Statement of Special Interest
Described in The Bailie, as being 'a true woman, a wise benefactress of the public and of learning' Isabella Elder (1828-1905) was one of Scotland's greatest female philanthropists. She is renowned for her work to improve the lives of Govan's residents and for her interest in education, particularly in widening education opportunities for women. The sculpture itself is an extremely rare example of a historic monument commemorating a woman.
Isabella Elder bought the land for Elder Park in Govan 'as a public park principally for the use and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the Burgh of Govan in the way of healthful recreation by music and amusements and for no other uses or purposes whatever.' (The statue of Mrs. John Elder, Govan) It opened in 1885. The idea of a statue had been proposed by local dignitaries in 1902 before her death. A public subscription was set up and had exceeded its £2,000 target by 1903. McFarlane Shannan was chosen as the sculptor and Elder Park was the natural location for the statue as it was already the site of the statue of Mrs Elder's husband, John Elder (listed at category B; ref. LB33305). The flower garden was decided as the specific location for Mrs Elder's statue.
Mrs Elder was responsible for funding Elder Park Library (listed at category A; ref. LB33310) with the particular stipulation that to allow working people to access the library it should be open on Sundays as well as weekdays. She also funded the Elder Cottage Hospital (listed at category A; ref. LB33300). Her original idea was that it should be a maternity hospital with an entirely female staff, however, once it was completed she decided that it would be more useful to the community as the general hospital which it became (The statue of Mrs. John Elder, Govan).
Mrs Elder had a long standing interest in medicine and in 1883 bought North Park House in Glasgow for Queen Margaret College, the first college in Scotland to offer higher education to women.
She funded the College's medical school in 1890. When the College became part of the University of Glasgow in 1892 it was able to offer women the same degrees as men. Marion Gilchrist was the first woman in Scotland to graduate in medicine in 1894 (and also the first female graduate of the University of Glasgow) and Dr Gilchrist signed Mrs Elder's death certificate.
Amongst Mrs Elder's many other philanthropic deeds she gifted £5,000 to support the Chair of Civil Engineering and £12,500 to endow the John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture, both at the University of Glasgow. She was awarded the honorary degree of LLD in 1901. She also set up a School of Domestic Economy in Govan to teach young women how to manage a household on a limited budget.
Mrs Elder's wealth came from shipbuilding, an industry synonymous with 19th century Glasgow. In 1857 the then Isabella Ure married John Elder and by the time of his death in 1869 the shipbuilding company he owned, John Elder & Co, was internationally renowned. Mrs Elder ran what was then one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world for some months following her husband's death before her brother became its senior partner.
Archibald McFarlane Shannan (1850-1915) was educated at the University of Glasgow and trained as an architect before becoming a sculptor. He specialised in marble portrait busts and bronze medallions as well as architectural sculpture. He was also responsible for the bronze statue of Lord Kelvin in Kelvingrove Park (listed at category B; ref. LB32881) which was unveiled in 1913.
'The statue of Mrs. John Elder, Govan' notes that many thousands assembled for the unveiling ceremony and that a mounted escort from the Govan Police Force was provided for the Duchess of Montrose's carriage. The author describes the statue as 'Mrs Elder sitting in meditative mood vested in her doctor's robes' and quotes from the Duchess of Montrose's speech, 'One can truly say that Mrs Elder spent her life in good works, as the aim of her life was to do all she could for the social and moral welfare of the people here. She resided in Glasgow but her heart was always in Govan.'
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2018. Previously listed as 'Elder Park, Statue of Mrs John Elder'