Discover how Mary Lily Walker, one of our first graduates, was a pioneer in improving the living conditions for the poor workers in Victorian Dundee
At the start of the twentieth century, Dundee was a city suffering from severe social deprivation. Infant mortality was high; shockingly, four out of five children died before they reached their third birthday. Overcrowding was rife, with reports of up to eight family members sharing a room, and that, combined with poor sanitation, led to low standards of health and an increased spread of disease.
In 1888, the Dundee Social Union – closely connected to University College – had been formed. Its mission was “to improve the condition of the dwellings of the poor; to provide opportunities and cultivate a taste for healthy enjoyments and to promote the well-being of the inhabitants of the town...not limited by class, religion or condition”.
Enter Mary Lily Walker, described by University of Dundee lecturer Eddie Small as an ‘unsung hero’. Shy, wealthy (her father was a solicitor), female and academic, she became an unlikely reformer. Walker was one of the University’s first graduates, studying under professors such as Patrick Geddes and Sir Darcy Wentworth Thomson.
Upon graduation, Walker joined what was, at that point, a Social Union in decline. She became Superintendent of Housing, and Chief Manager of Properties. Her influential report of 1904, focusing on the health of the city’s children, exposed the terrible conditions in parts of the city, even making MPs in the House of Commons sit up and take notice.
Both Eddie Small and honorary lecturer Suzanne Zeedyk describe Walker as one of Scotland’s ‘earliest early years champions’. Walker believed that Dundee’s high rate of infant mortality was in part due to the fact that women were forced to return to work in the jute mills only a month after giving birth.
One of her great achievements was therefore to institute restaurants for nursing mothers in the city. These women would be able to receive very low- or no-cost meals, on the condition that they brought their babies in for regular weigh-ins, and did not return to work. In time, these restaurants expanded into full baby clinics and Dundee became the first city in Scotland with an organised municipal infant welfare service.
At the same time, Walker’s home, Grey Lodge, became a centre to train professional social workers. After her death in 1913, she left it in the hands of trustees to be used as a settlement house. In 1920, Grey Lodge, the DSU and University College joined forces to form the Dundee School of Social Study and Training, beginning a longstanding commitment to educating social workers in the city.
Today, Grey Lodge Settlement is a youth and community organisation. It runs a huge variety of events, providing a seven day a week programme to promote leisure, learning and community involvement for all ages.
Professor Dame Sue Black
Professor Dame Sue Black was born in Inverness and educated at Inverness Royal Academy.
In 1982 she was awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in human anatomy from the University of Aberdeen. She later went on to earn her Doctor of Philosophy in human anatomy for her thesis on 'Identification from the human skeleton', also from the University of Aberdeen.
In 1987, she took up the post of lecturer in Anatomy at St Thomas' Hospital, London, starting her career in forensic anthropology, she served in this role until 1992.
Between 1992 and 2003 she undertook various contract work for the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United Nations, involving the identification of victims and perpetrators of various conflicts.
In 1999, she became the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team in Kosovo, deployed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on behalf of the United Nations.
In 2003 she undertook two tours to Iraq and in 2005 she participated in the United Kingdom's contribution to the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification operation, as part of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami international response.
In 2003, Black was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee. In 2008, she was appointed as head of the newly created Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification at the University of Dundee (CAHID).
Professor Black is also a co-director of the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science and is Patron of the Dundee Women in Science Festival.