Margaret Henderson Kidd #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

In 1923, when she was only 23 years old, Margaret Kidd became the first ever female Advocate in Scotland. Although I’m sad to say I never met her myself, I’ve always been impressed by her achievements. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is Choose To Challenge. With her career peppered by legal “firsts” and landmarks, I feel that Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, Q.C. is an excellent example of that idea.

black & white image of an older woman wearing a legal wig and gown. She is looking to the left and smiling slightly
Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, Q.C.
Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989, p.16

Margaret Henderson Kidd was born in Bo’ness, West Lothian on 14 March 1900 – 121 years ago! (give or take a week). She was the eldest daughter of teacher Janet Gardner Kidd (née Turnbull) and James Kidd, a solicitor and MP for West Lothian. She attended Linlithgow Academy, then studied law at Edinburgh University, graduated in 1922, and called to the Scottish bar a year later.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 finally gave women in the UK the right to vote (so long as they owned property and were over the age of 30). The following year, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 opened the legal profession to women for the first time. In an article that year, The Scotsman reported that a representative member of the Faculty of Advocates

“…declared the feeling of the Faculty to be that, although they did not think women suited for the work, there was no use protesting [the Bill] at this time of day.” The same article noted the belief that women were unlikely to become solicitors or heads of legal firms. Instead, they “would probably be found in the position of assistants, or conveyancing clerks, or heads of cash departments. While the profession in Edinburgh was conservative on the subject of legal practitioners, the general feeling was that [the Bill] should not be opposed.”

“Sex Disqualification Bill: views of the legal profession”, The Scotsman, 28 November 1919

Perhaps choosing to challenge these somewhat unwelcoming and certainly ambivalent attitudes, 23 year old Margaret Kidd entered the legal profession only a few years later.

Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989. p. 16.

When Margaret Kidd was called to the bar on the 13th July 1923, she became the first woman admitted to the Faculty of Advocates since its foundation in 1532. She would remain the only woman until Isabel Sinclair called 25 years later – coincidentally, in the same year Margaret Kidd was appointed King’s Counsel.

In 1926 The Scotsman – who were always inordinately interested in what she was wearing 🙄 – published a piece entitled “The Scottish Woman Advocate: A Talk with Miss Kidd”:

“Time was when the question of what women advocates should wear on their heads was a momentous question… As regards her dress at Parliament House – “I had a plain black frock at first,” … “until it wore out.” Then she adopted a black costume, the coat of which covers a plain white over-blouse, with a white tie. In Parliament House she replaces her coat with a dinner jacket, severe and masculine-looking, and over that, of course, her gown is worn. …Dress, Miss Kidd holds, matters very considerably to a woman speaker. It should be plain and dignified, otherwise it is apt to interfere with the effect of her speech, and distract attention from it. …”

The Weekly Scotsman, 3 March 1926
Glasgow Herald, 12 June 1926, p.7

Later in 1926 Margaret Kidd became the first female counsel to appear before the House of Lords. She acted as junior counsel in the case of Adair v Colville & Sons 1926 S.C. (H.L.) 51 with Mr MP Fraser K.C as her senior. Dean of Faculty, Mr Condie Sandeman K.C. (good name!), led the opposition. The Glasgow Herald carried a two column report of the case, which contained the following mention of Miss Kidd’s presence:

“The appeal was of exceptional interest, not only in that it raised a question of Scottish legal procedure, but also from the fact that Scotland’s first woman advocate, and the first woman barrister of any Bar to appear in the House of Lords – Miss Margaret H Kidd – was briefed in it on behalf of the appellant”

Glasgow Herald, 12 June 1926, p.7

After the death of her father in 1928 brought about a by-election, Margaret Kidd was the first woman in West Lothian to stand for election to the House of Commons.

“Miss Kidd gave her first election speech to a crowded gathering of between 800-900 people at the Corn Exchange in Bathgate. A journalist reporting in the Scotsman commented upon Margaret Kidd’s “quiet, confident, matter-of-fact style of speech.” Her political arguments and knowledge were also commended.

Margaret Kidd’s by-election campaign gathered momentum when she was joined on the platform by Britain’s first female MP, Lady Astor. Nancy Astor spoke at both Bathgate and South Queensferry where she made reference to female suffrage. During her speech she joked that some of the men in the House of Commons hoped she would be the first and the last female MP. She also stated that she was campaigning for Miss Kidd both because she had been fond of her father, but also because she wanted to get another woman into the House of Commons.”

Sutherland, Women & Democracy: the West Lothian story, p. 21-22

Margaret did not win that by-election and didn’t stand for Parliament again, although she retained an interest in politics.

In 1930 she married Donald Somerled MacDonald, WS. They had a daughter named Anne. Alongside her successful law practice, Margaret Kidd was an assistant lecturer in public law at Edinburgh University, and during the 1930s became a founder member of the Stair Society and Secretary to the Poor’s Court Aid Committee. She served as editor of the Court of Session Reports from 1942-76. During World War II she helped organise Christmas treats and functions for the families of men serving in the 14th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, especially the 39th Battery commanded by her brother Col. J. T. Kidd.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 28 December 1948.
Image copyright: The British Newspaper Archive.

Margaret Kidd was appointed the UK’s first female King’s Counsel in 1948, the year before the first two female K.Cs were appointed to the English bar. It is worth noting here that Frances Moran had been appointed Senior Counsel to the Irish bar back in 1941.

For 13 years (from 1956 to 1969), Margaret Kidd (by now a Queen’s, rather than King’s Counsel) served as the first female Keeper of the Advocates Library. As such she was the first woman to hold a position as Office Bearer within the Faculty. Again, she remained the only female office bearer for many years. It wasn’t until 2004 that Valerie Stacey, Q.C. became Vice-Dean of the Faculty.

When Margaret Kidd, Q.C. was appointed Sheriff Principal of Dumfries and Galloway in 1960, this was yet another first for her – the first female Sheriff. She served as Sheriff in Dumfries and Galloway from 1960 to 1966, and then in Perth and Angus from 1966 until 1974, when she retired. To mark the 50th anniversary of her historic admission, the Faculty of Advocates held a dinner in her honour. In 1975 she was awarded the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She received honorary degrees from Dundee University in 1982 and from Edinburgh in 1984.

Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989. p. 16.

Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd, Q.C. died on 22 March 1989. She had just turned 89 years old. Mr David Hope, then Dean of the Faculty, said:

“Her success was won by strength of character, courage and integrity and it is a mark of her true qualities that, despite what might seem to be the revolutionary nature of her achievement, she always held the affection and respect of those around her”.

Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989, p.16


Woman’s historic legal selectionBBC News. 24 November 2004

The Faculty of Advocates

Scottish Judicial and Legal Dress at Court. Faculty Archives, Ref. 68/3

First Hundred Years

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Scottish case in House of Lords, The Glasgow Herald, 12 June 1926, p.7

Scotland’s First Woman Sheriff”The Glasgow Herald. 25 March 1960. p. 1. 

Leaders in law and public service”The Glasgow Herald. 14 June 1975. p. 3. 

Royal visitor at graduation”The Glasgow Herald. 17 July 1982. p. 3

Dame Margaret Kidd, pioneer of women in law, dies aged 89. The Glasgow Herald. 27 March 1989, p.16

McRobert, A bar removed: Legal pioneers: Margaret Henderson Kidd, Scotland’s first and for 25 years only female advocate, The Journal, vol 59 issue 10, 20th October 2014

Scotland’s History: Dame Margaret Henderson Kidd QC”. 14 March 2017.

Sex Disqualification Bill: views of the legal profession, The Scotsman, 28 November 1919 (Newspaper Cuttings, 1917-1921, p.103. Faculty Archives.)

The Scottish Woman Advocate: A Talk with Miss Kidd, The Weekly Scotsman, 3 March 1926 (Newspaper Cuttings, 1923-1937, p. 10. Faculty Archives.)

Sutherland, Women & Democracy: the West Lothian story, p. 21-22

Walker, The Faculty of Advocates 1800-1986: A biographical directory of members admitted from 1 January 1800 to 31 December 1986. 1987.

Frances Moran – Wikipedia

Lights, camera, action!

Ah, the dear auld Cam. I have many fine memories of this place – particularly the Sunday double bills. Also, I’m re-watching Jacques Tati movies and – obviously – The Illusionist is on my list. It was a mildly surreal experience to be watching that film in the Cameo…and to see the Cameo appear onscreen 🙂

Tales of One City

The last few months of closed cinemas have been a melancholy sight in Edinburgh. Our latest story on Our Town Stories offers the chance to reminisce about going to the pictures, with a hope that we’ll be able to return to them again soon.

From the first purpose-built cinema built in 1912 to the new Everyman Cinema which will be part of the new St James Quarter development, Edinburgh has a long history of going to the cinema.

We have also produced some very famous faces of the silver screen. We all know about Sean Connery, but we highlight some other familiar faces born in Edinburgh too.

Cameo Cinema

Our newest story on Our Town Stories takes you on a virtual tour of Edinburgh’s cinemas past and present, taking in some famous Edinburgh film locations along the way.

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On this day…Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches

Copied from Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches on Facebook:

William Burke was executed in Edinburgh on this day in 1829. He was convicted of killing 16 people and selling their corpses to Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures.

Burke originally hailed from County Tyrone in Ireland and moved to Scotland in 1818 where he worked as a labourer on the Union Canal. Burke met Irish-born William Hare when he went to Midlothian to work on the harvest. They became friends and Burke moved into Hare’s lodging house in Edinburgh in 1827. When an elderly man died in the lodgings owing rent, Burke and Hare took the body from the coffin and sold it to Knox.

After this, they started enticing people to the lodging house where they would ply them with alcohol before smothering them and selling their corpses. After being caught by the police in October 1828, Hare turned king’s evidence and avoided being executed. Burke was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

In this recording from 1952, John Strachan from Fyvie in Aberdeenshire sings the song ‘Burke and Hare’ which is purported to contain the last words of William Burke – listen here

William Burke as he appeared at the bar. Taken in court. Portrait by George Andrew Lutenor (c. 1829). In the public domain.

Scottish novels to look forward to in 2021

The Scottish Book Trust has done a round-up of novels to look out for in 2021. They all seem pretty great but the standout ones for me are:

  • A new Christopher Brookmyre!!! (called The Cut)
  • The Dark Remains by Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney
  • The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu
  • This One Sky Day by Leone Ross
  • Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles
  • Jenni Fagan’s Luckenbooth

You can read the Book Trust’s full list here

Tartan on TV

I have seen the Tartan Register! With my very ane een. It was strangely affecting

Open Book

Today, Ross Truslove looks at tartan designs in the Scottish Register of Tartans, which was created by the Scottish Parliament in 2008 as a single independent register to promote and preserve information about historic and contemporary tartans from Scotland and throughout the world…

This design is the MacDuck tartan – recorded with a predecessor of the Scottish Register of Tartans by Walt Disney Enterprises in 1942 and later incorporated into the modern Register.

It was designed for “the ancient MacDuck” clan – best known for the miserly Scrooge MacDuck, who later featured in movies including Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a cartoon that I remember watching with my brother at Christmas over thirty years ago.

It seems strange to say it now but when I was a child, one of the most exciting things about Christmas was the day the television guide arrived at the house.

My brother and I would pore…

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The tiny coffins of Arthur’s Seat

Another update post:

Watching a classic episode of Weir’s Way the other day, Tom was in Applecross and related a local story regarding notorious body-snatcher William Hare (the one who turned King’s Evidence and got off). Local legend had it that after the trial Hare did not in fact go to London, but to Applecross instead. He married a local woman and lived out his life peacefully as a weaver. I have done zero investigation on the truth of this…but I do love a good story.

A Very Fine Library

three tiny coffins in NMS display image: National Museums Scotland

Chatting with a colleague today, he told me he was planning to climb Arthur’s Seat to the Salisbury Crags, while off work next week. Something he’s never done before. I said he should also try to find “the spot where the wee coffins were discovered” and he had no idea what I meant. Neither did the next person I mentioned it to… or the next.

This is really surprising to to me since I honestly thought everybody knew this story. I thought is was part of Edinburgh lore, like Deacon Brodie, Burke & Hare or Greyfriar’s Bobby. I thought is was known.

I do not recall how I learned this story myself. I do know that when Ian Rankin mentioned it in his Rebus story “The Falls, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Did my dear grandad tell me…

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The (slightly updated) history of the Faculty Mummy

I was recently asked to write a short piece – based on my post The sad history of the Faculty Mummy – for the Scottish Egyptology society newsletter. I gratefully accepted, and took the opportunity to update the story a little by investigating what exactly Dr. Sandison discovered when he was “working on the histology of such remains”. With thanks to Egyptology Scotland for the inspiration to dig a little deeper [archeology pun]

The sad history of the Faculty Mummy

As published in Scottish Pharaonic: Newsletter of Egyptology Scotland, September 2020 Vol. 20 Issue 2

Once upon a time a man lived, died, and was mummified in ‘late period’ Egypt. We know little more about him – except that death was only the beginning of his story…

The Earl of Morton
In 1748 James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton presented an Egyptian mummy to the Faculty of Advocates.[1] It is unclear why the Earl bestowed this gift but it was duly accepted by the Faculty and “set up in their Library”.[2]

The Advocates Library was never a repository for books alone. From earliest times Members of Faculty collected artworks and curios alongside books and manuscripts. The Mummy was probably resident in the Laigh Hall when Samuel Johnson toured the Library in August 1773, though (advocate and biographer) James Boswell failed to mention him.   

The life of Samuel Johnson: including A journal of a tour to the Hebrides, Volume 1, James Boswell, 1832, p. 333

In his Handbook to the Parliament House (1884) Faculty Treasurer James Balfour Paul makes passing yet poetic reference to:

“An old mummy…[who] slumbers in a dark corner as calmly as if it were in the tombs at Memphis”  (p.78)

Pharaoh’s Daughter
During its time in the “dark corners” the Faculty Mummy suffered more indignities than an Egyptian gentleman should. From partial unwrapping, to bayonet target for the Members’ Rifle Corps! During this time too, the male Mummy became known as “Pharaoh’s Daughter”. He did have a standing invitation to the Faculty’s Annual Dinner where (we are told) there were songs and toasts to the health of the Pharaoh’s Daughter.

The Scotsman, 2 June 1958, page 4

The Mummy nobody wants
Eventually it was decided the Faculty didn’t need an Egyptian Mummy anymore. He was offered to the Royal Scottish Museum in 1906 but after examination the poor Mummy was “found to be in a condition unsuitable for exhibition” [3]

In 1954 the Faculty tried again to rid itself of the unwanted artefact. Cyril Aldred – assistant keeper of  Art and Ethnology at the Royal Scottish Museum – examined the Mummy and returned a brief though scathing report:

“The case is dilapidated beyond hope of recovery having lost its entire outer and inner surfaces: in addition the lid is missing… The mummy itself appears at one time to have been unwrapped and then re-wrapped, a cloth of modern type replacing the outer most wrappings.  It is difficult to be certain of this, however, as the liberal coating of grime tends to obscure such niceties… If [the Faculty Mummy] is never seen again by mortal eye, I can assure you that neither science, scholarship nor aesthetics will suffer in consequence” [4]  

Attempts were made to locate other museums willing to take him – none were found. ‘For sale’ ads in newspapers brought no takers. When the Faculty at last tried to throw the Mummy away, even the Council cleansing department refused to uplift on the grounds it was human remains – but remains which could not be buried without a death certificate!

In May 1958 The Scotsman published a piece entitled “Riddle of the mummy nobody wants”. The amusing article detailed the farcical trouble the Faculty was experiencing in its efforts to dispose of the artefact [5].  

Subsequently, the story was picked up around the world and the Faculty began receiving letters. While some correspondents wrote with (un)helpful advice on the situation, many offered the Mummy a new home (with varying degrees of credibility).

One, according to the Clerk of Faculty, had “a much more respectable offer than the others.” [6] Dr AT Sandison, a lecturer and radiologist at Glasgow University’s Pathology Department, was keen to take the mummy off the Faculty’s hands. He had “been working on the histology of such remains” and would be willing to collect.[7] On the 18th June 1958 the Faculty accepted Dr Sandison’s offer and in August the Mummy left the Advocates Library for the last time.

The Sandison Collection
At the Forty-First meeting of the Scottish Society of the History of Medicine, Dr. Sandison read a paper entitled “A pathologist looks at Egyptian mummies”:

“I spent some time in the Middle East while serving in the R.A.M.C., partly at 63rd B.G.H. near Cairo and was able to visit not only the important sites at Gizeh, Memphis and Sakkarah, but also the wonderful collections in the Cairo Museum. After my return to civil life, I was reluctant to abandon all interest in Egyptology and decided that, as a pathologist in a University department, I might investigate histological structure of Egyptian mummies, this being a study in which laboratory medicine and Egyptology come together. Through the kindness of the curators of several Scottish museums, I was able to obtain samples of mummy tissues and began a series of studies which have not been without interest…” [8]

Dr. Sandison published various medical works on mummies. Articles such as “The eye in the Egyptian mummy”(1957) [9]  and “Diseases in Ancient Egypt” (1980). [10]   When he died his accumulated antiquities passed into the care of The Burrell Collection in Glasgow. When I contacted Senior Curator Simon R Eccles in 2008, he confirmed receipt of ‘The Sandison collection’ in 1982 – but had no information about the Faculty Mummy. He did tell me about two mummies they had in storage, neither with proper provenance… nor a head.

He described the headless artefacts as follows: 

  • One female; her wrappings in good condition, with decoration – like painted jewellery – around her neck and wrists
  • The other male; in such bad condition he was little more than a skeleton…

I have a feeling that tatty auld bag of bones is the former Faculty Mummy. 

So, there you have it. The sad history of the Faculty Mummy: shuffled from one dusty corner to another; prodded with pointed instruments; and now, (probably) headless and in storage. We should be thankful he’s not the sort of mummy who comes with a curse.

still from The Mummy’s Curse (1944), Universal Pictures Corporation

[1] ‘The affair of Lord Morton’s Mummy’, Iain Gordon Brown, Egypt through the eyes of travellers, Starkey and Kholy (eds), 2002, p.95
[2] Minute Book of the Faculty of Advocates, volume 2, 1713-1750, The Stair Society, 1980, page 237-238
[3] Faculty Records, 14 June 1906
[4] Letter from Cyril Aldred to William Beattie, 13 July 1954, [Faculty of Advocates ‘Mummy file’]
[5] The Scotsman,
26th of May 1958, page 8
[6]  Letter from AT Sandison to the Secretary, Faculty of Advocates, 27 May 1958 and a note (on a compliment slip) from RDI, 28 May 1958 [Faculty of Advocates ‘Mummy file’]
[7] ibid.
[8] Dr. A.T. Sandison, “A pathologist looks at Egyptian mummies”, The Scottish Society of the History of Medicine, REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS SESSION 1961-62, p. 8-14
[9] A.T. Sandison, “The eye in the Egyptian mummy”, Med Hist. 1957 Oct; 1(4): 336–339
[10] A.T. Sandison, “Diseases in Ancient Egypt” in Mummies, Disease, and Ancient Cultures, Cockburn (1980), p.29-44