Go Home And Sit Still

Inspirational local women tell tales of their favourite inspirational women to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month…

When Scots doctor and active suffragist, Elsie Inglis suggested that women doctors and nurses be sent to the Western Front during the Great War, she was famously told by the War Office: ‘My Good Lady, go home and sit still.’ Having already established, in 1894, a maternity hospital for the poor of Edinburgh, Elsie Inglis took no heed.  She raised thousands of pounds to set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals Unit, which provided medical facilities across Europe, all staffed by women.  She, herself, led a team to Serbia.

Hundreds of years earlier, her antagonists might have wished the same of Eleanor of Acquitaine, mother of Richard I, and one of the most powerful women in Western Europe during the Middle Ages.  Then, in the 1780s, had William Herschel provided similar advice, instead of a telescope, to his sister, Caroline, their mutual discoveries in astronomy might never have been so far-reaching – in all senses of the word.

Three inspirational women living worlds apart.  Fast forward to the present day, and there is no shortage of contemporary role models.  The phenomenal story of writer, JK Rowling, is frequently recounted.  Alongside her, are other women, perhaps less well known but equally important.  Take Olivia Giles, Founder and Chief Trustee of the Scottish charity, 500 miles.  Or Fay Holmes, nominated by her colleagues for thirty years of outstanding service as a Domestic Assistant at Edinburgh University.

One of the traits common to all women who inspire us, is surely their ability to rise to a challenge. We thrive on what the human spirit can do: seeing a struggle out of adversity, results attained from sheer determination and perseverance, the effects of courage, and a little imagination. Perhaps, on some level, we all want to make a difference – and these women already have.  I have a sneaking suspicion too, that the influence of these extraordinary women, equally arises from the fact that they don’t see themselves as anything other than ordinary; like you, like me.

Changing the world isn’t for everyone, but changing our own micro-worlds may be. Ann Vahle and Judy Cameron are not household names but they are women whose lives have had a lasting effect on the people around them.   Judy Cameron was the head teacher of Farnley Junior School, North Yorkshire, in the mid-sixties.  A Scotswoman who wore her tartan with pride, taught the fifteen or so pupils shinty and excelled in teaching English, in reading and story-writing.

Ann Vahle was, among so many other things, a grandmother who lived at the top of an Aberdeen tenement and couldn’t get down unless carried.  She had a strong interest in politics and despised most of the top Tories of her day.  Her granddaughter, Elizabeth, remembers how, if Ann needed cheering up, she would say: ‘Gran, did you hear Churchill’s speech on the radio?  He was amazing!’ The older woman would immediately find sufficient energy to expound knowledgeably all the left-wing thinking of the day.  The legacy of Ann Vahle, like Judy Cameron and so many others, – who she was and how she was – shaped lives.

Maybe it takes an inspirational woman to know one.  These suggestions, in honour of International Women’s Day (today, 8th March) have come from a selection of women – living in the Lothians or readers of Lothian Life – who are all quietly inspirational in their own right. They might be leading ‘ordinary’ lives but what they have achieved, and still have to achieve, knows no bounds…

She exists. She has a name. I choose not to reveal it. She exists now.  She exists then. The then becomes now; the now will become then. She is inspirational. She wouldn’t call herself that. That’s not her nature. She married at eleven. She had no choice in conjugal rights.  He never knew the pain of ruptured hymen, twisted tubes and a mangled uterus. But his manhood was in question. Who wants a barren woman? His mother found another bride, older and more fertile.  The child bride, sent home, crushed.  But not beaten.  Her spirit soared to highest spheres and found a cause. Years passed, selfless love poured out to hapless girls, shelter and education.  She did not shy from poverty, political agitation, intimidation. Undaunted, her spirit strong, her life’s work, sustained by that first vision. Her legacy, born out of sorrow, lights a road for the fragile and motivates the ambitious. 

Hold that vision for International Women’s Day.

If there is an inspirational woman in your life to whom you would like to pay tribute here, please use the Comments Box below!

With thanks to: Elizabeth Garrett, Liz Power, Joyce Gunn, Marie Campbell, Coreen Connell, Elizabeth Nallon, Elspeth Anderson, Georgia March, Irene Livingstone and Sheila Corrigan:  inspirational women all.

(Re-posted for International Women’s Day, 8th March, 2019)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *