Mary Lily Walker: ‘A Forgotten Heroine’

Unemployment. Poverty. High infant mortality rates.

A century ago, cities in Scotland were plagued by similar issues of health and inequalities as we are faced with today. While our politicians and leaders continually wrestle with finding the solution to the inequalities that exist within our society, one hundred years ago this was not necessarily the case. 

Just over a century ago, one in five babies born in Dundee died before their first birthday. This shocking and frightening statistic was accepted as the norm and the state of health of women was dire.

One woman worked to challenge this. She was the first to gather evidence on housing and the health of women working in Dundee’s jute factories and it is claimed that her findings were influential in the establishment of the National Health Service.

Her name was Mary Lily Walker and 2013 marks one hundred years since her death.

This remarkable woman not only brought national attention to the plight of women and children in the factories of  late-Victorian Dundee, but introduced social and healthcare reform to her city. She founded Scotland’s first Infant Health Service and first Nursing Mothers’ Restaurant.  The community centre that she established, Grey Lodge Settlement, still serves families living in the city. In spite of this legacy, her name has been all but forgotten until recent years.

Scotland is at the centre of a burgeoning Early Years Movement, with all sorts of sectors engaged, including the police, education, social work, economists, business, and politicians.  Mary Lily Walker was essentially one of the city’s, and one of Scotland’s, first Early Years champions.  Reflecting on her efforts 100 years ago and more gives us an innovative lens through which to reflect in new ways on the challenges that face us today.  

On Saturday 29th June 2013 (in just one week’s time), a conference is being held in Dundee. – the aim of which is to show how Mary Lily Walker’s historic insights can assist us in today’s early years challenges. The conference will bring together some of the UK’s most inspiring early years champions, while also shining a light on some innovative projects on the ground in Dundee.

Tickets are still available for this brilliant event via this link: 

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