I was at St Andrews University and now live not that far away, south of the Forth. The reason for this geographical introduction will become clear in a moment. The Firth of Forth is wide enough to have been a major boundary in the past, and even now there is a distinct feeling of “crossing to the other side” as you drive over the bridge – or better still take the train across the wonderful railway bridge.
Last June the University at St Andrews appointed a new Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Louise Richardson, who recently arrived from Harvard to take up her new position. As the University approaches its 600th anniversary (it was founded between 1410 and 1414), Richardson has become the first woman to hold the university’s top post.
St Andrews and Edinburgh do not have a lot in common – except for their parochialism, some might say – but one peculiar anachronism they do share is male-only clubs: Edinburgh’s New Club, and the Royal & Ancient Golf club in St Andrews, to name just two. The highly prestigious, private golf club is probably the worst since it is has barred women members since it was founded in 1754. The New Club, on the other hand, allows female (associate) members provided that they obey strict rules – including being banned from the library until 3 p.m. lest their “chitter chatter” (heaven forbid!) should distract the Club’s residents from the more serious matters of snoozing among the leather-bound volumes!
The New Club dates from 1787 and moved to its present site in 1837. Its website is very succinct when it states:
The panelled Members Dining Room is reserved for members and male guests for lunch during the week and mixed company for dinner and Sunday lunch.
The only bonus of such arrangements being the delightful conversations heard in the Ladies’ dining room.
However, we are fast approaching the second decade of the 21st century and all is not well in club-land. Such antiquated membership arrangements have come under renewed fire – from none other than Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond who accused the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of
old-fashioned sexism, for refusing to offer honorary membership to the principal of its even older neighbour, St Andrews University.
It seems unlikely that Dr Richardson will be called upon to use her expert knowledge of international terrorism in order to gain membership, although an interest in golf might help. At present, however, the bridging of this particular divide appears to be as complex as building another Forth Bridge!