Isabella Ure Elder



Isabella Ure Elder was a Glasgow philanthropist who took a particular interest in education, especially of women, and in the welfare of the people of Govan, site of her husband's shipbuilding yard.

Isabella Ure was born on 15 March 1828 in Glasgow's Gorbals, the only surviving daughter of solicitor Alexander Ure (1788–1830) and his wife Mary Ross. She had one older brother, John Francis (1820–1883). Her education is unknown. In 1857 Isabella married John Elder (1824–1869), a partner in marine engineers Randolph, Elder & Co. In 1860 the thriving business acquired a shipyard at Govan, and in 1868 became known as John Elder & Co. By the time John Elder died in 1869 it was regarded as one of the world's leading shipbuilders.

Isabella was now the sole owner of the business and ran it successfully for nine months until it was transferred to a partnership led by her brother. As a wealthy widow with no children, she now had time on her hands and began touring the continent for extended periods while also becoming a major philanthropist in her home city.

During her widowhood Isabella lived at 6 Claremont Terrace, close to the University of Glasgow in which she took a keen interest. In 1873 she gave £5000 to support the Chair of Civil Engineering and in 1883 she provided £12500 to endow the John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture. When Queen Margaret College, the first college in Scotland to offer higher education to women, was founded she purchased North Park House in Glasgow's West End and gave it to the College rent free (1883). She also agreed to fund its medical school in 1890. She only agreed to North Park House being handed over to the University on condition that the teaching provided to women was equal to that of men. She was disappointed in the standard of lecturing, however, and refused to give the Principal more money in 1899 unless the original agreement was kept.

Isabella also undertook several philanthropic projects in Govan. In 1883 she purchased 37 acres near Elder's Fairfield Shipyard and created Elder Park, named in honour of her husband and her father-in-law, David. It opened in 1885 and for many years she paid for an annual display of fireworks there. Also in 1885, she set up a School for Domestic Economy where young women learned how to cook and perform other household tasks on a limited budget. In 1901, she provided the Elder Free Library and a villa for the Cottage Nurses Training Home and in 1903 she built and paid the running expenses for the Elder Cottage Hospital which she financed until her death.

Isabella died at her home in Glasgow on 18 November 1905 of heart failure, gout and bronchitis. Her death certificate was signed by Dr Marion Gilchrist, the first woman to graduate in medicine in Glasgow, and on 22 November she was buried in the family tomb in Glasgow Necropolis. Her will left more than £125000 for charitable purposes including the Ure Elder Fund for Indigent Widows of Govan and Glasgow.

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