University unveils new lecture theatre to honour child suffragette

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Bessie Watson Lecture Theatre was officially opened to mark the Scottish child suffragette’s impact on the University.

On March 8, the Information Services Group hosted a ceremonial opening of the new lecture theatre in the Outreach Centre at Holyrood Campus.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Watson was born in Edinburgh and played the bagpipes from a very young age. She was encouraged to do so by her parents, who hoped it would strengthen her lungs against tuberculosis. Watson and her mother were members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and at the age of nine, Watson was invited to play the pipes in a procession down Princes Street. After the procession, Christabel Pankhurst, sister of Emmeline Pankhurst, awarded Watson a brooch depicting Boudica in her chariot.

Watson continued to be actively involved in suffrage, wearing purple, green and white hair ribbons to school. She played the pipes on the platform of Waverley Station as trains carrying convicted suffragettes departed for Holloway Prison in London. Watson also piped outside Calton Gaol to raise the spirits of the suffragettes imprisoned there.

Watson became the only female member of the Highland Piper’s Society and founded the Broughton School Pipe Band. She went on to study French at the University of Edinburgh, and taught violin and modern languages across the city.

Bessie Watson illustration by Gillian Kidd of the University's Graphic Design Service. Photograph by Fiona Hendrie

In 2019, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled a plaque at Watson’s old home on the Vennel, to celebrate her life and achievements.

The unveiling of the Bessie Watson Lecture Theatre is part of the Information Services Group’s project to name spaces after inspirational women to ensure they are preserved in the University’s history. Most of these women studied or worked at the University of Edinburgh, and many made significant contributions to the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Find out more

Naming Spaces After Inspirational Women | The University of Edinburgh