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International Women’s Day 2024: Rector Lise Hudson’s Message

International Women's Day 2024: Rector Lise Hudson's Message

On International Women’s day 2024, I want to celebrate the work and life of just two of our amazing former pupils: Isabella ‘Marie’ Imandt (1860-1945) and Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Maxwell (1871-1946).

Marie Imandt was 10 years Bessie’s senior, but they shared the ‘grounding’ of an HSD education and, employed by DC Thomson, travelled the globe to report at a time when this was very much the preserve of men.

Marie was used to breaking glass ceilings, being the first woman to graduate with Honours as a “Lady Literate in Arts” from the University of St Andrews. Her father, Peter Imandt, was a Prussian immigrant and political activist who moved to Dundee, married Marie’s mother Anne McKenzie and taught German at HSD. Perhaps not surprisingly, Marie herself was fluent in both French and German.

Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Maxwell had journalism in her DNA. Her great grandfather was the first editor of The People’s Friend newspaper, and her father was an Editor too. Passionate about the Arts, Bessie was also determined to pursue her education beyond school, graduating from University College Dundee, which was one of very few institutions that accepted women students at the time.

Fate was to bring these two ambitious and accomplished women together in 1894 when Bessie (aged just 23) got her first job as a journalist at DC Thomson. This job was working with Marie, who had already been pioneering as a female journalist there since 1887. Their ‘project’ was a yearlong trip around the world to report on the lives of women globally! I am sure that any pair of young female journalists even 130 years (exactly) later, would still jump at the chance to fulfil such an amazing brief!

The dates also tell us something extraordinary about Marie Imandt and the founder of DC Thomson, David Coupar Thomson himself. He had become general manager of the paper only the year before he employed Marie. In fact, David had been in the year above Marie at HSD. At that time, however, they would have been educated separately at the Boys’ and Girls’ Schools respectively, but I suspect that David would have been very familiar with Marie’s credentials.  Referring to her as ‘Our Lady Editor’, the much-quoted line from David Coupar Thomson himself sums up the exceptional skills and qualities of Marie and Bessie as they set off on this important work. “These ladies are not only intrepid, but they are shrewd and observant, are possessed of undoubted literary ability, and are in complete sympathy with the stupendous task in which they are about to engage” Over the course of the year they  travelled over 26,000 miles and visited 10 countries including France, Italy, Egypt, China and Japan! Their reporting ranged from visiting a women’s prison in China and engaging with women who had travelled to Seattle as ‘mail order brides’ (You can read more about this amazing journalistic journey in Susan Keracher’s fantastic book Dundee’s Two Intrepid Ladies: A Tour Round the World by DC Thomson’s Female Journalists in 1894. (Dundee: Abertay Historical Society)

As she says “Their exploits may not have been the uncertainty of the war zone reporting of today, but given its context, their journey and mission was extraordinary enough…these women went to observe for themselves and inform those that couldn’t travel of what they saw; the truth of women’s lives”

So what is the reflection on IWD 130 years after Marie and Bessie set off on their trip. Both had received a ‘real education ‘ at HSD but they were privileged by the standards of the day, just as we all are at HSD. They travelled in relative luxury but they wanted to use their skills to open up minds and understanding to women from other corners of the globe. They were tough, intellectual, cultured and brave. Their writing reflects their contrasting and complimentary personalities. Marie was the experienced and accomplished writer. Able to articulate the emotion and bring each observation to life for the readers. Bessie was the younger, more light-hearted foil who injected a sense of humour and fun into their travels and writing. What they created was not just an extraordinary archive of two column reports and sketches filed every week for the Dundee Courier and Weekly News. The national reach of the papers gave them exposure in the London Newspapers too. They were trailblazers for the female perspective, voice and influence in the earliest days of female emancipation.

At HSD we are on edition 102 of The Columns. All 102 have had all female editors and editorial teams! It is clear why such a fantastic publication exists… the tradition of groundbreaking journalistic writing is in the very fabric of this great school.

All power to all the female journalists currently risking their lives to report from around the globe, many of them shining a light on the victims of war, so often women and children. On this IWD 2024, we celebrate all the women who’ like Marie and Bessie continue to break glass ceilings and inspire us all to do the same!

Lise Hudson


8 March 2024

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