Louisa Lumsden

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Louisa Innes Lumsden
Dame Louisa Lumsden by Bassano (he died 1913).png
on 4 July 1925 by Bassano Ltd
Born31 December 1840
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Died2 January 1935 (1935-01-03) (aged 94)
EducationGirton College, Cambridge
OccupationHeadmistress St Leonards School (1877-82)
Known forGirton pioneer. Campaigner for equality for women in education.
AwardsHonorary LL.D (St.A.)
HonoursDBE (Dame of the British Empire)

Dame Louisa Innes Lumsden DBE (31 December 1840 – 2 January 1935) was a Scottish pioneer of female education.[1] Lumsden was one of the first five students Hitchen College, later Girton College, Cambridge in 1869 and one of the first three women to pass the Tripos exam in 1873.[2] She returned as the first female resident and tutor to Girton in 1873.[3] From 1877-82, Lumsden became the first Headmistress of St Leonards School, Fife, and first warden of University Hall, University of St Andrews which opened in 1896.[4] She is credited with introducing lacrosse to St Leonards.[5][6]

In 1908, Lumsden was asked to become the President of the Aberdeen branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).[7] When Scottish suffrage organisations organised the planting of The Suffragette Oak to mark some women getting the vote in 1918, Lumsden at age 78 was given the 'honour' of planting the tree.[8]

Early life[edit]

Louisa was third daughter and youngest of seven children of Clements Lumsden, Aberdeen advocate and Writer to the Signet, and Jane, née Forbes.[9][10] After her father's death in 1853, when she was 12, Louisa's mother moved temporarily to Cheltenham and Louisa attended a private school there, then becoming a boarder at the Château de Koekelberg, Brussels, which she left in 1856 for a smaller school in London.[9][10] She returned to live with her family in Glenbogie, Aberdeenshire in 1857.[10][3]

University education[edit]

Lumsden in 1868–1869 attended classes of the Edinburgh Ladies Education Association with lectures by University of Edinburgh professors,[11][10] though women students were still not awarded full degrees.[12]

A college for women was established by Emily Davies in 1869 in Hitchin, 27 miles from Cambridge, as the first for women students studying for the Cambridge Tripos examinations on equal terms with men.[13] As Girton College it moved to new buildings on its present site in 1873.[14]

Girton Pioneers college song.
Girton Pioneers college song commemorating the first three women to gain the Cambridge Tripos

Louisa Lumsden was one of the first five students to be taught at Hitchin and one of the first three female students to sit unofficial University of Cambridge Tripos examinations in Lent term 1873, the others being Rachel Cook and Sarah Woodhead. The three were commemorated in song as the Girton Pioneers.[15]

Louisa Lumsden is recorded as a student at Girton in 1869–1872, a tutor in 1873–1874 and recipient of the Classical Tripos in 1892.[4] She resigned her post as tutor after conflicts with Emily Davies over neglect of student welfare.[16]

St Leonards School[edit]

The girls school founded in St Andrews, Fife, in 1877 had Louisa Lumsden for its first headmistress (1877–1882).[17][18] St Leonards was the first school for young women in Scotland modelled on an English public school; the curriculum included classics, mathematics and sports.[19] Before this Lumsden had taught classics at Cheltenham Ladies College (1876–1877).[9] Her close friend from her Cambridge days, Constance Maynard, accompanied her from Cheltenham to St Andrews and helped to set up the school.[9] Maynard left in 1880 to become the first principal of Westfield College (1882–1913). Lumsden resigned as head in January 1882, citing ill health. Frances Dove, who had also studied at Girton and taught at Cheltenham, replaced her.[10]


Lumsden, in a letter home from the White Mountains in New Hampshire dated 6 September 1884, described how the Canghuwaya Indians played lacrosse against the Montreal Club in Montreal: "It is a wonderful game, beautiful and graceful. (I was so charmed with it that I introduced it at St Leonards.)"[10] Rosabelle Sinclair, who established the first women's lacrosse team in the United States, having attended St Leonards in 1906–1910, established lacrosse for girls at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland.[20]

University Hall[edit]

University Hall, the first residential hall for women students in Scotland, was founded at St Andrews University in 1896; Louisa Lumsden was appointed its first warden.[19] The intention was to create a Scottish version of Girton, but it met some resistance from men and some of the female students it was intended for. Lumsden resigned her post in 1900.[9]

Women's emancipation[edit]

In 1908 Louisa Lumsden accepted an invitation to become president of the Aberdeen Suffrage Association.[9][10] She was a non-militant suffragist and provided a caravan called "Curlew", used by campaigners to travel about the country.[21] In 1913 she spoke at a rally in Hyde Park, London, on behalf of the Scottish branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and later became one of the vice-presidents of the Scottish Churches' League for Woman Suffrage.[9][22] She was the one who planted The Suffragette Oak in Glasgow, which was chosen as tree of the year in 2015.[23]


Louisa Lumsden was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws (LL.D) by St Andrews University at its Quincentenary celebrations in 1911.[19] Under a Girton College charter, Louisa Lumsden was made a life governor in 1924.[4] Nationally, she was created a Dame in 1925.[4]

The Lumsden Club is named in her honour; its members are current female students at the University of St Andrews, its objective charitable fundraising.[24]

At The University of St Andrews a wing of University Hall is named after Lumsden.[25][3]

Memorial plaque to Louisa Lumsden in Aberdeen to commemorate where she worked at 214 Union Street, Aberdeen , AB10 1TL.[26]


  1. ^ Lumsden, Louisa Innes (1933). Yellow leaves: memories of a long life. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons. p. 1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  2. ^ Lumsden, Louisa Innes (1933). Yellow leaves: memories of a long life. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons. pp. 46–55.
  3. ^ a b c The new biographical dictionary of Scottish women. Elizabeth Ewan. Edinburgh. 2018. p. 253. ISBN 978-1-4744-3629-8. OCLC 1057237368.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Stephen, Barbara (1933). Girton College 1869-1932. Cambridge: CUP Archive. p. 185.
  5. ^ "History of Lacrosse at St Leonards". STLeonards-Fife.org. Archived from the original on 6 May 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
  6. ^ Elizabeth J. Morse, “Lumsden, Dame Louisa Innes”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [1]
  7. ^ Lumsden, Louisa Innes (1933). Yellow leaves: memories of a long life. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons. p. 170.
  8. ^ Lumsden, Louisa Innes (1933). Yellow leaves: memories of a long life. Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons. p. 183.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Morse, Elizabeth J (2004). "Louisa Lumsden". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/48571. Retrieved 29 September 2017. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Lumsden, Louisa Innes (1933). Yellow Leaves: Memories of a Long Life. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons. pp. 1, 16–25, 26, 42, 62, 81 and 170.
  11. ^ "Foundation of Edinburgh Ladies Education Association, 1868 - Our History". ourhistory.is.ed.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  12. ^ Dyhouse, Carol (1995). No distinction of sex? : women in British universities, 1870-1939. London: UCL Press. ISBN 1857284593. OCLC 31936358.
  13. ^ "The colleges and halls: Girton | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  14. ^ "College History - Girton College, University of Cambridge". 8 April 2012. Archived from the original on 8 April 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  15. ^ "The Girton Pioneers - Girton College, University of Cambridge". 24 April 2012. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  16. ^ Rita McWilliams-Tullberg, Women at Cambridge: a men's university, though of a mixed type, Gollancz 1975, p. 66.
  17. ^ "St Leonards - History". www.stleonards-fife.org. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Biographical Register 1747-1897". arts.st-andrews.ac.uk. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  19. ^ a b c "Trailblazing Women at the University of St Andrews: A Celebration for International Women's Day". Echoes from the Vault. 7 March 2017. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  20. ^ "History of Bryn Mawr School". brynmawrschool.org. Archived from the original on 1 July 2008. Retrieved 18 July 2008.
  21. ^ Elizabeth., Crawford (2001). The women's suffrage movement : a reference guide, 1866-1928. London: Routledge. p. 96. ISBN 0415239265. OCLC 44914288.
  22. ^ A Guid Cause Maks a Strong Arm. Edinburgh City Libraries. 2009. p. 50.
  23. ^ "Roll of honour: Ten Scottish women who fought for the right to vote". The National. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  24. ^ "The Lumsden Club". lumsdenclub.co.uk. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  25. ^ "University and Whitehorn Halls | Accommodation Overview". University and Whitehorn Halls | Accommodation Overview. Retrieved 23 April 2022.
  26. ^ "Plaque to Louisa Innes Lumsden | Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland". womenofscotland.org.uk. Retrieved 23 April 2022.

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