Elizabeth (Bessie) Watson

Scotland's youngest Suffragette.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Watson was born in the Vennel area of Edinburgh in July 1900, the daughter of Agnes Newton and Horatio Watson. Bessie was encouraged to take up piping at the age of 7 or 8 as her parents hoped it would strengthen her lungs against tuberculosis after her aunt Margaret died of the disease. Her first set of pipes was a half-sized set made by Robertson the pipe maker.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Watson
Elizabeth (Bessie) Watson

After seeing an advert for a pageant of historical Scottish women, Bessie and her mother joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and Bessie, at the age of 9, was asked to march and play the pipes in the pageant. The procession, which celebrated ‘What women have done and can and will do' took place in Edinburgh on 9 October 1909 and marched down Princes Street before gathering for a rally led by Emmeline Pankhurst at Waverley Market. Several weeks later when Christabel Pankhurst came to Edinburgh to attend a meeting in the King's Theatre, she presented Bessie with a brooch depicting Boudica in her chariot. In 1979 Bessie gave this brooch to Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to be elected as Prime Minister of the UK.

Bessie continued to be actively involved in the Suffragette movement and wore hair ribbons in the colours of the Suffragette campaign to school. Bessie played the pipes on the platform of Waverley Station as trains departed taking convicted women's rights campaigners to Holloway Prison, and piped outside Calton Jail to encourage the Suffragettes imprisoned there.

Bessie then studied French at the University of Edinburgh and went on to teach violin and modern languages in schools across the city.

Bessie died in Edinburgh in 1992, two weeks before her 92nd birthday.


Related Links