International Women’s Day: Emma Scott first woman to be President of The Plymouth Athenaeum

In April 1917 Emma Scott was elected President of The Plymouth Athenaeum, then known as the Plymouth Institution and Devon & Cornwall Natural History Society.

Emma was the first of 11 women to serve as President of The Athenaeum and her inaugural address was titled ‘WOMAN’S WORK’.

Emma Scott, pictured among The Plymouth Athenaeum Council of 1912, was the first woman to be elected President of the Society in 1917

Emma, a headmistress who lived in Lockyer Street, was elected to the Society in 1900 and had served as a Vice President for a number of years.

She opened her first address with the following remarks: “As I am the first woman President of this Institution, it seems to me appropriate to take as the subject of my address the work which women are doing in the world…

“…and their progress in the learned professions opened to them by the higher educational facilities which were first offered about the middle of the nineteenth century.”

The Lecture Hall of the original Plymouth Athenaeum

In her address, she drew attention to the improvement of education for women following the accession of Queen Victoria to the British throne and the scientific work of the French-Polish physicist, Marie Curie.

She also highlighted nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale and the 1908 election of Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson as Mayor of Aldeborough, the first woman to hold such a position.

Emma’s election to the Presidency of the Society came in the midst of the First World War, two months before the passing of The Representation of the People Act 1918 finally granted votes to women over 30.

The original Plymouth Athenaeum

The Plymouth Institution was renamed ‘The Plymouth Athenaeum’ when it moved into the current building in June 1961, which is sited on the same location as its pre-Blitz home.

The other women to have served as President are Miss M. Raymond (1920–21), Miss M.V. Lebour (1940–41), Miss R. Lang (1949–51), Mrs. W. Harper-Cornish (1955–58), Mrs. M.A. Wilson (1963–65), Mrs. J.C. Spring (1992–94), Mrs. M. Halfacree (1996–98), Mrs. B.J. Smith (1998–2001 & 2005–08), Mrs. P.E. Rowe (2001–03) and Miss V.A. Power (2008–10).

Emma’s full Presidential address can be read here.