The Nineties

fin de siècle
Glasgow past and present
the Club in the 1990s

Fin de Siècle

1990 saw the UK in a serious and deepening recession. Unemployment continued to rise reaching 2.5 million in 1991 and industrial output and house prices fell. Housing repossessions rose to 80,000 in 1991. The Guinness takeover scandal ended with fines and prison sentences for some of Britain's top businessmen, indicating that all was not well in the higher levels of commerce. There was also bad news in public health. By the end of 1990, 307,379 AIDS cases had been reported by 157 countries to the World Health Organisation and an estimated 10 million people were HIV infected worldwide. The United Kingdom accounted for 4098 of the AIDS cases.

In November 1990 Ireland got her first woman President when Mary Robinson, a well-known constitutional lawyer, was appointed. Five days later Margaret Thatcher the most famous woman politician in British history was ousted from power and, before the end of the month, John Major, the boy from Brixton had made it to the top of the greasy pole. His premiership, tenaciously held since then, has been plagued by internal differences in the Tory party, while the Labour party has seen the rise of Tony Blair who appears to succeed in getting that troublesome organisation to do just what he wants. 1991 saw the end of the Gulf war, to which Britain sent troops, the watery end of Robert Maxwell (did he jump or was he pushed?) and the joyful liberations of Terry Waite and John McCarthy. In 1992 Andrew Morton published his book on Diana, Princess of Wales, the first shot in a media campaign which has almost destroyed the prestige of the Royal Family. Time will tell whether a 1000 year old institution can be destroyed by the manipulation of popular opinion.

In 1992 the UK left the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) because confidence in sterling had collapsed. In 1993 inflation was at its lowest level since 1967 - 1.8 per cent per annum.

On March 13 1996 the whole world was shocked by the Dunblane disaster. Seldom in modern times has a tragic local event had such a global impact. There was a widespread feeling that the powers of evil were abroad. By a sad coincidence, 13th March marked the anniversary of the start of the Clydebank blitz in 1941 in which 1500 people died. Their surviving relatives and friends mourn them to this day.

1997 is an exciting political year with a general election on 1 May. Who knows whether a new era will dawn for Britain.

Glasgow Past and Present

As we approach the end of the century Glasgow is a very different place from the city where we started out in 1927.

In July 1995, 50 years after VE Day the Waverley paddle steamer sailed front the Broomielaw down the Clyde on a commemorative cruise. It was packed with happy Glaswegians and a jazz band. In today's fashion sadly, the band was down in the saloon, a poor replacement for the bands of yesteryear which used to play on deck on all the steamers. The sun shone all the way as it steamed up the Kyles and back as it did in days of yore and sun hats were the order of the day. Good fish and chips were available below deck almost like the old days. What a happy day to celebrate 50 years of peace from world war! The Waverley is the last of the paddle steamers to ply the Clyde. Gone are the King Edward, Jeanie Jeans, the Duchess of Argyll and the Queen Mary II and all the other well loved names. The Waverley was only saved by the initiative of the steamship company and the only boats to sail regularly to the old holiday resorts are car ferries.

The war which ended 50 years ago gave a lot of liberation to women who discovered new and sunnier pastures. When our club began, holiday opportunities were strictly limited. Holidays are now staggered and Glasgow folk fly in and out in large numbers looking for the sun. In place of steamers Glasgow now has its large airport, getting ever larger. Where the ships used to cross the world from the Clyde, now the planes cross the world from Abbotsinch. The days of the shipyards are almost over. Fairfield alone remains precarious. The docks made a home to the magnificent Garden Festival and now the site of new homes and a proposed development at Pacific Quay. The steel industry has gone, breathing its last with Ravenscraig in the mid 90s after a struggle.

But Glasgow is still "miles better". She has always been a cultural centre and has now become an international tourist and conference centre. She is known world wide because of the Burrell, the Hunterian, Kelvingrove and the Transport Museum. She now has the controversial Museum of Modern Art and is preparing to be City of Architecture and Design in 1999.

She is a greener place and certainly a cleaner place. She went smokeless in the 50s and gradually the buildings began to be cleaned up, albeit bereft of a fair number which would have been better preserved. The day of the Corbusier high rise is over and one hopes that the city will make the best of the great Victorian architecture which remains.

In 1990 Glasgow was European City of Culture. This was an achievement which astonished many, but the events of the year justified the title.

There was a lot "Glasgowing on". The Arches, near the Central Station housed the exhibition Glasgow's Glasgow - "The Words and the Stones", a stunning compilation of Glasgow's achievement from Roman times to the present; it did not perhaps receive the recognition it deserved but those who missed it can still read the book. "Glasgow's Girls: Women in Art and Design" was a major retrospective exhibition by more than thirty artists all of whom had studied at Glasgow School of Art. The Burrell staged exhibitions of truly international significance such as "The Age of Van Gogh" and "Camille Pisarro", the greatest collection of his works ever assembled. There were also exhibitions of Degas, Whistler, J.D. Fergusson, Crawhall and John Bellamy. The work of C.R. Mackintosh was also featured of course. Foreign visitors were astonished an impressed.

The year of Culture also saw the opening, just in time, of a major new venue, the Royal Concert Hall which accommodated orchestras like the St Petersburg Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic. We also had visits from the Bolshoi Ballet and international stars like Pavarotti, and Jessye Norman. Another new venue available was the new Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama whose custom built modern facilities housed recitals of international standard.

The city is now "cool' to be in despite the hot summers. There is a proliferation of good eating places to suit all tastes. The young love it. The cinema is popular again but this time in new complexes and we seem to have come back where we came in. They eat out, surprisingly sometimes in pavement cafés thanks to global warming. They eat designer foods, drink designer beers and wear designer jeans. Their skirts are either ankle length or look like pelmets. It is almost impossible to find a seat in the popular restaurants and cafés without booking. They do not trouble the Jazz Festival which seems to be reserved for the Oldies.

Glasgow is now host to some of the most vibrant arts and cultural activities in the world. Glasgow Festival of Visual Arts 1996 celebrated this reputation with three main features : the opening of the new Gallery of Modern Art, the International Festival of Design and above all the largest ever retrospective exhibition of the life and works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This was a multi million pound blockbuster show, which, all summer attracted long queues snaking along Sauchiehall Street and a total of 220,000 visitors. Only a small proportion can have come to remember Miss Cranston whose Ladies Luncheon Room from her Ingram Street tea rooms, 1901, formed the centre piece of the exhibition. It was indeed impressive. In November, it opened in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first ever exhibition of Mackintosh in the States. It did not just creep onto the stage but arrived with a bang in the greatest museum in the world with 4 million visitors annually. Mackintosh is now top of the US pops, as identifiable a Scottish export as whisky and tartan, haggis and heather. Once again Glasgow feels proud.

At home of course we are left with his permanent masterpieces such as the Glasgow School of Art and the elegant House for an Art Lover constructed from his designs.

When our club started in 1927, Mackintosh was still alive although terminally ill, and was taken back from France for hospital treatment. When he died in 1928 he had little honour in his own country. Now we have given him his due.

Glasgow has changed many times and has proved herself supremely able to adapt. The tobacco lords and cotton merchants gave way to shipbuilders such as Lithgow and shipping magnates like Burrell. She is now changing her image yet again to become a great European city which attracts more and more tourists.

1997 will see a major Impressionist exhibition and in 1999 Glasgow will be the City of Architecture and Design. Glasgow smiles on and although Mr Happy has just been given his P45, news is afoot of a new slogan and another image.

The Club in the 1990s

Club members enjoyed many events of the "Year of Culture" and there were official Club visits to the Citizens' Theatre to see "Mother Courage" by Bertholdt Brecht with Glenda Jackson (now MP!) in the starring role, and in a lighter vein, "Showboat" at the Theatre Royal.

1990 saw the death of Dr Fanny Cohn who bequeathed £5,000 to our Club to use at our discretion. Dr Cohn was a retiring and unassuming lady who never held office in the Club but was a loyal and generous member, always appreciative of having been invited to join our Club in 1951 when she was a dermatologist at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow. Austrian by birth, she suffered much hardship before fleeing her homeland in the 1930s and settling in Glasgow where she worked in hospitals as an orderly or in the kitchens before it came to light that she was a qualified doctor who specialised in dermatology.

The Club decided to donate the whole amount of Dr Cohn's bequest (including interest) to appropriate charities. For legal reasons the money did not reach us until 1993 and to date we have helped a mature student to complete a certificate course in signing for the deaf and have also made contributions to the National Youth Orchestra and to Crossroads.

After all the excitement of the Year of Culture, 1991 was a quiet year in the city. In the Club it was an exciting year, marking the start of one of the most successful charitable ventures ever launched by Soroptimism. This was "Sight Savers and Soroptimism: saving the sight of under fives in Bangladesh" and it had its origins in Glasgow Central Club. During the year 1988/89, when two of our members Mary Gray and Margaret Cowan were, respectively, President and Honorary Secretary of Divisional Union Scotland South, it became the turn of the Federation of Great Britain and Ireland to recommend to the world wide movement the international four year project for 1991-95.

Mary, Lady Gray was a psychologist specialising in visual impairment in children and, using her knowledge in that field, she forged a close link with Sight Savers (previously known as the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind) and wrote a submission for a project in Bangladesh. In that country 30,000 children under five years of age went blind every year through vitamin A deficiency, malnutrition and disease. By the age of seven oer half of these children died through infection and lack of access to health care.

Mary, Lady Gray (wife of Sir William Gray) was Lady Provost of Glasgow from 1972-1975 and now serves as a magistrate. She was President in 1980-81, is currently serving a second term of office and has also fulfilled numerous other offices in the Club. Mary has given sterling service to the Club over a long number of years and has been active in raising money for charities in a number of ways (see elsewhere in the text).

The task which was outlined in the submission was to raise enough money for seven clinics to be built where children, suffering any sickness or injury, would receive exmination, diagnosis and treatment and where the mothers would be educated in hygiene and nutrition.

With the help of the officers and members of Scotland South the project won through against many other worthy projects from all over the Federation. At the Nottingham Convention Soroptimists pledged to raise £261,000 to enable the clinics to be set up over the four year period, each clinic to benefit 25,000 children and their mothers, with Sight Savers as the agents.

Through the great generosity of members £434,000 was raised to enable all this to happen and more. There was enough money left over for an outreach programme and also to assist Sight Savers to expand the network of 7 clinics to 25 clinics. In the four year period over 200,000 children were treated.

At the close of Soroptimist International's involvement the clinics became part of the Bangladesh National Society for the Blind with Sight Savers committed to further funding.

Without doubt the project gave Soroptimists around the world the opportunity to join hands with some of the poorest women in the world and to leave a wonderful legacy to the children of Bangladesh.

Contributions were also made in 1991 to promote Adult Literacy; " Story-Aid", the provision of easy stories to promote literacy was specially supported. Goods were also sent to Romania and boxes of toiletries were sent to the Gulf War Forces. A coffee club for senior members was initiated. Coffee mornings were held at frequent intervals in the homes of retired members : a collection is taken and the hostess chooses which fund should benefit.

Notable and enjoyable speakers in 1991 were Dr Matthew Garrey and Mrs Myrtle Simpson. Matthew Garrey is a well-known obstetrician and gynaecologist, associated with the Royal Maternity and Samaritan Hospitals for many years. He is also internationally famous as the author of "Obstetrics Illustrated" a textbook which has had great success in the third world. It would be true to say that he has devoted his life to women! His other great interest is "Old Glasgow" of which he has an encyclopaedic knowledge equalled only by the late Jack House. His talk on "Glasgow our city" was warmly received by the Club.

Myrtle Simpson is one of the most remarkable and intrepid women in Scotland today. She is a well known writer and explorer, educated at 19 schools (her father was in the army!) and author of 12 books, including travel, biography, historical and children's. She was the first woman to ski across Greenland. She attempted to ski to the North Pole, getting to the most northerly point ever reached by a woman. For her exploits in exploration she received the prestigious Mungo Park Medal. She was once chided by a bath master in the University Stevenson baths for leaving her children with their feet dangling in the water at the shallow end while she swam the length to the deep end. Little did he know to what they had become accustomed. One member anyway had a good laugh!

Social events in 1991 included a "Silent Auction", a "Glasgow by night" tour, a musical evening in Kilmardinny House at Bearsden and, of course, a Christmas party!

In 1992, the Club had a 65th anniversary lunch in the Hospitality Inn : the speaker was Dr Anne Gilmore, of the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice. Dr Gilmore described the development of the hospice movement, which has done so much to humanise the care of the terminally ill with effective pain relief, cheerful and comfortable surroundings and, more than all, an atmosphere of hope and love.

The Club celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr Joan Alexander at an evening in the City Chambers, given by the City. As has already been noted, Joan Alexander is one of the most famous solo singers in Scotland and is also well known as a teacher of singing. It was in this capacity that she joined the Club in 1958. She was President in 1967-1968 and has given much of her time and talents to the Club. She was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow in 1978.

It has already been noted that the Club sent goods to Romania in 1991. In the following year it became possible to help Romania in a more intimate and personal way. In November 1992 Eugenia Ana-Maria (known as Anka) Georoceanu, a biochemist from Cluj, Romania spent a month in Glasgow working in the Royal lnfirmary under the auspices of our member (and President 1990-91) Dr Frances Dryburgh. Accommodation, hospitality, entertainment and her air fare were provided by the Club. At that time hospitals in Romania were 30 years behind us and doctors were working in archaic conditions. Anka was able to put much of the knowledge she had gained in Glasgow into practice when she returned home. In 1995, the Club made it possible for her son, Mihai, age 17 to come to Scotland on a "Croisière" exchange scheme; he stayed in Glasgow with our secretary, Anne Stephen and corresponds regularly with her and her son who stayed in his home in Romania.

In 1996 a Club was chartered in Cluj-Napoca. Personal contacts of this kind are in the true spirit of Soroptimism and can have far reaching consequences.

Margot Barclay, a stalwart member of our Social Committee, died in 1991. She was director and secretary of an engineering Co., one of our less usual categories. For 40 years she was a committed Soroptimist.

In 1992, increasing rental charges in the Mitchell Library forced the Club to change its venue. Happily it was possible to meet in the College Club of the University of Glasgow where meetings continue at 7 pm.

Distinguished speakers during 1993 included Professor (now Sir) Michael Bond, Professor of Psychological Medicine and Vice-Principal of Glasgow University. Professor Bond was chairman of Head Injuries Trust Scotland (HITS) and was able to give an update on this project.

Another speaker was Dr Anne Gilmore, Founder of the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice. Dr Gilmore was already well known to the Club and we were now able to welcome her as "Scotswoman of the Year". In that year, John Paul addressed the Club on "Images of India", a fascinating account of that wonderful sub-continent, so much so that we asked him back in 1995 when he gave a superb illustrated talk on East of Suez.

On a subject nearer home Mark O'Neill spoke on the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art which had just opened (1993) in Castle Street adjacent to the cathedral. It is the first museum in the world to be entirely devoted to the study of religious life and art. It contains priceless works of art depicting aspects of the world's six major religions and features the only permanent Zen Garden in the United Kingdom. Its most famous exhibit is, however, a Christian one, the "Christ of St John of the Cross" by Salvador Dali. The painting was purchased in 1952 by Dr TJ Honeyman for £8200 amid a storm of abuse about waste of the Corporation's money! Reproductions of the picture have earned millions since.

In 1994, following an intense membership drive, it was decided to reduce the number of meetings to one per month between September and June. It was agreed to have an hour of business and a break for tea or coffee followed by a speaker at each meeting. It was hoped that this would be an incentive to prospective members and in fact there was an intake of 14 between September 1994 and March 1996.

On 5 December 1994, the Club was addressed by a well-known lady who has now attained a distinction unique in history. Marion, Lady Fraser spoke on "My involvement with Christian Aid". She is Chairwoman of that organisation and is deeply committed to its objectives of helping people in developing countries to help themselves, very much in line with the aims of Soroptimism. Marion Fraser was educated at Hutchesons' Grammar School and Glasgow University, where she was President of Queen Margaret Union. She returned to Glasgow in 1988 when her husband, Sir William Kerr Fraser became Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University. She received an honorary degree from the University in her own right on the same day as our own Winnie Ewing, 21st June 1995. She was Her Majesty's High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1994 and 1995. The unique historical distinction referred to above came to her in 1996 when the Queen appointed her to the most ancient and noble Order of the Thistle, the only woman, apart from members of the Royal Family, to receive this honour in all its long history.

At the Club meeting on 10 May 1993 reference was made to the feature published that day in the Herald featuring the life and work of Marald Grant, MBE, M.St.J.. We have already written of Marald's remarkable contribution to welfare of poor families in Glasgow through the Guild of Aid in Coburg Street, Gorbals. Hundreds of families could thank her for giving them a new start in life. Perusal of newspaper columns adds some more (and less well known) detail. Educated at Bellahouston Academy and Park School, at the age of 20 she bought a car and started her own taxi service! She intended to take up a career in business but soon took a diploma in social science at the University, starting work at the Guild of Aid in 1926. Her great hobby was pug dogs and she was secretary of the Scottish Pug Dog Club (SPDC) for ten years. Her dog Puck of Crabadon became internationally famous.

Ranfurly Library Service was a scheme in the early nineties to which we contributed books in good condition which were shipped to Third World countries. The scheme stopped in Glasgow because of the cost of shipment, but not before many had benefitted.

1993 saw the start of a present day initiative to help the poor, not in the Gorbals this time, but in the Third World. The 3-S Trust Fund was set up by D.U. Scotland South when Ann Garvie (S.I. Glasgow West) was President. Members were asked to fill Smartie tubes with 20p pieces. This simple method of collection was remarkably effective. The money was awarded to skilled workers in Third World countries to enable them to train others and set up workshops. Marald Grant would have approved; her object was "to help the poor to help themselves ".

In 1994 the Club made a contribution to the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa. Vesico-vaginal fistula is a condition which causes untold misery in a number of African countries. A permanent hole in the bladder is caused by damage during childbirth and often aggravated by primitive medicines, resulting in uncontrollable urinary leakage : the sufferers often become social outcasts. Efficient surgical treatment, which requires considerable skill and experience will cure the condition. The surgeons working in Ethiopia have had excellent results and money supporting them is well spent.

In 1995 another worthy cause received support - " Children First" (formerly the RSPCC). Hardly a day passes but we read in the newspapers or see on TV horrific accounts of cruelty to children in various forms. State help is often inadequate. In 1995 we also donated to the Renfrew district flood appeal following disastrous housing damage in severe weather and amazing results came that year from car boot sales organised by two members. This exercise was repeated in 1996. A pleasant social event in June 1995 was a visit to Greenbank Garden. This is the garden of a Georgian house dating from 1763, six miles south of the city centre. It is a National Trust property and offers garden advice on site or by telephone.

The 15th Soroptimist International Convention was held in San Francisco, California, in 1995. Four of our members attended and Margaret Cowan relates one of the amusing encounters they had on a coach tour. The courier, a giant black skinhead, who you might be afraid to meet on a dark night, asked the ladies where they belonged. "Glasgow," they said, to which he said, "Byres Road, Ubiquitous Chip - I'll be there in October". It transpired his wife's parents lived near the BBC and he made regular visits to Glasgow.

In autumn 1996 a lunch in the House of Lords was arranged to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Soroptimism. The host was Baroness Doreen Miller of Hendon (S.1. Central and S.W. London).

Our President, Mary Gray, was chosen to represent Scotland along with the President of Scotland South, Sheena Laing, and the President of S.I. Dunblane, Julia Whytock. The name "Dunblane" is now sadly synonymous with the disaster of March 13 1996. Everyone admires the courage and dignity with which the community has faced this appalling tragedy. Soroptimists, of course. contributed in any way they could towards relieving distress.

Locally, Club meetings in the College Club continue to be well supported. The "Talent Table" was revived in 1994; members regularly bring produce or handmade goods to sell, raising money for our funds. Also within the last three years there has been a book stall at each meeting ; members bring books they are willing to part with for other members to borrow or buy.

In the last two decades we have had two Auditors - Fay Smith, a Chartered Accountant, served the Club for many years. She was succeeded by Mabel Murray who has since gone to live in Dubai. Our new Auditor is Donald Thomas, husband of Heather Thomas, President 1989, who was instrumental in arranging our move to the Mitchell Library, and is currently on the committee arranging our 70th anniversary celebrations. An anniversary dinner is to be held in the Moat House Hotel on 28 November. Meanwhile a recipe book containing 70 recipes has been compiled by Sheila Browning and printed by her husband Tony Browning. The last recipe book was produced in 1979.

International links continue. For some months in 1994, a Japanese Soroptimist, Keiko Marukawa, who was studying English Linguistics at Strathclyde University, attended our meetings. Her Club is S.I. Sopora and our secretary is still in touch with her.

In 1996 the Charity of the year was the Herald Women's Foundation to which £1000 was donated. In 1997 as part of the Fanny Cohn bequest £1000 was sent to East Glasgow Youth Theatre's annual show which is held at various venues including the Tramway to fund employment of the musical director for four weeks prior to the production.

Again our charities fund has £1600 to disburse and £1000 is going to Arthritis Care to provide an information pack for the benefit of the parents of 1,300 children in Scotland who suffer from the disease.

The year 1997 unfortunately saw a decrease in membership to 53. The Club has two honorary members since Agnes Duncan died - Bessie P Johnston MBE (member since 1951, Past President of the Club and retired President of the Red Cross) and Dr Maud Menzies (member since 1966, Past President of the Club and DU South). Two other members were awarded the MBE in the last decade, Catherine S Downie and Agnes Thomson. The Club has lost three much-loved members in recent years. Margaret M. Morton who had been a member for thirty years died in 1995. She was President in 1975 and Hon. Treasurer for several years in the seventies. She gave generously of her time and talents and was well-known to Soroptimists furth of Glasgow. She is sadly missed.

Montague Martin (known as "Monty"), who had been President in 1965, died in January 1997 at the age of 82. She joined the Club in 1957 (Category: Advertising Executive). She was a lively, interesting and witty lady and dedicated Soroptimist.

Just as our chronicle was being finished news came of the death of our dear Agnes Duncan M.B.E. on March 23rd at the age of 97. She was commemorated by obituaries not only in the Herald but in the London Times which speaks for itself. Agnes introduced generations of young people to music. Sir Hugh Roberton himself paid generous tribute to her skill as a conductor. "She knew the choral game upside down and never missed a move". Agnes's pre concert pep talks were inspirational and her advice was pithy 'never sing louder than lovely'. She was a keen Soroptimist and retained a wonderful memory. She always gave a kindly welcome to new members and she would have enjoyed this chronicle. Her genial presence will be greatly missed.

The problem of recruiting new members is continuing. Perhaps this is because, as Paul Johnson wrote in a recent 'Spectator' article (8/2/97) "the battle is won". Discrimination against professional and business women no longer exists. In the United States, women now make up nearly 50% of public administration officials, over 50% of financial managers, accountants and auditors, nearly 70% of insurance underwriters and almost 80% of health and medicine managers. In 1992, less than 400,000 American businesses were owned by women; in 1996 the figure was almost 8 million. What a success story ! The same will probably soon apply in Britain.

But professional success is not really what Soroptimism is all about. Soroptimists persevere in recruiting because they believe that there is still a vital role for us to play in the well-being of our city, our nation and the world beyond.