Overcoming the challenges of being a woman
Dundee women have always been a force to be reckoned with. They played an invaluable role in the city’s mills and factories and enjoyed more freedom than was typical at the time. But their skills and talents went far beyond the factory floor. This panel celebrates the achievements of some spirited women of Dundee who made their mark in vastly different ways, and who once called the city their home.
1. Dundee Women
Women have always played a major role in Dundee’s economy. In 1901, a third of Dundee’s female population was employed in the mills and, later they would also dominate the workplace at factories like Timex, NCR and Valentine’s.
2. The linen and jute mills
Women made up the majority of the workforce in Dundee’s textile industries in the 19th century because the mill-owners could pay them less than male workers.
3. Lily Thomson
Lily started work as a 15-year-old weaver in Dundee’s jute mills in the 1950s. After retiring, she volunteered at Verdant Works for several decades and proved to be an invaluable source of information.
4. Daisy Tasker
Young Daisy Tasker worked at Baxter Brothers Works, having joined Lower Dens Mill as a weaver at just 14. She organised social activities for the mill workers, including work outings, tea dances and dinner dances. The mill is now home to Hotel Indigo, and the hotel’s restaurant has been named in Daisy’s honour.
5. Emma Caird
Also known as Mrs Emma Grace Marryat, Emma’s family fortune helped to transform Dundee. She donated to the Dundee Royal Infirmary, and she contributed financially to the building of the Caird Hall.
6. Sheena Wellington
Born in Dundee in 1944, folk singer Sheena Wellington sang Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. She holds honorary degrees from the University of St Andrews, the University of Dundee, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
7. Anna Thompson Dodge
Anna Thompson was born in Dundee in 1871 and emigrated to the US city of Detroit as a child. In 1896 she married Horace Leslie Dodge, owner of Dodge Brothers Automobiles. Anna became an important philanthropist and patron of the arts and, when she died aged 99, she was one of the richest women in the world.
8. Mary Maloney
Mary was a suffragette who famously disrupted Winston Churchill’s speech in 1908 by ringing a handbell.
9. Liz McColgan
Athlete Liz McColgan grew up in Whitfield and is one of Scotland’s most successful athletes. She holds two Commonwealth gold medals, an Olympic silver medal, a World Championship gold and two London marathon titles. Her 1997 marathon time was a Scottish record until 2019, and her 10,000 metres personal best, set in 1991, was a Scottish record until 2022, when it was broken by her daughter Eilish McColgan.
10. Mrs Wallace
‘Mrs Wallace’s Pie Shop’ is the title of a photograph, captured in Hawkhill by Scottish artist Joseph McKenzie, and now owned by the National Galleries Scotland. The name Wallace is synonymous with Dundee pies and bridies, and in the early 1900s, there were seven separate Wallace bakeries.
11. Margaret Irwin
Born in Broughty Ferry in 1857, Margaret became a trade unionist and suffragette in order to improve women’s rights in the workforce.
12. Frances Wright
Frances ‘Fanny’ Wright was born in the Nethergate in 1795. As the daughter of a radical linen manufacturer, Fanny became an outspoken and free-thinking writer, lecturer and abolitionist. In the 1820s, she campaigned for equal rights, universal education, free love, birth control and the eradication of slavery. She even set up a commune near Memphis, called ‘Nashoba’, where she hoped to help enslaved people prepare for freedom.
13. Marilyn Gillies
Marilyn used her experience of being born without arms to raise awareness of the challenges faced by amputees. She stood as a political candidate in 1981, and published her autobiography, Look No Hands, in 1982.
14. Ethel Moorhead
Ethel was a trained artist and a passionate supporter of the Women’s Suffrage movement for which she was arrested many times.
15. Victoria Drummond
God-daughter to Queen Victoria, the young Victoria trained at Dundee Technical College and joined Caledon Ship Works, where she stayed until 1922. As Britain’s first female marine engineer, and the first woman to join the Institute of Marine Engineers, she sailed the world on cargo ships and tramp steamers. During the Second World War, she was awarded an MBE and the Lloyd’s War Medal for bravery at sea.
16. Cathie Connelly
After coming second in a Dundee dance competition, Cathie became the World Twisting Champion in 1964 when she danced for 102 hours.