The life and achievements of Ishbel Gordon, who was a noted campaigner for women’s interests and a philanthropist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are to be marked by Robert Gordon University (RGU).
In a ceremony that will be presided over by the university’s Chancellor, Sir Ian Wood, RGU is to rename one of its campus buildings after Ishbel Maria Gordon (1857-1939), Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, in recognition of her pioneering contribution to women’s occupational, social and political rights.
The ceremony will also be attended by Lord and Lady Aberdeen, and Lord Aberdeen will speak in memory of his ancestor.
The wife of the first Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, the Governor-General of Canada and Lord Lieutenant (Viceroy) of Ireland, Ishbel Gordon became known for her significant social initiatives in Aberdeen, Ireland and Canada.
RGU’s Principal, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski said: “Ishbel Gordon has a long list of accomplishments and is remembered in several countries for her tireless work in founding and supporting organisations bringing notable advances for women in particular.
“RGU’s roots are founded on philanthropic gestures and the institution has seen transformational change throughout its history, so it is very fitting that we are celebrating her inspirational achievements to improving gender equality. In this centenary year of female suffrage, it is significant that Ishbel Gordon was a strong campaigner for women’s voting rights.
“We are privileged to be holding a special ceremony in the presence of the current Lord and Lady Aberdeen for the renaming of The Ishbel Gordon Building, honouring the lasting legacy of the major contribution which she has made for women in Scotland, Ireland, and Canada.”
While Lord and Lady Aberdeen’s Scottish Estate in Aberdeenshire, Haddo House, was their main home, they divided their time between Ireland and Canada due to political obligations after Lord Aberdeen was appointed to government posts in both countries.
Ishbel initiated and supported numerous societies and organisations to benefit women in particular, including the Aberdeen Ladies’ Union (1883) which provided educational and recreational facilities for working girls.
In Ireland, she pioneered the Women’s National Health Association, a mother-and-child welfare organisation. She supported universal suffrage and was president for some years of the International Council of Women. In Scotland she also led a number of initiatives, and played a vital role in securing the ordination of women to the Church of Scotland ministry.
In 1893, Lord Aberdeen was appointed the Governor General of Canada, a post he would occupy until 1898.
The Aberdeens were no strangers to the country, as they had visited several times before; during their cross-Canada tour of 1890 they purchased a homestead in British Columbia.
On that same visit they crossed the prairies, and Ishbel was struck by the difficult and isolated lifestyle of pioneers. She subsequently founded the Aberdeen Association for Distribution of Good Literature to Settlers in the West, which sent settlers packages of books and magazines.
Ishbel took pride in her role as Governor General’s wife (Viceregal consort of Canada).
In 1893, the year she arrived in Canada, she was named the first president of the International Council of Women, an organisation that campaigned for women’s rights. Consequently, she organised the National Council of Women of Canada and travelled the country establishing local branches.
She was the first sponsor of the Women's Art Association of Canada, founded in 1892 and she was also the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Queen’s University in Canada in 1897.
Ishbel Gordon identified with Canada and Canadians for the rest of her life, stating a few years before her death in 1939; “I have been a Canadian for many years. I shall always be a Canadian.”
Various streets and bridges in Canada are named "Aberdeen" after Ishbel or her husband.
The Ishbel Gordon Building, formerly known as the Health and Social Care Building, is based at RGU’s £120million Garthdee campus development in Scotland’s North-East. The university will hold a special ceremony on Thursday, March 29 in the presence of Lord and Lady Aberdeen to rename the building.
Release by Stacey Lynch
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