by Cecily Giles

During the period 1973 to 2005, the Forty Group has continued its successful meetings, with 'highs' of sustained quality activities and 'lows' of declining membership, reflecting those of the Women's Club as a whole. Since 1985, there has been a slow decline in membership, with the sad death of many Forty Group stalwarts, in greater numbers than the welcome additions of new members achieved in the last seven years.

In 1977-78, when there was still a waiting list for members, the Group 'Management Team' consisted of a Convener, a Programme Organiser, two Correspondence Secretaries and a Treasurer! Programmes could rely on many volunteers to contribute to themes for a session, with specialist material composed to fit. By 1990/91, Julia Campbell was nobly fulfilling the joint roles of Convener, Secretary and Treasurer, and this pattern has continued. Julia also contributed many papers.

By 1981, there was still a full quota of 40 members and in 1983 the average attendance was 22, when the Group celebrated its 50th anniversary, with a golden cake provided by Mrs Shepperson. In 1991, average attendance was 20 and is now 12. Greater use is now made of one-off talks, provided by busy members who can concentrate on their own area of interest or expertise. Membership is now about 22.

Some of the wonderful themes pursued were 'Childhood', 'Edinburgh', 'Highlands and Islands', 'Women in Education', ;Mothers and Famous Children'. How we wish we had the original papers fulfilling these themes.

In the Edinburgh programme, the late Betsy Uldall gave an outstanding presentation on Edinburgh Statues, with beautiful photographs taken by herself. More recently, we have been able occasionally to sustain a theme for 2 or 3 meetings, including one on 'Personalities of the 18th Century and Onwards' and one on 'The Millennium', including a Millennium Summer Party in Abden House using some of the Group funds.

We have had special meetings to celebrate the Royal Golden Jubilee and the enlargement of the European Community.

Individual talks have all been splendid and it is almost invidious to name particular ones, but especially remembered are the late Lady Ritchie Calder's reminiscences of her childhood in Glasgow, as the daughter of a busy GP, Eileen Crofton's talk on 'The Women of Royaumont', Brenda Moon on 'Working with Philip Larkin' (during her period as Deputy Librarian of Hull University when he was Librarian), 'The Carron Works' by Katherine Robertson, a descendant of the founding family. Anne Robson on 'Recollections of a Journalist during the 50s and 60s', and Doreen Dinwoodie on 'Aspects of the History of the Fishing Industry in East Fife', with which she had close family links.

Two events should be specially recorded. First, the very sad death, in office, of Barbara McIntosh, our Secretary, in May 1988 and second, our first and only male guest speaker, Professor Ruthven (on Robert Louis Stevenson and Education) in 1986-87. His wife was an active member of the Group.

As always, the Group has been blessed by wonderful Conveners and Secretaries and is also indebted to a large number of kind hostesses, many opening their houses on a number of occasions. In this category special reference must be made to three whose hospitality was unfailing and oft-repeated - the late Birgitte Taylor (also a Convener and Speaker), Hilary Flenley (who did two spells as Convener and contributed many papers) and Jean Lowther (who also contributed papers).

For many years, a most happy joint Summer Party was held with the Book Club, but the Millennium Party was the last of these.

POSTSCRIPT: The Group requested that the following vivid note on its founding and early years should be included, partly to correct inaccuracies in the first volume of the history.

Extract from Report by Mrs A F Giles
(perhaps at the 20th Birthday celebrations in 1953)

In the autumn of 1933, a small company of would-be 40-Groupers met in Miss Sargean's room in Masson Hall to discuss the possibilities of forming a literary Group. Mrs Godfrey Thomson took the Chair. Mrs AF Giles was elected Convener of the Group (an office she held for many years, including World War II and beyond) and Mrs Godfrey Thomson was the first Secretary.

(The limitation of 40 members was to permit entertainment in members' homes! Every member had to be willing to contribute to the Group's activities.)

I began on a serious note and persuaded Mrs Kennedy to talk on 'Modern Poets'. We met in Lady Holland's house. (The wife of the Principal) She was very kind to us and later invited us to arrange some charades at her house.

We had our second meeting a month later and read the first of many plays, 'Androcles and the Lion'. Memorable parts were taken by Mrs Godfrey Thomson, who mounted a huge stool and addressed the people in a raucous voice, and by Miss Sergeant, performing as the snake. Mrs Eason accused me of choosing my readers with devilish craftiness. As a matter of fact, I chose my readers for voice and vivacity alone.

Dear Mrs Kemp-Smith was our hostess in March 1934 and some months later she took the Chair at a 'Symposium of Modern Art' in Carlyle Hostel, where we had many happy meetings, including a reading of 'Julius Caesar'.

In that summer we read "Midsummer Night's Dream" (severely cut) at Tipperlinn House. There were so many kind hostesses and a wonderful series of talks by members: and occasions when members 'reviewed' books read recently.

(Mrs Giles' list of subjects and speakers has now been lodged in the Library's Special Archives)

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