoy it.

The Club flat at 5 Buccleuch Place has been a splendid meeting place for a number of groups, especially for the successful International Graduate Wives Group.   In 1974 when student unrest was at its height, a number of students staged a sit – in, but no damage was done. Abden House and two houses in Lauder Road were also commandeered and some students enjoyed a term, rent-free with heating laid on.   The current Vice'President, Patricia Maloney, visited the Buccleuch Place flat from time to time to maintain a presence.   Expenses were to be invoiced to the Students Representative Council, but there is no record of any transaction.

After the severe fire in the Cowgate in 2002, when much damage was done to the Artificial Intelligence Department, Buccleuch Place was pressed back into service.   Another apartment was found at 24 Buccleuch Place and in 2004 the change over took place.   Unfortunately the Club premises are on the second floor, and older members can find it a struggle to climb so many stairs.

The wife of the Principal of the University is ex officio President and the Club has been very fortunate in having a series of charming and helpful officers.   Lady Robson was President in 1974, but declined to chair meetings.   At the height of student problems, she remained calm and unflurried, and the Annual General Meeting of the club was held in the President's residence in Heriot Row in 1975 and she also hosted committee meetings there in 1976.   The wives of principals are offered and have accepted life membership of the club.

The Graduates' Association also uses the club premises and in 1984 it came to light that the Edinburgh Association of University Women was meeting in Buccleuch place on a payment of £35 per annum to the Graduates Association.   This caused some alarm as the number of people in the flat is restricted to 60 under the fire regulations.   The University Building Officer, Mr Noel Anderson, was consulted but he and Mrs Caroline Batt, who was a member of both associations, were reassuring about the numbers involved.   The Graduate Theatre Group also used the flat for rehearsals but the problem was solved amicably with no charges involved.

In 1974 a new interest group was started; the Bridge Group, with 18 members, and there will be more of that later.

By 1975, the club was still using Adam House for the Welcome Party and the Annual General Meeting, with a sherry party at an earlier hour in the Upper Library.

1976 saw the beginning of the Collectors' group under the stimulus of Mrs Cadogan, more of that also later.   A Keep Fit group at the Physical Education Department was expanding with students and lady prison officers.   And 1977 saw the first sponsored climb of Arthur's Seat on May morning, in aid of the Queen's Jubilee Charity Fund.   Lady Robson and June Oliver were invited to the City Chambers to present the cheque for £300. Marie Cottrell began indoor tennis at the Pleasance and there was a general feeling of wellbeing, punctured by the unexpected death of Principal Robson.

There was now a suggestion that the name ' Tea Club' was totally outdated, and new titles were mooted, in a hope to make the club more attractive.   Name possibilities were Buccleuch Ladies Club, Edinburgh University Tryst Club, Edinburgh University Campus Club and Edinburgh University Friendship Club, but choice was finally made of Edinburgh University Women's Club, a reassuringly matter of fact title.   Another suggestion was that the club should try to extend friendship to members of the Heriot Watt University Ladies Club.

Principal John Burnett took up office in 1978 and Lady Margaret Burnett became President of the club.   Two new interest groups were discussed, a Gourmet Cookery group, which came to naught, and a Crafts group which started but was fading by 1987.   And the new name, The University of Edinburgh Women's Club was adopted in 1980 with a majority of 79% in favour.   The possibility of producing one programme to cover the entire session was discussed but rejected pro tem and the annual subscription was doubled to £2.

The number of members attending meetings was in decline, and in 1982 a subcommittee was set up to discuss changes to the constitution.   1982 saw the last teenage dance as its popularity had waned and it was considered that too many outsiders were being sold tickets to make up the numbers.

The Young Mothers Group had been meeting for many years but never achieved a high profile, probably due to the inevitable progression of toddlers to school and overseas families to home countries. The International Students Office was concerned about the loneliness of visiting wives, especially those with no English, and Miss Janet Hulme, the coordinator, asked the Women's Club for help with hospitality and friendship.   In 1987, a coffee morning for overseas students was given and some joined the Young Mothers Group.   It was a success and in 1988 Miss Hulme asked for a repeat coffee morning.   At last it was recognised that the overseas wives repaid attention and the Professor's Wives Luncheon Club offered £100 to help establish the group properly.   A subcommittee was formed to produce an information pack, with many helpful hints for newcomers to Edinburgh, especially those with small children.   Details of this development come later in the International Graduate Wives Group Report.

Sir John and Lady Burnett left for Oxford in 1987 and Principal David Smith took up office, Lady Smith becoming the new President.   The subscription was raised to £3 per annum in 1988 to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The main event of 1989 was the formation of a new Poetry Group, set up by Patricia Richardson and Myra Hamilton.   This group met, frequently in members' houses, to discuss poetry dealing with various themes, such as dreams, but it was discontinued in the 1996-97 session.

Lady Smith, President, had the very good idea of the Women's Group producing its own headed writing paper, giving substance to correspondence.

1991 saw the seventieth birthday of the club, which was celebrated by an enjoyable Pot Luck Supper in the Club flat.   In the same year there was a decision to drop the Children's Party and to have a summer Activity Day instead.   In June 1991, a room was hired at the University Sports Centre and invitations were widely issued, but only 9 children came, so it was clear that we didn't really need to organise anything for the young.   But the After School Club for older children was opened in the playroom in the flat and ran for a year or two.

A number of Heriot Watt staff and wives came to the autumn Talbot Rice tea party, and the following year some wives came to the Garden group plant sale.   The connection has continued less enthusiastically than had been hoped, and the last invitation to Heriot Watt and Napier University wives to the Playfair Library Lunch Party was for November 2003.

Also in 1992, the question of amalgamation of the Professors' Wives Club with the Women's Club was considered, but rejected as the clubs have different aims, though closely related.

Over the year, the Club had enjoyed an outing to Mary King's Close in the High Street and a coach trip to West Linton with an excellent tea in the village bakehouse.

1993 saw an active social programme, with a visit to the workshop of jeweller Hamilton & Inches in George Street, and Surgeons' Hall museum.   There was an exciting story telling evening in the flat and the session ended with 20 members being entertained to lunch at Hermiston House, and later a trip to Paxton House in the Borders.

Sir David and Lady Smith departed to Oxford in 1994 and Professor Stewart and Dr Sheena Sutherland took up office.

Some Heriot Watt wives came to the annual Talbot Rice tea party, and their Women's Group invited the club to join them on a visit to the Galashiels College of Textiles, a department of the Heriot Watt University, where a summer exhibition of computerized weaving techniques was on view.   In return, Heriot Watt wives were invited to the Talbot Rice tea party in November, and this arrangement carried on till 1997, when the tea party was changed to a sandwich lunch, and the 1998 programme mentions that wives from Napier University were also invited.  

The Women's Club welcome party to greet new members of staff was an old favourite, held at varying times over the years.   There was great debate over the timing – a date near the beginning of the first term, or later to let new staff settle in, and 6pm or 8pm?   Eventually in the mid-nineties the party was scrapped completely and a new wine and cheese party in early February was organised in the Raeburn Room.   The mid-session Raeburn party, under the eyes of the Raeburn portraits, is always great fun, with wine generously poured and wonderful eats provided by the committee, circulated till they are exhausted.   But there is a sad lack of new faces, though the veterans enjoy what is probably their once yearly meeting.

The social events are reasonably well attended, but few new members of staff are attracted.   The closure of the University Staff Club in Chambers Street perhaps marked a general decline of interest in any club.   However, at the approach of the millennium, Lady Sutherland came up with the excellent idea that the Club should plant a memorial tree, and a description of this event is included at the end.

Our Dynamic Earth, a dramatic outline of the creation of the world, was visited by the club in March 2000. and the next year there was another trip to the Royal College of Surgeons, followed by a very interesting visit to the National Monuments Record Office, which holds details of ownership of much land in Scotland.   Everything of interest is noticed and there was a particular interest in session 2001񟭂 in Chinese art.   There was a large exhibition of contemporary Chinese painting in the Talbot Rice Art Gallery and the curator of Chinese Art at the National Museum of Scotland gave a talk on the exhibition one morning.   The following spring, the same curator gave a talk in the Museum on 'Aspects of Traditional Chinese Painting'.   Later in the year, there was a walking tour to sites associated with important Scottish doctors, such as Sir James Young Simpson, who tested chloroform at his house in Queen Street, and ending at the Victorian Pharmacy in York Place.

Lord and Lady Sutherland left the University in 2002 and Professor Tim O'Shea became Principal. His wife, Professor Eileen Scanlon, kindly agreed to become the Club's President.

By the year 2003, the Royal Infirmary had moved to new premises in Little France, and the club arranged a visit to the new Medical School to see works of art, including the Alan Davie tapestry.

The last three years have seen various changes. Although the new, smaller, premises at 24 Buccleuch Place are bright and comfortable, the access up two flights of steep stairs has given problems to the less mobile club members and was a major reason for the demise of the Bridge Club.   At the other end of the age spectrum, the International Graduate Wives Club now find that mothers have to carry baby buggies upstairs together with their children. The Senior Group has not met together for the past two years through lack of support.

Recent catering regulations have affected the Club's food provision at events; home-prepared food may not be reheated. However salads and cold dishes are allowed so with a little improvisation the Playfair Lunch and the Wine and Cheese Party are as enjoyable as ever.

E-mailing has meant that all communication is so much faster; enquiries, arrangements, confirmations and 'thank yous' can all be achieved in an afternoon! This does not mean that letters and telephone calls are obsolete but that there is now an alternative.

The Club has always been in search of more effective ways to promote itself and attract more members. In March 2006 the Club membership stood at 142.   By the beginning of the 2006-7 session we hope that a new more informative website (on the University ebulletin) will provide better communication, internally and externally.

The Club offers a range of interesting events and activities plus the friendship associated with joining in any of them.

It is to be hoped that more easily available information about its existence will encourage women to come along and find out more about us.

 



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