Wednesday, 18 December 2013

MLW Biography Featured in Scotsman's Best of 2013

Exciting news! Mary Lily Walker: Visionary of Dundee, the biography written by author Eddie Small, has been named by Kirsty Gunn as one of the best reads of 2013, in The Scotsman. She wrote:
Finally, to Dundee where I teach, for a marvellously engaged story of one our great philanthropists. Mary Lily Walker: Forgotten Visionary of Dundee is by Eddie Small (Dundee University Press, £8.99), my colleague in writing studies at the university there. His book shows us how imagination and thoughtfulness can bring about change even when circumstances seem insurmountable. A great lesson for a UK society flattened by the excesses of capitalism ­ and inspiring indeed.

You can read the full article and selections HERE.

Author of the biography, Eddie Small said:
"It would have been easy for her to say some something nice about the author, seeing as we work together. But she's chosen to say nice things about the book and more importantly about Mary Lily Walker, and that's the key thing."

On hearing the news, research team member Suzanne Zeedyk said:
"I am over the moon.  Kirsty has shared my own view about the value of Mary Lily's story.  It isn't a story about yesterday.  It is a story about today — about what she still has to teach us about life, about creative solutions to massive social problems, about friendship and love.  I LOVE her story!"
If you are still looking for great Christmas gifts, its not too late to get a copy of the biography from us. Drop us an e-mail and we can post one out to arrive with you before the 25th!

Friday, 6 December 2013

New Dundee Nursery founded in the name of Mary Lily Walker

The High School of Dundee proudly announced today their plans to name their new nursery after Mary Lily Walker.  Ground work for the new-build site is now under way, with a finish date of June 2014 in mind and the first intake of children beginning in August 2014.  

Mary Lily Walker is a Former Pupil of the High School, which she attended aged 16 – 18 years (approx 1879 – 1881).  Like so much of the rest of her life, these details had been forgotten until our team began to undertake the research that has driven this project for the past two years.  The High School themselves only learned of their link to her when they heard a presentation by our team at the Dundee Rotary Club.

We celebrate Dundee High School's eagerness to mark her achievements in this way.  Although Mary Lily Walker herself would probably have been a bit embarrassed by all the public attention, she would have been delighted to know that her efforts on behalf of Dundee's children are still proving effective.

Here's some photos from the start of works, with more on our Facebook page HERE

Breaking ground for the new nursery - John Halliday Head of School, holding the spade! 

These young ones just the age that the new nursery will serve

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Mary Lily Walker and Breast Feeding

One of the exciting aspects of our Mary Lily Walker Project is the fact that it is not only a historic project. Instead, her story gives us a historic context in which we can place the debates we still have today.

This week's announcement of an initiative to increase breastfeeding rates by providing incentives to
mothers is a perfect example.

Here's a summary piece our team wrote that shows the links between the past and the present:

Breast Feeding Incentives for working mothers :

The UK has been exploring what might be helpful for more than a century

One of the stories hitting the news this week (12 November 2013) relates to a newly- launched scheme in Sheffield, in which new mothers will be offered vouchers worth up £200, to encourage them to continue to breast feed their babies for 6 months. The concern arises from the fact that the UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. An emphasis on breastfeeding is always controversial, because women feel controlled and judged, especially if they have been unable to breastfeed or decided not to. This feeling can be seen within the response to this initiative.

One of Mary Lily Walker's 'Restaurants for
Nursing Mothers (date unknown)
Our team thought it was valuable to place this scheme in a historical context. This is not the first time that boosting breastfeeding rates has been attempted by providing incentives to mothers. An attempt was made in 1906 in Dundee, when Mary Lily Walker set up the first ever ‘Restaurant for Nursing Mothers’ in Britain. Mary Lily Walker was leading the work of the Dundee Social Union, which was concerned about the appalling poverty rates in Dundee, as well as the shocking infant mortality. Dundee had the highest rate of child death in the country.

Mary Lily Walker had travelled to Paris to study the Restaurant initiative at first hand. A pioneering scheme had been put in place there by Madame Henri Coullet. According to Eddie Small, author of the recent published biography on Mary Lily Walker, she financed the initiative with her own private funds, in the hope that it would be successful enough to be taken up by the local Council and rolled out more widely. However she did not want attention drawn to her generosity, so she described the funding as coming from ‘a public spirited citizen’, and thereby kept her identity anonymous.

Dundee women in a Jute Mill, (circa late C.19th)
At the time, it was not uncommon for pregnant mothers working in the jute mills to work up to one week before giving birth and then to be back at the mill within a month after birth. Infant mortality rates for Dundee make grim reading. From 1901 onward, infant mortality rates had been falling steadily in both England and Scotland. In Dundee, though, they continued to rise until 1920. By 1920, the rates for England had dropped to 90 death per 1,000 birth. In Scotland, the rate was 99 death. But in the city of Dundee, the rate was 129 deaths per 1000. In some areas of the city social conditions were described as worse than in Calcutta – Dundee’s rival for jute production.

The Restaurant operated by providing a 3-course dinner on the condition that women brought their babies to be weighed and that the mothers did not return to work. Women who could afford to pay something toward the cost of the meal were charged 2d. Those who could not afford this were given the meal for free. The monitoring of the women was done in order to gather evidence of the effectiveness of the initiative.

Dundonian children in a close, circa C.19th
With the evidence of babies’ weight, statistical comparisons of their health could be made. By 1908 Charles Templeton, Dundee Chief Medical Officer reported that “the increasing weight of the Dinner babies [that is, the babies whose mothers were attending the Restaurant] show how much they benefit by one good meal a day being issued to the mothers.” In that year the mortality rate of babies attending one of the Restaurants was 60

per 1,000, compared to 200 for the wider district and 170 for the town of Dundee. This equates to a 300% improvement. Babies of mothers attending the Restaurant were 3 times as likely to survive to the age of 1 year.

Like today’s Sheffield scheme involving the offer of vouchers, the introduction of the Restaurant scheme was met with controversy. In 1906, the idea of keeping women from returning to their work at the mills was seen as interfering with employment patterns. There was also suspicion about snooping professional classes interfering with the privacy of families. Yet Mary Lily Walker saw herself as trying to improve the terrible conditions under which families and babies were being forced to live.

Mary Lily Walker’s first restaurant opened on 22 May 1906 in Temple Lane, with Miss Jessie Allen in charge. The second opened in March 1907 in Union Street, Maxwelltown. The town would later adopt the scheme and provide another two Restaurants. Through the work of Mary Lily Walker and the Dundee Social Union, the schemes adopted by the town led to Dundee having the first comprehensive Infant Welfare Service in the country.

Anthony Cox 1913 Empire, Industry and Class: the imperial nexus of jute , 1840-1940, Routledge
Myra Baillie 1996 Mary Lily Walker of Dundee: Social Worker and Reformer Open Dessertation McMaster University
Eddie Small 2013 Mary Lily Walker: Forgotten Visionary of Dundee, Dundee University Press
Emma Wainwright 2002 Gender, Space & Power: discourse on Working Women in Dundee Jute Industry c1870-1930. Unpubl. PhD Thesis. University of St Andrews

By Pete Kinnear & Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk
Member of the Mary Lily Walker Project Team
13 November 2013-11-13

Friday, 8 November 2013

Dundee Science Festival

5th November 2013.  We had a crowd of nearly 60 gathered at our presentation as part of the Dundee Science Festival.  The night's event was held at the McManus Galleries, which was originally built to house the 1867 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

This was the first time the Association had agreed to meet in a non-university town.  Mary Lily would take part in the Association's gathering the next time in returned to Dundee – in 1912. The full set of photos is available on our Facebook page

 The Albert Institute, built for the 1867 meeting of
 the British Association of Science

Book signing

Suzanne, enjoying the discussion

Researcher Pete Kinnear and biographer Eddie Small
taking audience question.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Further Research: Uncle James Allen

We've also been undertaking new research about Mary Lily Walker's life, to fill in the many gaps that remain in her story.

Here are some shots of the research we were undertaking in Kendal, in October.  Her Uncle, James Allen lived in Kendal, and she visited him there many times.  We have lots of letters in the archives of her correspondence to show that!

1912 Newspaper article about MLW's
Uncle, James Allen

In other news, there's cheap cheese at Leightons!

Laying the foundations for The Allen Institure in 1912

Suzanne reading up on Uncle James

The Allen Institute, Kendal, funded with
James Allen's fortune

The interior of the Allen Institute

The Kendal Library, to which some of Uncle James'
fortune also contributed

James Allen -- Painting by Frederic Yates

Dundee Literary Festival 2013

We've had an active time since our celebrations in June!  We're now involved in doing a whole series of talks to the public about her life and about Eddie Small's terrific biography.  Here's some shots of our contribution to the Dundee Literary Festival in October.

Our activity doesn't stop here however! There are more future talks scheduled, you can find out where and when on our Future Events page.

Mary Lily Walker biographer Eddie Small, in full flow

The biography itself on display

Pete Kinnear & Brett Housego in conversation with
2 attendees afterwards

Researcher Pete Kinnear, taking notes as always.

Suzanne Zeedyk and Eddie Small in conversation

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Big Thanks

A brief message from the research team:

We had a great time with all the MLW activities and thank you to everyone who joined us for any of them. We're putting up photos from all of our events this week over on our MLW Facebook page - feel free to tag yourself if you're in any of them!

Thank you very much to all of our speakers at our events, particularly the MLW conference and church service. A big thank you as well to all the organisations involved in helping the events to happen, particularly the University of Dundee, Waterstones, Dundee City Council and Grey Lodge Settlement.

It has been a pleasure sharing the story of Mary Lily Walker's life and times, and we all hope that it may in some small way inspire change that we still need today in the 21st century. Although the Mary Lily Walker Centenary is over, we are still continuing to learn and talk about Mary Lily Walker and her continuing influence. 

To get involved in the discussion you can use the Twitter hashtag #MLWproj, you can keep following us here on the Mary Lily Walker Project blog or you can also find us on Facebook

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mary Lily Walker Celebrations Start!

After long months of planning, today sees the start of 4 days of celebration for the Mary Lily Walker Centenary. There's due to be a Civic Reception for all those who've taken place in pulling together the celebrations.

You can also take part by attending the exhibition currently up in the Tower Building Foyer at Dundee University. The exhibition was designed by Brett Housego, Head of Design at Suzanne Zeedyk ltd. and features letters, images and items from the life and times of Mary Lily Walker. It will run until the 12th August and entrance is free to all.

Mary Lily was one of the first cohort of students to study at the university, back when it was known as University College Dundee and the exhibition features lab samples from her time working in the university laboratories under D'arcy Wentworth Thompson.

Also on show is part of the report into child poverty that she authored in 1905. We do hope you'll enjoy the exhibition - if you do get to catch it, be sure to let us know what you think by leaving us a comment here or on our Facebook Page.

Below are some photos of the research team installing the exhibition.

Dundee University's Matthew Jarron filling the case with artefacts.

This is how you hang an exhibition!

One suddenly realises how big the exhibition is!

The exhibition crew, from shortest to tallest:  Suzanne Zeedyk, 
Brett Housego, Matthew Jarron, Pete Kinnear

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Mary Lily Walker and Graduation 2013

Mary Lily Walker's story was told at all 6 graduation ceremonies at the University of Dundee last week, a story that was also covered by the Dundee Courier.  Principal Pete Downes spoke of her in his Graduation Speech, doing so underneath an image of her projected on the screens.  That means that last week approximately 9000 people heard something of her story.  Let's keep telling it!

Principal Pete Downes telling Mary Lily Walker's story.
Mary Lily's picture being projected to 1500 people.
 Here's what the Principal had to say:

Let me now tell you a story that vividly illustrates the richness of our history at the University of Dundee, and our commitment to transforming lives.  It is the inspirational story of one of our first graduates, Mary Lily Walker.  On this, the centenary of her death, I would like to take the opportunity to champion her achievements.

Mary Lily was not only one of the first women in Scotland to be taught in the same classroom as men, winning prizes in Botany, Biology and Embryology, but was a pioneer for social reform in Dundee and beyond.

Her innovative approach to addressing the issues facing mothers and children in Dundee at the time led her to found the UK’s first mother's restaurant, to provide sustenance for nursing mothers, to set up a women’s hospital where women could be treated by female doctors, and to set up children’s clinics in Dundee.

And the achievement for which she is best known, the founding of the Grey Lodge Settlement in Dundee, which educated social workers and offered classes and activities for children in the city, still thrives today after she willed her properties to the oranisation.
Mary Lily also wrote the highly-influential Dundee Social Union Report of 1905, which revealed the deplorable working and living conditions in Dundee, especially the dreadful infant mortality rate.  This was a publication that was talked about in Parliament, and which was influential in Liberal social reforms.

Before her death, Mary Lily went on to become one of the first women parish councillors in Dundee, and was one of only two women asked to write for the British Society for the Advancement of Science Handbook in 1912.

Mary Lily died in July 1913, four days before her fiftieth birthday, but in her short life she transformed the social conditions of women in our city and beyond.

As an institution we at the University of Dundee take inspiration from Mary Lily’s story. If each and every one of us tries to emulate her ambition, innovation, and imagination and applies those principles to the way we teach, to our research tackling complex global problems and to harness our efforts to transforming lives, then we will reach our goal of becoming Scotland’s leading university within 25 years and, who knows, maybe even less time!

As an interesting aside, we recently learned something interesting about the mace, carried at all graduations at the University of Dundee (see below). It turns out it was gifted to the University in 1913, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of St Andrews University (to which University College Dundee was once affiliated).

It was presented to the University by Mr Rudolf Polack, whose wife, Mrs Polack, was for many years on the board of the Women's Hospital started by Mary Lily Walker and colleagues. Once you start delving into the history, there are many intersections!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Mary Lily Walker: The Book is now Available!

Exciting news this week as Eddie Small's biography of Mary Lily Walker has been launched. We received the first pressings earlier last Friday - below are some pictures of author Eddie Small, publisher Anna Day and Suzanne Zeedyk with the first copies.

Eddie (author),  Anna Day (publisher) & Suzanne, clearly sharing a good joke
Suzanne, Eddie and all the lovely boxes of books!

Entitled Mary Lily Walker: Forgotten Visionary of Dundee, here's a summary of the book:

 This is a story about a remarkable woman from a city renowned for its strong women; a woman who not only brought national attention to the desperate plight of women and children in late-Victorian Dundee, but who introduced social and healthcare reform to a city she held dear. A true original, this book tells her story for the first time - her early life, her inspirations and the friendships and relationships which make her a true treasured daughter of Dundee.This is the story of a legacy which still survives one hundred years after her untimely death. This is the story that has been too long in the telling.

Copies of the book are available from:

-Dundee University Press HERE HERE
- Waterstones Dundee, who set up a beautiful display for us (see below)
- All attendees at our conference on the 29th June will receive a free copy (we've still got a few seats left, it's not too late to register!).

The lovely book display in Waterstones Dundee.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

An Exhibition, Rotary Club Presentation and a Royal Visit!


We're very excited to share with you all the news that the University of Dundee will be hosting an exhibition on Mary Lily Walker from the 21st of June all the way through to the 12th of August.

Situated in the Tower Building foyer (the tall building situated just off of the Nethergate/Perth Rd.), it'll showcase letters, documents, pictures and more about the life and times of Miss Walker. Included will be items from her time at the University, when it had just opened it's doors as the University College Dundee - including lab specimens from her work alongside Professor Wentworth D'arcy Thompson.

Entrance to the exhibition is free, and it is disabled accessible from the rear of the building.

Rotary Club Presentation

Suzanne had the pleasure this week of speaking to the Claverhouse Rotary Club about our Mary Lily Walker events.  

This was a particular pleasure because it let her highlight one of many minor characters in Mary Lily's story. Hector Turnbull owned the Claverhouse Bleachfields, situated near the Dighty Burn in Dundee. Hector Turnbull was  Mary Lily's uncle, and was a witness at the wedding of her father and mother.  Our historical research has revealed that, when her father died in 1876, Hector was most unhappy about a prenuptial agreement that they had signed, and he refused to assist in legal proceedings concerning her father's estate. We haven't yet uncovered why he was unhappy! 

You can read much more about the history we've uncovered in Eddie Small's forthcoming biography.

This little story gives a sense of the many interwoven themes in our activities — especially when one of the Rotary members commented afterward that his house overlooks the site of the Bleachfields.

Here's a few photos of Suzanne giving that talk.

Many thanks to the Rotary members who wrote afterward to say how interesting and engaging they found the presentation to be.

Royal Visit

In other exciting news, Prince Charles came to Dundee last week and found the time to visit the Grey Lodge Settlement, which Mary Lily Walker left in her will to the people of Dundee.

Interestingly, it marks the second time that a Prince of Wales has visited the settlement. During his time there, Charles was entertained with traditional dancing and got to meet many of the volunteers who help keep Grey Lodge Settlement running today, 100 years after it's inception.

A full range of photos of the visit featured in local newspaper The Courier can be found at our Facebook page HERE

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Conference Update, Mary in The News and Walking Tours

It's been a busy week for our research team, who're busy making preparations for our upcoming events. We've got much to share with you, here's some of the recent news:

Conference News
It's two weeks today until our conference Mary Lily Walker’s Footsteps: 100 years of Scotland’s Early Years Movement gets underway at the University of Dundee. Places are still available via Eventbrite (link below) at a price of £50 for students and £80 for other delegates.

The event goes on throughout the day from 9am to 4pm, with welcome coffee, mid-morning tea and lunch for all delegates. There'll be a variety of speakers from all across Scotland and beyond, including representatives from the Scottish Parliament, University of Dundee and Glasgow's Violence Reduction Unit. 

We're also pleased to announce that there will be a free copy of local author Eddie Small's new book Mary Lily Walker: Forgotten Visionary of Dundee available for all conference delegates.

Tickets can be booked via the below link:

Mary in The News

It's been a busy time for Mary Lily Walker recently, and the local newspapers have been kind enough to feature her not once, but twice. On Tuesday last week, The Courier in Dundee talked about the parallels between the current debate on sleeping alongside one's baby with the issues that Mary Lily Walker discussed back in her day over 100 years ago.

Before this, the Courier featured an article about the delightful Edwardian banquet we held in St Paul's schoolrooms earlier this month.

You can read the articles over at our Facebook page, Here and Here.

Great Walking Tours Response

A big thanks to all who attended our walking tours on Wednesday 12th of this month. We've had some excellent feedback from our walkees, and we're looking forward to showing more of you the hidden sites of early 20th century Dundee in the coming weeks. There's more tours planned for the 28th June, and some on today (15th June) if you're quick enough to grab yourself a place.

As before, tours are free of charge, take place in both morning (11am-12pm) and evening (2-3pm & 4-5pm). Each of the tours takes in a different part of Dundee, taking in different sites around the University of Dundee, City Centre and West End of Dundee respectively. Places are limited, so be sure to book your place by e-mailing We hope to see you there - here's some of the lovely things that those who joined us on the tours have said:

"I am sure that I never heard her name before, given all the things she did why haven't we ever heard her name before?

"She must have been a most remarkable woman"

"This has been most interesting and we look forward to reading more about Mary Lily"

Thursday, 13 June 2013

'Mary Lily: The Movie', walking tours & a book launch!

It's winding up to be a busy month, and we've got lots of Mary Lily Walker news to share with you as the celebration events at the end of the month grow ever closer. Here's a roundup:

Mary Lily Walker: The Movie!

If you unfortunately couldn't make it to our Edwardian charity banquet at the start of the month, you can now be there in spirit! Wonderful local film-makers Dragonreel Films were in attendance, and they've produced a short film in which they met the chefs and some of the characters in attendance. They even managed to get a brief interview with Mary Lily Walker herself! You can watch the film below:

Photos from the evening are also up on our Facebook page, which has recently been relocated to a new address at: A few pictures are featured below to give you a taste of what was an excellent night.

The full set can be found HERE - have a look and enjoy a flavour of the times.

Walking Tours
As mentioned last week, following the success of the previous walking tours, we've got some more planned. Full details are available on the poster to the right., with the next tours scheduled for this Saturday in both morning (11am-12pm) and afternoon (2-3pm). Places are limited, so if you're interested in joining us, be sure to e-mail or call on 0845 075 3694 to book your space!

Book Launch

We're very excited to be able to announce the launch of a book on Mary Lily Walker, penned by local author Eddie Small. Entitled Mary Lily Walker: Forgotten Visionary of Dundee, it's being released on the 23rd June and is full of images from the time alongside the story of Mary Lily Walker's life and legacy. Here's a description from the Dundee University Press website:
This is a story about a remarkable woman from a city renowned for its strong women; a woman who not only brought national attention to the desperate plight of women and children in late-Victorian Dundee, but who introduced social and healthcare reform to a city she held dear. A true original, this book tells her story for the first time - her early life, her inspirations and the friendships and relationships which make her a true treasured daughter of Dundee.This is the story of a legacy which still survives one hundred years after her untimely death. This is the story that has been too long in the telling.
Copies can be pre-ordered from the above link, by phoning 0845 075 3694 or by e-mailing A free copy will be available for all those registered for the Mary Lily Walker Conference on the 29th June.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Walking Tours: June

Following the success of our previous walking tours of Dundee, we've arranged some more to co-incide with the events taking place this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mary Lily Walker's death. The walks are being held in association with the Dundee Westfest - more information can be found on their website:

The tours will be taking in various historical sites related to the life and times of Mary Lily Walker around Dundee, and will be led by members of our research team. Places are limited, in order to book, e-mail

Dates for the tours are Wednesday 12th and Saturday 15th June, with one in the morning between 11AM and 12PM, and one in the afternoon between 2 and 3PM. 

The morning tours will be led by Dr David Dobson, meeting at The Howff, Barack St entrance. Afternoon tours will be led by Pete Kinnear and will meet at the DCA.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Conference Details

It's not long now until our conference, being held at The University of Dundee on the subject of Scotland's Early Years movement over the last 100 years. Tickets are still available, via the link below.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Edwardian Banquet - June 1st


The team at Heaven's Kitchen are hosting an Edwardian Banquet, on Saturday 1 June 2013 — as part of the Mary Lily Walker commemorative events.  

This amazing charity team has planned an (almost) authentic 6-course Edwardian meal.   It starts with Arbroath Smoked Haddock Souffle, moves on to Carrot & Star Anise Soup, and (almost) ends with Carse of Gowrie Raspberry and Cranachan Dessert.  

The meal takes place in the classroom of St Paul's School — one of the schools that featured in Mary Lily Walker's ground-breaking 1905 report.  The classroom has only recently been cleared, and so will rarely have been seen by the public.  But we really will be eating in the very room in which Victorian children walked barefoot across a wooden floor — and whose lives Mary Lily Walker sought to change with her dedicated work.

The Heaven's Kitchen team is made up of volunteer chefs and waiting staff, all of superb and practised skills — who are donating their time and effort to raise money for St Paul's Cathedral.  Mary Lily Walker herself attended St Paul's Cathedral and was buried from there on 5 July 1913.   So it is fitting that we join her spirit there on 1st June, to kick off what is now a month of celebrations to mark her contributions to the city of Dundee and especially to the lives of Dundee children and women.

For more on Mary Lily Walker, her life and her legacy, check out the rest of our blog here at There are still tickets available for many of the events taking place in June, so do get in touch if any other events interest you.

We've attached a flyer for the Banquet, so that you know how to book (at £35 per ticket).   Don't forget to read the bit about the 'Required Dress Code'.  :)   It should be a fabulously fun evening.

We look forward to seeing many of you on the 1st of June — as long as tickets last!