By George Jamesone

Mary Erskine

1629 – 1707

Businesswoman and Philanthropist 

A businesswoman and philanthropist, Mary Erskine donated money to set up the girls' school, known as The Mary Erskine School. She also supplied the funds to establish the Trades Maiden Hospital (now the Trades Maiden Fund). She is buried in the Convenanter’s Prison in Greyfriars Kirk yard.

Little is known of Mary’s early life. In 1661 she married Robert Kennedie, a lawyer and they had five children, all of whom tragically appear to have died in infancy. Robert Kennedie died in 1671 leaving Mary with considerable debts.  Her second husband, James Hair was a chemist, and owned a chemist's shop on the High Street in Edinburgh. He was considerably younger than Mary, but sadly died in 1683. Mary inherited most of what belonged to her husband, not a large sum of money, but she used the money to set up a private bank, and built up a considerable fortune.

In 1694, Mary donated 10,000 merks  (Scottish silver coins) to the Merchant Company of Edinburgh. The money was used to establish the Merchant Maiden Hospital, a girls' school, on the Cowgate, Edinburgh. In 1706 she gave a further donation with which to buy a house and garden outside the city wall at Bristo. In 1707 she donated a further 4,000 merks to the Hospital.  The Merchant Maiden Hospital was renamed and relocated several times, but in 1944 it was named the Mary Erskine School in her honour  and is now located in the Ravelston area of Edinburgh.

1704 saw May found the Trades Maiden Hospital with the Incorporated Trades of Edinburgh, to provide boarding and education for the daughters and granddaughters of "decayed" craftsmen and tradesmen.


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