Remembering Aileen Christianson

We were sad to hear of the passing of Aileen Christianson who was well known to several members of our Steering Committee. Here Esther Breitenbach writes about the contribution Aileen made to women’s history in Scotland.

In her professional life, Aileen was one of the longstanding editors of the letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. She did much to bring Jane Welsh Carlyle’s life and literary skills to a wider audience. She also did much to give a higher profile to the work of Scottish women writers of the twentieth century, addressing how their fiction wrestled with questions of gender and Scottish identity. She gave her support to women’s history in Scotland in several ways: she contributed to the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (2006); she gave the first Sue Innes Memorial Lecture, on ‘Jane Carlyle and her Biographers’, at the 2007 Women’s History Scotland annual conference; and subsequently advised the editors in making selections from Jane Welsh Carlyle’s letters for Scottish Women: A Documentary History: 1780-1914 (2013).

She also contributed to the record of women’s history in Scotland through participation in a workshop on the Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland, held at Edinburgh University in 2009. In her testimony, she outlined how her politics were shaped – from the anti-nuclear marches to Faslane in the 1960s, the later anti-apartheid demonstrations, and then the Women’s Liberation Movement. In the late 1970s she became involved with Edinburgh Rape Crisis in its early days, and remained committed to it for the best part of two decades. Aileen was always an engaging and entertaining speaker, and a good person to discuss ideas and share laughs with, given her lively sense of humour. She noted that, when she went to university in Aberdeen in the 1960s, Scots and women were supposed to be quiet, but she ‘was not going to sit quietly at the back’ – a resolve that remained with her to the benefit of feminist activism and scholarship in Scotland.

Esther Breitenbach


Aileen Christianson Born: 8 August 1944 in Rhos, Clwyd. Died: 12 June 2020 in Edinburgh, aged 75

Aileen’s friend David Gow has written two obituaries which can be found here:

Obituary: Aileen Christianson, feminist academic and author, The Scotsman, 26 June 2020 https://www.scotsman.com/news/people/obituary-aileen-christianson-feminist-academic-and-author-2895060

Aileen Christianson obituary, The Guardian, 23 June 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jun/23/aileen-christianson-obituary

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