FROM the pioneers of maternity care to Scotland’s leading suffragettes, the women of Glasgow’s Merchant City and east end helped to shape the city’s history.

A new season of women’s heritage walks, run by Glasgow Women’s Library, kicks off later this month, marking the 10th anniversary of the popular programme.

The first areas to be covered are the Merchant City on Saturday (June 10) – listen out for tales of scandal, vice, radicalism and revival – and, on June 24, the East End, where being resourceful was essential for survival.

The Merchant City tour starts on Montrose Street, now at the heart of the University of Strathclyde’s campus but once a ramshackle collection of tenements and home to Rottenrow Maternity Hospital.

Artist Joan Eardley, who was born in 1921 and died just 42 years later, was inspired by this area and the children who played on the streets, and she had studios nearby on Cochrane Street.

All that remains of Rottenrow is its entranceway, sitting proudly at the top of what is now a much-loved community garden. Pictured is Rottenrow midwife Marion McKean with her three-month-old son Anthony at a demo to protect midwifery services in Ingram Street.

The origins of Rottenrow stretch back to 1834, when the Glasgow Lying-In Hospital was established on Greyfriars Wynd. Ahead of its time, it cared not just for married women, but for the destitute, causing much raising of eyebrows.

It had an international reputation as a quality midwifery training centre. In addition, remarkable advancements in pre- and neo-natal care, including ultrasound, were piloted and developed here and risky caesarean sections were performed successfully in the 1880s - a significant development in an unhealthy city where many women found it difficult to give birth naturally due to developing rickets

Some of the women discussed on the Merchant City tour include Jenny Patrick (1884 – 1971) and Ethel Macdonald (1909 – 1960) who were instrumental in the production of the Socialist paper The Word, which published articles on topics such as family planning, peace and equality; and Kate Cranston, founder of the Ingram Street Tearooms (and the more famous Willow Tearooms on Sauchiehall Street), one of Glasgow’s first female entrepreneurs.

The tour ends at the mediaeval-looking Mercat Cross, designed by Edith Burnett Hughes (1888–1971), the first practising female architect in Scotland.

The East End walk begins at Glasgow Cross and Saltmarket, before heading down Turnbull Street, passing the Central Police station where Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested in 1914 following a rowdy suffrage meeting.

Scotland’s suffragettes have a starring role in the heritage walks, which recognise the role they played in the fight for votes for women. Their stories are incredible – such as the tale of the McPhun sisters, Margaret and Frances, who went to London in 1912 to get publicity for their cause by smashing windows and ended up in prison.

Then there was Flora Drummond, who was called The General, who was tiny but formidable, and who stood alongside Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Christabel at rallies in Glasgow; and Helen Crawfurd-Anderson and Agnes Dollan, who launched the Women’s Peace Crusade and set up the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association along with the mighty Mary Barbour, Rent Strikes heroine.

The tour also includes contemporary figures, such as Elspeth King, curator of the People’s Palace between 1974 and 1991, and Battling Betty McAllister, who fought for her local community over many years. She was recognised with a British Empire Medal in 1980 and won the Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year title in 1984. Before her death in 2009, she was rumoured to be plotting a midnight raid on Woodlands Road in the West End to return the statue of Lobey Dosser to his ancestral home in Calton Creek…..

For more information on Glasgow Women’s Library’s Women’s Heritage Walks, visit or call 0141 550 2267