BENEATH vaulted ceilings, light streams through stained glass windows to illuminate the busts of illustrious men, who displayed in their time creativity, determination, fortitude and spirt. Truly, they deserve their place in Scotland’s Hall of Heroes at the National Wallace Monument near Stirling.
And truly too, albeit mostly in more peaceable pursuits, these men exhibited strength and character that would have made Sir William Wallace proud. Their achievements were remarkable. Almost as remarkable is the fact that, hitherto, the Hall has commemorated no women, even though so many have contributed so much.
The story of the Hall and its busts has its origins in Victorian times. The first busts – of Robert Burns and King Robert the Bruce – were installed in 1886, and those that followed were likewise blessed, not just in character, but in being male. These were the times, and that was one of the morés. Today, we have moved on, and the addition of Mary Slessor and Maggie Keswick Jencks to this illustrious company is warmly to be welcomed.
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Slessor’s life of service as a missionary in Africa, involving selfless struggle against prejudice and obstruction, is an inspiring one. Similarly, the work of Jencks, who founded the Maggie’s Centres, offered a beacon of hope to cancer sufferers. That beacon still burns brightly today.
These two were chosen by the public from a short leet of 14 that included suffragist and hospital pioneer Elsie Inglis, Gaelic poet Mairi Mhor nan Oran, racing driver and entrepreneur Dorothée Pullinger, folk singer Jean Redpath, and Jane Haining, who died helping Jews in the Holocaust. Every one worth a place in any hall of heroes.
Of course, we hope more women will be honoured in Stirling. True, it’s a relatively small hall and space is limited. But there’s still room on those stout, stone walls. Besides, we’re sure that the likes of Sir Walter Scott, who wrote glowingly of “fair renown”, and John Knox, who was surely only joking about the “monstrous regiment of women”, will be happy to budge up a bit.