What’s in a name? Royal connection of the Queen’s College, Glasgow

A Wellcome Trust Research Resources Project

It was during its centenary year in 1975 that the College received its royal title, the Queen’s College, Glasgow.  Before that it was called the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science (Incorporated), a name dating back to 1908 when the two Glasgow cookery schools amalgamated to form the College.   At that time it described very precisely (if not concisely) the function of the College, but after the passage of sixty seven years the name no longer fitted its purpose.  The term ‘Domestic Science’ had been replaced by ‘Home Economics’ and the College offered a much more diverse range of courses than its name implied.  The syllabus contained courses which had evolved from the disciplines of Domestic Science including Dietetics, Institutional Management, and Hotel, Catering and Institutional Operations.  But the College also offered courses in Social Work and had plans to incorporate healthcare professions into its remit.  The centenary was a time to reflect on the 100 year history of the College but was also the perfect opportunity to revitalise its image as a modern and vibrant institution and a change of name was part of that.  So how did it come to be The Queen’s College, Glasgow?

The College had a long connection with Queen Elizabeth II, going back to the days when she was still a young Princess. On the 9th of August 1944 a letter was sent from the Governors of the College to Buckingham Palace with a request for Princess Elizabeth to become a patron of the College.  Their letter stated:

It is most important that the young women of the West of Scotland should be properly trained as housewives and it is felt that if Her Royal Highness’s name were to be added as the head of the list of Patronesses of the College it would have a direct influence in encouraging girls to undertake this training. 

Within a month the College received its reply that the request had been accepted. It was the first time Princess Elizabeth had accepted such an office in Scotland, and a first for the College to receive such a royal honour. So began the treasured association that was to last the lifetime of the College.

Black and white photograph of Princess Elizabeth handing a diploma to a student, with Dorothy Melvin in the background reading out names from a sheet.

Princess Elizabeth on Diploma Day, 1945

There was much excitement at the College when Princess Elizabeth accepted an invitation to present certificates at Diploma Day on 28 September 1945, the first held since the onset of World War II.  In her Diploma Day speech the Princess remarked on the importance of the work of the students:

During the war many of the students have joined various branches of the Services and have been working for their fellow-Service girls.  Now that the war is over such knowledge of cookery, dressmaking and laundry work that pertains to home-making will prove invaluable in the next few years.  Now that victory is won the difficulties of settling down after so many years of uncertainty will be more easily overcome by those who know how to make a comfortable and happy home and to run it on the most healthy and economic lines.

She also expressed her admiration for Dorothy Melvin’s long and distinguished service, saying that during that time she had been an inspiration and example to all the students.

Telegram to the College Principal from Elizabeth, Buckingham Palace saying "I send my grateful thanks to all the members of the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science for their kind greetings on my birthday"

Telegram from Princess Elizabeth, 21 April 1948

Over the years many messages of good wishes were sent from the College to the Princess, every birthday was remembered and special occasions marked. On her marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, the students made a gift of an antique Cockpen chair which they had re-upholstered in the College. Bailie Violet Roberton, CBE, a College Governor, attended the wedding at Westminster Abbey on 20th November 1947 and Isobel Gibson, College Principal, attended a thank-you tea-party at Buckingham Palace. Wedding cake was also sent to the College and distributed to the students. On accession to the throne in February 1952, her patronage of the College automatically ceased, but, as Queen Elizabeth II, she renewed it, an honour which the Governors said indicated her ‘continued interest in and appreciation of the work of the College’.  Almost twenty three years after her first visit to the College on Diploma Day, the Queen returned on 5th July 1968 to open Gibson Hall, the new student residence named after Isobel Gibson.

With such a close royal association throughout the College’s history, ‘The Queen’s College, Glasgow’, was the obvious choice for the new name.  An application was made to Willie Ross, Secretary of State for Scotland, and on 19 March 1975 the Governors were notified that the request had been approved and the Queen had agreed for her title to be used.  It was hoped that this named connection with the Queen would continue after 1993 when the College merged with Glasgow Polytechnic to form a new University. ‘The Queen’s University, Glasgow’, was first choice for its new title, but despite submitting a strong application with letters of support to Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, the submission was rejected and so it became Glasgow Caledonian University.

At the final awards ceremony of the Queen’s College, Glasgow, on 30 October 1992, a special message of loyal greetings to The Queen was distributed, marking the end of their close association.


Kirsty Menzies

Wellcome Trust funded Project Archivist

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Royal connections, 1945-1993, QC Collection

Governors and appointed committees’ meeting minutes, Dec 1950-Feb 1964, Ref  QC/1/2/1/7

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