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Margaret Fairlie

Academic and gynaecologist


Margaret Fairlie will feature in the March of Women on 7th March 2015, a procession of women from Glasgow and beyond spilling out of Glasgow Women’s Library onto the streets of Bridgeton to celebrate the achievements of women past and present.

Margaret Fairlie spent most of her career working at Dundee Royal Infirmary and teaching at the medical school at University College, Dundee (later Queen's College, Dundee). In 1940 she became the first woman to hold a professorial chair in Scotland.

Margaret Fairlie was born in 1891 to Mr and Mrs James Fairlie and grew up at West Balmirmer Farm, Angus.From 1910 to 1915 she studied at University College, Dundee at the University of St Andrews Conjoint Medical School. After graduating MBChB, she held various medical posts in Dundee, Perth, Edinburgh and Manchester, before coming back to Dundee in 1919 where she ran a consultant practice for gynaecology.

In 1920 she began a teaching career at Dundee's Medical School, which lasted for almost four decades. In the mid-1920s she joined the staff of Dundee Royal Infirmary, where she worked for the rest of her career. In 1926 she visited the Marie Curie Foundation in Paris and this visit caused her to develop a keen interest in the clinical applications of radium. As a result of this began employing it in the treatment of malignant gynaecological diseases and thus pioneered its clinical use in Scotland. She also organised follow up clinics at Dundee Royal Infirmary for patients she had treated with radium.During the 1930s she purchased radium for the infirmary using her own savings. Away from the Infirmary, she acted as honorary gynaecologist to the infirmaries at Arbroath, Brechin, Montrose and Forfar and was involved with cases throughout Angus and Perthshire.

In 1936 Fairlie became head of Dundee Royal Infirmary's Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department. Normally such an appointment would have led to her becoming Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of St Andrews, but attempts to grant her this position were initially blocked, partly due to ongoing difficulties between University College, Dundee and the university authorities in St Andrews. However, it also seems that Sir James Irvine, the Principal of the University of St Andrews, and then acting Principal of University College, Dundee, was reluctant to appoint a woman to a chair.

After four years of impasse, Fairlie, backed by the Directors of Dundee Royal Infirmary, finally was appointed as Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of St Andrews, based in Dundee in 1940. She held this post until her retirement from both the University and the Infirmary in 1956.

Fairlie never married, although she was engaged to her colleague, the eminent surgeon Professor Lloyd Turton Price at the time of his unexpected death in 1933. She was a popular figure with the students and staff she worked with and was noted for her warm hospitality.Professor Fairlie was a keen traveller visiting several countries including South Africa, Greece, Italy, Canada and the United States of America. In her spare time she cultivated her garden and she enjoyed painting. She also kept a parrot.

In July 1963 Fairlie was visiting Florence when she took ill. On her return to Scotland she was admitted to Dundee Royal Infirmary, but died shortly afterwards.

In recognition of her achievements, Fairlie was awarded an honorary degree by the University of St Andrews in 1957.She retained a keen interest in both the University and the Infirmary until her death in 1963.

A range of archive material relating to Fairlie is held by Archive Services, University of Dundee. The professorial board with Fairlie's name engraved on it (which would have once stood in the Medical School) is now on permanent display in the University in a corridor beside the Archives.

To make your own nomination download the nomination form here