The first female professor in the UK – BBC News

Image copyright Royal Conservatoire Scotland
Image caption Emma Ritter-Bondy was appointed professor of music in 1892

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has uncovered the story of Emma Ritter-Bondy, whom it believes was the first female professor of a higher education institution in the UK.

The Glasgow Athenaeum School of Music, which is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, made her Professor of Piano in 1892.

That was 16 years before Edith Morley, thought to be the first female professor in the UK, was appointed Professor of English Language at University College, Reading, which is now the University of Reading.

Pivotal time

Stuart Harris-Logan, archives officer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said the Athenaeum was a comparable college to Reading.

He told BBC Scotland: “We could not be put on a par with universities as we did not issue degrees but we know we were a college at that time.

“That’s why we can compare ourselves to another college in 1916 who had appointed a female professor.”

He said: “Professor Ritter-Bondy taught with us at a pivotal time for music pedagogy in Glasgow when Allan Macbeth – an alumnus of the Leipzig Conservatorium – was seeking to establish a European-style conservatoire in Scotland, leading to the institution we have today.”

He said there were already female teachers at the school and her elevation to a professorship was a distinct honour that had never been given to a woman before.

That honour came 48 years before Margaret Fairlie was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at University College, Dundee, which was part of the University of St Andrews.

She is widely recognised as the first woman to hold a professorial chair at a university in Scotland.

Music education

Mr Harris-Logan said the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland had only instituted its archive in 2011 and was still discovering many aspects of its 170-year past.

“At the time when Emma was with us we were situated in a wonderful building on Buchanan Street in the centre of Glasgow, which is now the Hard Rock Cafe, right next to the underground,” he says.

The Athenaeum School of Music would probably have had about 200 students, who were receiving a higher level music education.

It is through the research of Ms Ritter-Bondy’s great-grandson that much is known about her.

She was born Emma Maria Bondy in Austria in 1838 and studied at the Vienna Conservatory in the mid-1850s.

She married artist Franz Ritter in Vienna in 1862 and had two children, Ida and Camillo.

When Emma was widowed in 1879, she decided to leave her home in Koblenz, Germany to start anew in Glasgow, and settled in the city by 1881.

In autumn 1892, when she was appointed Professor of Piano, she also became a British citizen.

Mr Harris-Logan said: “Perhaps one of the reasons Emma moved to Glasgow was that she was likely to have been actively recruited by Allan Macbeth around the time that the Glasgow Athenaeum was employing many talented musicians from Europe such as Henri Verbrugghen, our violin teacher and de facto head of strings, who in 1915 was headhunted to found the Sydney Conservatorium and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.”

Mr Harris-Logan said that not much was known about Prof Ritter-Bondy’s time at the school of music.

He says: “Because the records of the Glasgow Athenaeum are so scant they prevent us from saying anything more about her.

“We know she was giving concerts. In October 1893 she gave a concert in Athenaeum Hall with her two children, who were also musicians.

“Her son Camillo had played violin at the Royal Academy in London and had become a violinist of some repute in later life, so the family continued to be musical after Emma.”

“But the records are so scarce we can’t flesh her out any more than that, which is quite frustrating really.”

He adds: “As the only woman to hold such a post in an environment which was almost entirely male dominated, it put Emma at the forefront of arts education in Scotland and beyond.”

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