People make Glasgow – and women make Glasgow. From Kate Cranston to Mary Barbour, the history of Glasgow is full of brilliant women who have called the city their home. Today, their legacy lives on and there are numerous feminist initiatives and female-run businesses waiting to be discovered in this feminist city guide to Glasgow.
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Feminist things to do in Glasgow
Learn at the Glasgow Women’s Library
Founded in 1991, the Glasgow Women’s Library is the UK’s only fully accredited library and museum dedicated to the contributions and lives of women. It is a place of learning and sharing, and anyone is welcome at the library. You can read or lend books by women covering anything from fiction to feminist theory. There is also a full calendar of events, workshops and reading groups, and regularly changing exhibitions on the history of women in Glasgow, Scotland and beyond.
Discover women’s history
The history of this city, which has been named the workshop of the world, is inextricably connected with that of women’s stories now and then. One of my favourite initiatives of the Glasgow Women’s Library is their programme of Women’s Heritage Walks through Glasgow. There are six different routes through different parts of the city.
All the information provided has been pulled together by volunteer researchers and includes details about women’s lives throughout Glasgow’s history, testimonies from local Glaswegian women and hidden facts of history.
Grab a book at Category Is Books
Category Is Books is a new LGBTQIA+ bookshop in the Southside of Glasgow. It is a place to learn about and engage with queer culture, writing, histories and storytelling. Founded by Charlotte and Fi Duffy-Scott, it stocks new and second-hand queer books, magazines, graphic novels, zines and badges.
The bookshop also hosts events, such as reading groups, film screenings, writing groups and so on, so keep an eye on their events calendar.
Visit the statues of women
Can you guess how any statues of historical women there are in Glasgow? Four. Only four! In a city dotted with statues left, right and centre, this absence of women statues is striking. Let’s take a look at whose statues you can visit in Glasgow.
There is the statue of Queen Victoria – no big surprise there; she has a statue in almost any city of the UK. It’s on George Square.
Then there is Isabella Elder, a British philanthropist who was a key figure in granting women access to education. She gave one of her buildings to the Kelvingrove College for women rent-free and funded its medical school. When she died, she left most of her wealth (her father was a shipbuilder) to charitable purposes, many of them to the charity of working-class women in Glasgow. Her name is the only women’s name on the memorial gate of the University of Glasgow. Her statue stands in Elder Park in Govan.
The third woman honoured with a statue is not a local and not a Royal – she is Dolores Ibarruri, a Spanish Civil War hero who led the Republican and Communist movements. Her statue is a tribute to those who died in the Spanish Civil War, including many Scottish people, and is a reminder for the fight against fascism. The statue stands on Clyde Street near St Enoch, facing the river.
And finally, the fourth and most recent statue of a woman in Glasgow shows the political activist Mary Barbour. It was revealed in November 2017, just outside the Govan subway station, the part of town where she was based. Mary Barbour led months of protests during the 1915 rent strikes and established the Women’s Peace Crusade. She later became one of the city’s first woman councillors to the Glasgow Town Council and kept campaigning for peace and women’s welfare.
Attend a Dardishi – an Arab womxn arts festival
Dardishi is a festival dedicated to highlighting Arab womxn’s arts and creative contribution. There is an annual festival as well as year-round events.
Additionally, other festivals in Glasgow often feature events that emphasise feminist issues or women’s contributions – check out SQIFF, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, or Document, a human rights film festial to start.
Discuss feminist issues with Femspectives
This one is personal! There are so many amazing film festivals in Glasgow, but together with my friend Lauren, I decided that the city needed a feminist film festival to create more opportunities to see and discuss films by women and the feminist issues they raise.
Enter Femspectives. Our festival takes place annually in March (our first festival will be 22-24 March 2019), and we spend as much time on discussions as on film screenings. We also host events throughout the year, in partnership with other film and women’s organisations in Glasgow, and all are welcome!
Celebrate women artists
Glasgow has a thriving art scene and many of Scotland’s finest artists are women – think of Margaret and Frances MacDonald of The Four, Christine Borland (remember from this post?), Margaret Tait, whose work and legacy you can currently see at the GoMA (until 5 May 2019) or Sophie Cave, whose Floating Head installation is a highlight at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.
Just tour the museums of Glasgow and you will find plenty of art my amazing Scottish women, or attend an event at the Glasgow Society of Women Artists to learn more about who currently live and work here.
What to Eat
Get a taste of the world at Soul Food Sisters
Soul Food Sisters is a female-led collective of migrant women in the East End of Glasgow. They use their shared passion for food to bring women from all over the world together and cooking as a tool for empowerment and ending social isolation.
They used to focus on catering and workshops, but in 2018 they also opened a cafe in Gallowgate near the Barras market. Most of the food is Middle Eastern, African or Eastern European and it tastes delicious!
202 Gallowgate, Glasgow, G1 5DS; open Wednesday to Friday, 9am – 4pm
Eat with female chefs
Glasgow’s restaurant scene is growing and growing, and there are many female chefs who are set to make it in this male-dominated industry. Not long ago, the Guardian published a story about the female chefs revolutionising the restaurant scene in Glasgow and names a few of the best female chefs in town.
Have afternoon tea at Mackintosh at the Willow
Tea rooms are the coffee houses of Glasgow. They serve tea and light refreshments, often afternoon tea or cream tea, but they are also important locations of social interaction and intellectual gatherings. Some of Glasgow’s most famous tea rooms in the late 19th and early 20th century were run by Kate Cranston, also known as Miss Cranston. She was a tea room entrepreneur and owned four tea rooms across Glasgow.
The most famous of them was called Willow Tea Rooms. It was entirely designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald – from the architecture of the building down to the menu cards and the uniforms of the staff. Today, Miss Cranston’s tea rooms are long gone, but the Willow Tea Rooms Trust recently restored and reopened Mackintosh and MacDonald’s tea room as Mackintosh at the Willow. All furniture and interior designs are exact replicas of the originals, so it is truly like sitting in Miss Cranston’s tea room more than 100 years ago!
215 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3EX; open Monday to Sunday, 9am – 5pm
Network with other women at MILK Cafe
MILK is a female-run social enterprise cafe which aims to empower and support refugee and migrant women living in Glasgow. The cafe is a provides a safe and welcoming space to anyone, amazing food and cakes, but also an array of free events from English language classes to arts workshops.
People can volunteer at the cafe to share their knowledge and learn new skills. MILK also hosts the monthly Feminist Cafe, a feminist discussion group that practices intersectionality and inclusion.
452 Victoria Rd, Glasgow G42 8YU; open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am – 5pm
Where to shop
Support small local businesses & designers
Every time you buy from a small independent business, an actual person makes a happy dance. Glasgow was once called the workshop of the world, and this legacy lives on through the wealth of talented makers, artists and designers who live and work here today. I love buying from local businesses and designers.
Female-run Sunshine No 1 in Mount Florida stocks only local designers, so whether you are looking for jewellery, art or gifts, this should be your first destination. Other amazing female-run design shops are Braw Wee Emporium by the Barras Market and Decadent Riot on the Hidden Lane.
Other great places to pick up local designs in Glasgow are markets, where you can buy from designers and makers directly. There are regular markets at The Arches, SWG3, Drygate and The Briggait, as well as outdoors on Exchange Square, in the lane outside Sloans and at the Barras.
Protest Trump with Bonnie Bling
From all the Glasgow-based designers, one of my favourites is Bonnie Bling. Artist Mhairi Mackenzie makes acrylic jewellery, often playing with iconic Glaswegian landmarks, like the Duke of Wellington statue, or with Scotish slang terms. The most feminist of her work though is the Protest Bling collection which consists of badges voicing anti-Trump protests and showing solidarity with women who are affected by gendered violence.
Treat yourself to custom-made underwear
Another amazing designer in Glasgow is Lydia Morrow of What Lydia Made, a label for custom-made and inclusive handmade underwear. She makes bras up to sizes 38J or 52D and also designs trans-inclusive pants. Lydia has limited capacity each month to make bras for her customers and takes bookings two months at a time. You can keep up to date with her journey on Instagram @whatlydiamade.
Glasgow is a city with a thriving feminist community and loads of female-led businesses and organisations that are contributing to a more equal society. Let’s support them!
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