Gerda Stevenson

For too long women’s stories and their contributions to society have not been told as part of the mainstream narrative that we are taught. How can artists respond to such silencing?

In this paper, I will show how, based on extensive research (beginning with the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, Edinburgh University Press), I have attempted to bring to light women’s contribution to Scotland, from Neolithic times to the 21st century, by writing a collection of poems in the voices of these women: QUINES: poems in Tribute to Women of Scotland (Luath Press).

I will demonstrate that my priority in creating QUINES is not to highlight injustices (many though there be, not least the devastating effects of the infamous Marriage Bar), but rather to celebrate achievements, while presenting Scotland through the experience of women. The protagonists include a wide range of professions and social classes – among them singers, politicians, writers, a fish-gutter, queens, a dancer, artists, a salt seller, sportswomen, a barrister, scientists and many more. I will show how I have sought to represent Scotland’s three native languages – Gaelic, Scots and English – and how I have employed a variety of poetic forms in order to reflect the character and world of each woman. Several in this collection, such as Fanny Wright, Mary Slessor and Williamina Paton Fleming, were born in Scotland, but made their mark abroad. Others – e.g. Esther Inglis, the 16th century daughter of Huguenot refugees – came from elsewhere and made Scotland their home. Immigration has played a positive part in our history, and continues to do so today. I will assert that (as barrister Chrystal Macmillan and the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace demonstrated in their chillingly prophetic telegram to the men who had just drawn up the Treaty of Versailles), we cannot afford not to hear from those representing half the human race. We maun tak tent.

Gerda Stevenson, scholar and independent artist (writer/actor/director/singer-songwriter), Scottish Borders