The founders

A meeting held at the Athenaeum in Glasgow in 1923 marked the formation of the Scottish Country Dance Society. Attendees included Miss Lillian Ross, Mr Michael Diack, Mr F H Bisset and most importantly, Mrs Ysobel Stewart and Miss Jean Milligan. These two women were the driving force behind the establishment of the Society and its evolution into the organisation we know today.

Ysobel Stewart and Jean Milligan were from very different dance backgrounds. Stewart had been taught the country dances as a young girl, participating in dances and events across the Argyllshire social scene. Milligan’s interest lay in traditional dance, music and movement - the country dances were a major feature of her work at Jordanhill Training College. 

They both lived extraordinary lives; Mrs Stewart as the first secretary of the Society built a solid administrative foundation on which the Society grew, and Miss Milligan laid down the principles of teaching, technique and style for the dance which continue to the present day.

The information below has been generously provided by our resident Archivist Alan Macpherson and is based on the meticulous research completed by Alastair MacFadyen and Florence Adams.

Jean Callander Milligan was born in Glasgow on the 9th of July 1886, the 5th child of James and Isabella Milligan.  She had five siblings; three brothers and two sisters.  As a child, Jean Milligan was enfeebled by rheumatic fever and was unable to attend school until aged nine so her mother (a trained teacher), supervised her early education.  When she returned to full fitness she was enrolled at the Glasgow High School for Girls in Garnethill  where her father was the Rector, and she remained there for her entire schooling.  Jean Milligan's love of dancing came from her mother, who was an enthusiastic and accomplished dancer and from whom Jean often sought advice in later years when she was preparing dances for the Scottish Country Dance Society.

At the beginning of the academic session 1900-1901, the Girls' High School acquired a gymnasium and appointed a teacher with a certificate in Ling's Swedish System of Gymnastics to supervise the physical education of the pupils.  As a pupil in the school, Jean Milligan had ample opportunity to develop her physical skills and received encouragement and inspiration from her mentors to train as a teacher of physical education.  It was from her teachers that Jean Milligan was introduced to the work of Madame Bergman-Österberg, the owner and Principal of Kingsfield College in Dartford which offered the first full-time course in Britain for specialist women teachers of physical education.  

Milligan Family ca 1900 (Jean Milligan seated left hand side)

In the autumn of 1905 Jean Milligan, aged nineteen, left Glasgow to start a two year training course in medical gymnastics and teacher training at Dartford College, an experience which she later described as "the happiest years of my life".  Her two years at Dartford College had a profound effect upon Jean Milligan; the example set by Madame Bergman-Österberg was one which she endeavoured to emulate for the rest of her life.  Jean Milligan's first appointment on the completion of her training was at Lingholt, a small private school in Hindhead, Surrey.  She remained there for a short time and in the Spring of 1909 returned to Glasgow to take up the post of Assistant Instructor of Physical Education at Dundas Vale Training College. 

The newly appointed Physical Training Instructor embraced the work of the College with characteristic vigour.  Milligan was particularly keen to develop and promote games as part of the training syllabus and soon established a fine College Hockey Club.  She was also very enthusiastic about Netball, a sport introduced from the USA by Madame Österberg's College.

Miss Milligan's interest in Scottish country dances led her to become involved with the Beltane Society, formed in Glasgow in 1912 to promote Scottish culture amongst the younger generation.  It had a relatively short life since it did not survive the outbreak of war in 1914.  Such was Jean Milligan's enthusiasm for her work, that she organised an "after hours" class on Wednesday evenings for some of her former students. Members of "The Old Students' Class" as it was known recalled that the first half of the evening was "drill" and the second half dancing.

In addition to Scottish dances the class activities included other national dances, minuets, gavottes and dances composed by Miss Milligan, often illustrating themes from nature. Her work with Scottish country dances was not confined to the Old Students' Class, but also featured prominently in her work with school children, the Beltane Society and her current College students. It was the members of the Old Students' Class who provided the kernel of the later Scottish Country Dance Society and from it the Society's founder members and first teachers were recruited.

In October 1915 Jean Milligan was given permission to go on war service and she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and was posted to the military hospital in Valetta, Malta in January 1916.  She resumed her duties at Dundas Vale a year later after the College authorities declined her request to continue war service, and was appointed Head of Department of Physical Education in September 1917. Miss Milligan was always very proud of her College and gave loyal and devoted service until her retirement in 1948.

Following the conclusion of the Great War there was resurgence of interest in traditional dance and song in England, led by Cecil Sharp and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS).  This Society (founded in 1911) had published several books of English Country Dances which were used with great enthusiasm by the Girl Guide Association, with the dances contained in these books being taught to Guides in Scotland as well as England.  The Guide Commissioner for Argyll, Mrs Ysobel Stewart of Fasnacloich, thought that it would be more appropriate to teach Scottish country dances to Scottish Girl Guides and set about investigating the possibility of publishing a book of Scottish country dances for that purpose.  She approached Michael Diack of the music publishers Patersons of Glasgow to further her idea.  Mrs Stewart was not a teacher but had an extensive knowledge of the country dances and music of her youth; collaboration with a teacher of dance was necessary to progress the project.  

Michael Diack, who was also Superintendent of Music in Glasgow schools knew of Jean Milligan and her work with Scottish country dances, so in 1923 he arranged a meeting between Jean Milligan and Ysobel Stewart.  The two ladies agreed that they should endeavour to form a Society to promote the publication of the book of dances and in November 1923 the Scottish Country Dance Society came into being.  Along with Ysobel Stewart, Miss Milligan was a member of the Dancing Committee of the new Society.  Work started immediately on the book of dances with each of the ladies contributing six dances, and in 1924 Book 1 was published.  Following the publication of Book 1, Miss Milligan established a class in Glasgow at which she taught the dances over a course of four lessons.  Many of Miss Milligan's former students enrolled in the class and its success was assured.

As a consequence of the Great War an entire generation of young men had been lost, leaving thousands of women in the position aptly described as "war widows who had never been married".  Miss Milligan observed, "here's something these hundreds of unmarried women can do that's fun and doesn't need men!".

Miss Milligan and Mrs Stewart agreed from the outset that the new Society should work towards bringing Scottish country dancing back to the ballroom in an elegant and sociable manner.  In this respect, Jean Milligan had a direct link through her mother to the nineteenth century, when dancing was a disciplined and refined pastime.  Later in life, commenting upon the early work of the Society she said "it was not necessary to revive a dead dog, just resuscitate and ailing one".

Interest in Scottish country dancing spread rapidly and by 1925 there were six SCDS Branches.  Miss Milligan or Mrs Stewart (sometimes both) would be present at the inauguration of a new Branch, with Miss Milligan teaching the first lesson. To maintain the teaching standards of Miss Milligan, Michael Diack proposed the establishment of an examination for a teaching certificate and in Glasgow in October 1924 Miss Milligan, along with Lord James Stewart Murray and Mrs Stewart, conducted the first examination. 

Scottish Country Dancing was promoted strongly through the introduction of competitive classes in the major Scottish Music Festivals and in December 1924 Miss Milligan was invited to contribute to the series of Festival Booklets for Scottish country dancing. She produced a booklet so full of valuable hints and advice on the subject that it was distributed to all members of the Society, and in 1930 an enlarged edition was issued again. As an adjudicator of Scottish country dancing at Music Festivals, Miss Milligan took every opportunity to use her drive and enthusiasm to further the aims of the Scottish Country Dance Society.

Such was the popularity of Scottish country dancing in the late 1920s that Miss Milligan and Mrs Stewart established an annual Summer School.  The first was held in 1927 and Miss Milligan was the director of the school annually until her death in 1978.  She was quite clear about the purpose of this event, saying in 1977 to the staff and students at her final Summer School:  "Summer school was started to maintain standards worldwide. It is a privilege to attend Summer School and should make us not merely loyal but dedicated to the aims of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society."

In the early years of the Scottish Country Dance Society women vastly outnumbered men. In 1931, however, Jean Milligan found herself in a position to remedy this situation. From the beginning of session 1931-1932 all male students of Physical Education were transferred to the newly opened "Scottish School of Physical Education and Hygiene at Jordanhill College, on a new three year course to align with the women's course.  Miss Milligan seized this opportunity by proposing the inclusion of Scottish country dancing in the extended course for men. This was accepted and from that point until her retirement in 1948 she encouraged country dancing for male PE students, many of whom were proud to be known as "one of Miss Milligan's boys". 

In 1937 the National Fitness Council was established by the Government to improve the health and well-being of the young; Miss Milligan became a member of the Glasgow and SW Committee of that Council.  This gave her yet another opportunity to further the work of the Scottish Country Dance Society and she prepared teams of dancers to be part of the National Fitness Council's activities at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition from May to September 1938.  In the following year, teams from Jordanhill were sent to the International Folk Dance Festival in Stockholm.  The long-term effects of Miss Milligan's work with Scottish country dancing at Jordanhill were of great importance to the expansion of the teaching of that dance genre.  For many years the Society's Preliminary Test Certificate was a compulsory element of teacher training for physical education.  This led to an increase in the teaching of Scottish country dancing in Scottish schools.

Despite the necessary restrictions on life brought about by the outbreak of war in 1939, Miss Milligan (ever resourceful) adapted to life in wartime Britain.  As well as guiding her own Branch through wartime difficulties she continued Society work in other places and as a member of the Publications Committee she was closely associated with the Society's determination to survive the war.  She wrote in the Scottish Country Dance Society Bulletin in 1940, "At a time when there is so much destruction and horror in the world, it is surely a duty of a Society such as ours to keep alive dances and music which bring gaiety and happiness to so many".  In 1942 she held a week's course of dance instruction in Rochdale for thirty teachers, released from their schools so that they might benefit from her instruction.  In the following year she visited Manchester to supervise a weekend of dancing for their Branch.  Although Summer School had been cancelled for the duration of the war, Miss Milligan continued to organise and teach one-day courses and social evenings.

From the beginning of the war she immersed herself in patriotic work in a variety of ways including working in Forces' canteens and becoming a member of a First Aid Post near her home in Roxburgh Street.  

The Ministry of Labour had established a committee to deal with various forms of recreational activities for young people. As the intention was to encourage all round physical development, one of these activities was Scottish Country Dancing, which became one of the most popular pastimes. This created a need for qualified leaders.  Many Education authorities organised training courses and awarded certificates, but because the standard was poor, Miss Milligan insisted that the Education Committees should adhere to the Society's certificates as a qualification for teaching Scottish Country Dancing. In that way she was able to maintain the Society's standards.

As the war drew to a close, preparations were made for a Summer School at St Andrews in 1945 and Miss Milligan was appointed Director. At that Summer School Miss Milligan taught the dances from Book 13, which included The Reel of the 51st Division, a dance with its origins in a Prisoner of War Camp. In 1946 she travelled to London with sixty-six dancers to attend the International Youth Festival.

In 1948 after thirty-nine years of loyal service to training teachers of physical education, Jean Milligan retired from Jordanhill College, only to embark upon an equally busy and productive future at the Society.

The early 1950s saw a change in the leadership of the Society. Two of the principal pioneers from the 1920s were no longer actively involved in the running of the Society:  Mrs Stewart the Vice-President had emigrated to South Africa and the President, Lord James Stewart Murray, now the 9th Duke of Atholl, was in failing health, increasing demands on Miss Milligan's time and energy.  However, now that she was retired from Jordanhill and that she had divested herself of her large commitment to the affairs of Glasgow Branch, she was able to respond to the many demands for her skills as teacher, adjudicator and examiner.

In 1948 Miss Milligan made her first trip abroad, representing the Society at the International Folk Music Council in Basel. At that meeting she was invited to send a team of dancers to the next Council meeting in 1949 in Bergen. This was the first of the International Teams which, under the tutelage of Miss Milligan, represented the Society for the next ten years at events in Europe and South Africa.

Miss Milligan loved to travel and the expansion of the Society in the 1950s, 60s and 70s provided ample opportunity for overseas trips.  In 1957 she made her first visit to North America, accepting the invitations of Miss Jeannie Carmichael of Boston Branch and Mr Jack McKelvie of New Hampshire Branch. Her first North American tour also included a visit to Canada where she taught general classes, prepared candidates for teaching qualification and conducted examinations, often providing her own music from the piano. The enthusiasm generated by her North American tour brought two immediate results; the formation of Branches in Toronto and Montreal, and in 1958 the establishment of the Teachers Association of Canada.

In later life, Miss Milligan claimed that she had visited Canada twelve times and the United States fourteen times, and no doubt enjoyed each and every one of them. In 1974, however, she achieved her great wish to visit her "family" in the antipodes and toured there for three weeks. Following the New Zealand visit she went on to tour in Australia and South Africa. She relished all of it and wrote in her diary: 

"While I enjoyed every visit, I think the most thrilling was my first visit to New Zealand. I was the first visitor from the Society to the furthest part of the world. What a wild dream such a visit would have been to me in 1923 when our thoughts of arousing interest in our dances did not go further than Scotland".

Whilst in New Zealand, Miss Milligan confided that she was becoming lame. This lameness was the result of osteo-arthritis. In the period December 1975 and March 1976 Miss Milligan received two "brand new knees". Following the operation to replace her knees she worked indefatigably to walk and dance again. Such was her courage and determination to achieve this goal that in 1977 she was nominated for the International Award for Valour in Sport.

 New Knees with Jim Taylor and Bill Little at Summer School, St Andrews, Younger Hall 1976 (photo credit: Bas Broekhuizen)

Notwithstanding her excursions overseas, Miss Milligan continued to play a pivotal role in the affairs of the Society at home.  She was Director of the annual Summer School and from 1945 until 1961 she served continuously as Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Executive Council.  Always an admirer of the Royal Family she was delighted when, in 1951, King George VI gave permission for the appellation "Royal" to the Society's title.

In 1961 another highlight of Miss Milligan's life in the Society, along with the President Lady Elgin and the Secretary Miss Hadden, was to welcome the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on an official visit to the RSCDS central office at Coates Crescent.

As well as the significant developments in the Society during the years 1950 to 1970, Miss Milligan had her own personal achievements. In 1950 Miss Milligan acted as Dance Supervisor for the Scottish Film Council and the Scottish Educational Film Association's production of a series of film loops on Scottish country dancing as aids to teaching. Six years later she also supervised the dancing in the making of "Scotland Dances" and in 1972 she herself appeared in the film "Mr. Menuhin's Welcome to Blair Castle", made by the BBC. In 1951 she wrote "Won't You Join the Dance" which for many years was the official manual of the Society.

The Society's Golden Jubilee Year in 1973 was a momentous one for Jean Milligan. Readers of the Glasgow newspaper the Evening Times voted her the "Scotswoman of the Year".  The Evening Times declared "This 'First Lady of the Dance' is a most successful ambassadress for Scotland, inspiring thousands of people in all quarters of the globe with a love and enthusiasm for the dance".  

Her work for the Society continued unabated and in 1977 this was formally acknowledged when the University of Aberdeen conferred on her the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Jean Milligan died suddenly on 28th July 1978 and at a memorial service held in St Leonard's Parish Church, St Andrews, the late Reverend Andrew McLellan commented on Miss Milligan's conviction that 'dancing should come from the soul',  "I am sure that explains just about everything about Dr Milligan.  Through these long years it was that great heart of hers which so often gave heart to Scottish Country Dancing, to the dancing itself and to the movement for popularising it".

There was no funeral for Miss Milligan, but some years after her death Mr James Taylor, a former Chairman of the Society, arranged to have a testimonial to Miss Milligan's work for the Society added to the Milligan family headstone in Denny Cemetary. 

An extract from a Grampian TV series made in the 1970s which traced the origins and development of Scottish Dance. Here, Jean Milligan is interviewed by the programme presenter, Ian Gilmour about the origins of the RSCDS 

Born in Kensington, London on 23rd November 1882 as Ysobel Campbell, she spent most of her pre-marriage years at the family home, Inverneil House near Ardrishaig in Argyllshire. She was the third child of Colonel Duncan Campbell and Mrs Campbell.  Colonel Campbell was a Highland laird with the estates of Inverneil on Loch Fyne and Taynish on Loch Sween, collectively known as Inverneil and Ross.  Ysobel Stewart's mother, Isobel Tobin (before her marriage to Colonel Campbell) was from Cheshire.

The Campbells of Inverneil were a military family and had a distinguished record of service in the British Army.  Amongst Ysobel Campbell’s forebears were Major General Sir Archibald Campbell (1739-1791) and Major General Sir James Campbell (1763-1819), both of whom are buried in Westminster Abbey.  Sir Archibald Campbell who was Governor of Jamaica and later of Madras, married Amelia Ramsay, daughter of painter Allan Ramsay and grand-daughter of Allan Ramsay the poet.

Ysobel Campbell received most of her education at home from a governess, but her fifteenth to seventeenth years were spent at St. Leonards School for Girls, in St Andrews.  Ysobel Campbell was highly proficient in all forms of needlework, spinning, weaving and knitting.  So proficient was she in these subjects that she returned to St. Leonards to take up an appointment as the school’s first teacher of handiwork, a position she held from 1901-1907.  A report in the Campbeltown Courier on 28th July 1906, records that Ysobel Campbell was among the judges of needlework and singing at the Floral and Industrial Exhibition at Largie.

Music and dancing were important parts of Ysobel Campbell’s life at Inverneil.  Colonel Campbell was a piper and she learned to play the pipes, occasionally accompanying her father to judge local piping competitions in Argyll. She was also a talented singer and frequently gave solo performances of Gaelic songs.  A more unusual musical talent was that of whistling, an attribute which proved useful in later life when collecting tunes for Scottish country dancing.

Dancing was a regular recreation at Inverneil House before the Great War, with reels, waltzes, quadrilles and a few surviving country dances making up the programmes.  Many Highland lairds held annual Balls for their tenants and neighbours. The Campbells of Kilberry held such a Ball annually on old New Year’s day, at which Ysobel Campbell and her family were often present.  The dancing usually concluded in the early hours of the next day with the kissing dance, the “Bonnie Lad”, also known as “Bee Baw Babbity”.  Ysobel Campbell recalls one of the Ball writing “We always went to stay at Kilberry for their Ball on old New Year’s day……At one Ball my brother who had an injured ankle could not dance, so he sat in a corner watching and he counted 42 reels besides the country dances, which were sandwiched in after about every fifth reel.  We girls were collected and taken off to bed before the “Bonnie Lad” took place!”.

In her 26th year Ysobel Campbell was presented at Court in Buckingham Palace on 6th of June 1907.

Colonel Duncan Campbell was a Gaelic speaker, ensuring that his family also had the language; he and his daughters were keen supporters of An Comunn Gàidhealach, the Gaelic language society.  As the representative of her local Branch on the national executive of An Comunn, Ysobel Stewart had the opportunity to meet the leading supporters of that organisation among whom was Lord James Stewart Murray, President of the Scottish Country Dance Society from 1924.  On 25th December 1907, the Argyllshire Advertiser reported on a Ceilidh organised by Ysobel Campbell for the Highland Association of Ardrishaig.  It went on to comment on an exhibition of spinning, accompanied by Gaelic songs sung by Miss Campbell.  

In October 1907 An Comunn organised a grand bazaar in St Andrews Halls in Glasgow and at the Feill (Festival) Ball held on the 29th of October; present were Colonel and Mrs Campbell along with their three daughters. Also in the company was Captain John (Ian) Stewart of Fasnacloich, Ysobel Campbell’s future husband.

John Charles Stewart was born at Fasnacloich in 1873 and was the eldest son of Captain John Campbell Stewart.  In 1899 Ian Stewart was in Durban when the Boer War broke out. He joined the Imperial Light Horse and was promoted to Captain.  He was wounded at the siege of Ladysmith and on returning from the South African War he continued his military interests on a voluntary basis, beginning his association with the Scottish Horse in 1904, a regiment of the new Territorial Force.  Captain Stewart assisted in raising the Argyllshire Squadron of this regiment which he commanded.  In 1909 he was promoted to the rank of Major.  In the previous year he took up an appointment with the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries based in Ayr.  

On the 6th of January 1909 Ysobel Campbell married Captain Ian Stewart of Fasnacloich and following their marriage they made their home in Ayr, where they lived until 1934.

On the outbreak of the Great War Major Stewart was called for active service and served with the British Expeditionary Force in France from 1916 to 1918. He was invalided home when he lost his right eye whilst on duty, and was released from active service to resume his work on the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.

In 1911 the Stewarts had a son called Dugald, born in Ayr in July 1911 but who died in 1916 aged five. Despite this personal tragedy Ysobel Stewart volunteered for war work at the Dungallan Auxiliary Hospital in Oban, where she worked as a cook and later as Quartermaster.  In January 1918 she transferred to St John’s Convalescent Hospital in Liverpool.

Following the Armistice in 1918 Mrs Stewart returned to Ayr and became heavily involved in the Girl Guide Movement, an organisation which was established in 1910 and was continuing to develop.  In 1919 she became Secretary of the Guides Association in Argyll.  As well as running the Alloway Guide Company, Mrs Stewart did much to promote and develop outdoor activities and between 1920 and 1921 she was Camp Director for Scotland. Until 1927 Mrs Stewart held the position of Head of Training, responsible for the training of Guiders throughout Scotland. In recognition of her services to Guiding, in 1925 she was awarded the Silver Fish, the highest award for good service to the entire movement and bestowed only on very special occasions. When she resigned as County Commissioner in 1931 it was said of her by the Scottish Chief Commissioner:

“Guiding owes a great deal to Mrs. Stewart, who was one of the early members of the Scottish Executive Committee. She organised and developed the Training and Camping side from the first, the latter of which is now such a great feature of our Guide training.”

The English Folk Dance Society was formed in 1911 by Cecil Sharpe with Maud Karpeles as a leading participant, to preserve and promote the old English Country and Folk dances in their traditional form.  In the years following the Great War, English country dancing enjoyed a great revival in popularity and the English Folk Dance Society collected and published many country dances. These were taken up with great enthusiasm by the Girl Guide Association in England and soon spread to Scotland. Of this Mrs Stewart recalled:

“About the year 1920 or 1921, when I was a Commissioner in the Girl Guides, I was surprised to find Guiders teaching their Guides to dance English Folk dances. On asking them why, when we had so many Scottish Country dances, their reply was, that they would like to teach the Scottish ones, if only they had a book to go by. This want of a book seemed to be universal, so I set to work to make a book. Taking a blank book with lines for music on alternate pages, I wrote out descriptions of the Country dances which I had always known and danced in Argyll, and copied the music on opposite pages. I showed this book, at a Commissioners’ conference, to representatives from all the airts, and found agreement as to the manner of carrying out the dances.”

Mrs Stewart aimed to make Scottish country dances available to Scottish Guides and with a view to publication she endeavoured to ensure that those dances she had recorded in her manuscript notebook were correct.  In 1952 she recalled to Miss Muriel Hadden, the RSCDS Secretary at the time:

“ was when walking along Princes Street that I determined to have the first book of country dances published and so the Society was originated………….Eventually, thinking that I might have the book published I took it to Messrs Patersons where the late Mr Michael Diack hailed it with joy, and said that his firm would be delighted to publish it, if I could certify that the dances were correctly described.  He put me touch with Miss Jean Milligan of the Beltane Society, and she and I danced while Mr. Diack played, in his small music room.  

We agreed that it would be best to form a Society, so that the book might be backed by a wider group of people and that the education authorities and Musical Festivals should also be interested.”

The sequence of events which followed culminated in the formation of the Scottish Country Dance Society on the 26th November, 1923 with Mrs Stewart appointed as honorary secretary.  A glance at those early supporters of the Society shows the influence of Mrs Stewart’s interests in An Comunn Gàidhealach and the Girl Guides.  Prominent among these supporters were Lord James Stewart Murray (who was the Society President from 1924 until his death in 1957), his sister-in-law the Duchess of Atholl and his sister Lady Dorothea Ruggles-Brise.  Apart from Mrs Stewart herself, probably the most prominent recruit from the Guides Association was Miss Lilias Dalmahoy, who was the first Convenor of the Dancing Committee for Edinburgh.  

There were others from the Girl Guides Association who, apart from their work in supporting the development of the new Society, helped to ensure that Mrs Stewart’s aim of having Scottish Guides dancing Scottish country dances was realised.

As the first Secretary of the Scottish Country Dance Society Mrs Stewart was extremely diligent in attention to administrative matters and she has provided a detailed record of the first ten years of the Society’s development.  At that time the Society did not have a Headquarters and so it was that Mrs Stewart’s home at 3 Part Circus, Ayr became the administrative centre for the Society.  She later recalled to Miss Hadden; “Ayr was the cradle of the Society where, as Secretary I nursed it until it grew too large for one person to carry”.  

As well as attending to the day to day operation of the Society, Mrs Stewart was active in encouraging the formation of new Branches of the Scottish Country Dance Society and in 1925 she was present at the inaugural meetings of Dundee, Aberdeen and Greenock.  

She had to combine this work with the other aspects of her life. She worked assiduously to support her local Episcopal Church where both she and her husband were members.  In 1931 her commitment to the Girl Guides Association came to an end and in 1932 she helped to found the Ayrshire Branch of An Comunn Gàidhealach which she represented on the Executive Council of An Comunn.

The inaugural meeting of the Scottish Country Dance Society was presided over by Mr F. H. Bisset who was the Chairman of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Music Festivals and also of the Federation of Music Festivals.  At that meeting Mr Bisset  stated that the Music Festivals would be willing to include Scottish country dancing in their programmes.  At a meeting of the Interim Executive Committee in 1924 it was confirmed that such classes were now established with the Music Festivals in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Stirling.  At the same meeting Mr Diack suggested that the Society should set standards of dancing and organised examinations and the issuing of certificates of competency in the teaching of Scottish country dancing.  This was agreed, but until other teachers were trained the onus of examination and adjudication fell upon Miss Milligan and Mrs Stewart.

The Executive Committee of the Society decided, in August 1927 to arrange a holiday course of dancing.  St Andrews in Fife was the chosen venue, due no doubt to Mr Stewart’s previous association with that town.  Such was the success of that first Summer School, with 104 members attending, that it has continued ever since and with the exception of 1932 when it was held in Edinburgh, it has always taken place at St Andrews.

The Research Sub-Committee of the Executive Council had the task of collecting traditional country dances for publication and of selecting music to accompany them.  Mrs Stewart was an active researcher and her researches were transcribed into notebooks.  These notebooks were eventually passed to Miss Milligan who continued to use them as sources of traditional dances long after Mrs Stewart ceased to be active in the Society.  

At the end of the Society’s first decade Mrs Stewart reflected on what had been achieved since 1923.  She said that some people had prophesied that the Society was never likely to bring Scottish country dancing back to the ballroom but she went on to say that “the pioneers were never discouraged, but went cheerfully on, one step at a time, with remarkable results”.  During the first ten years the administrative burden increased exponentially and from 1927 Mrs Stewart had a paid assistant, Miss Winifred Forgan from Ayr.  In 1933 Miss Forgan was appointed to a full time position as Assistant Secretary, with Mrs Stewart remaining as Honorary Secretary.  

In appreciation of Mrs Stewart's services to the Society, she was presented with a bound volume of the eight books published so far.  The presentation was made by the Chairman Hubert Low who remarked that “the Society owed its inception and unparalleled success to Mrs Stewart’s inspiration and industry”.  At the Annual General Meeting in November 1933, Mrs Stewart was elected as the Society’s first Vice-President and Miss Forgan was confirmed as the Secretary of the Society.

The conclusion of Mrs Stewart’s service as Secretary of the Society coincided with her husband’s retirement from his position as an inspector with the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.  In 1934 they left Ayr and set up a new home in Camserney, Appin of Dull near Aberfeldy.  The Stewart's involved themselves in local affairs and activities and took a leading role in the organisation of the 1935 Royal Jubilee celebrations and the Coronation celebrations of 1937.  

Mrs Stewart was actively involved in raising funds to erect a village hall known as the Coronation Hall.  She started a class for Scottish country dancing there and organised it until she left the district in 1949, a year after her husband died.  Mrs Stewart returned to Argyll and she set up her home in Argyle Cottage, Ardrishaig.

Mrs Stewart attended to her responsibilities as Vice-President with great conscientiousness and she rarely missed meetings of the Executive Council and of the Publications Committee.  An account of the 1937 meeting was written by Miss M.M. Dow of Dundee in the 1938 Bulletin.  She said “Mrs Stewart, with whom we associate the beginnings, and to whom we owe in large measure the steady growth of the Society and its Publications…” 

On the 21st of September, 1944 Mrs Stewart along with the Chairman and Secretary was present at Holyrood House to present a bound copy of Books 1-12 to the Queen and Princess Elizabeth.  

With somewhat less regularity Mrs Stewart continued to represent the Society at events and occasions which furthered the interests of the Society.  At the AGM held in Glasgow in the 25th anniversary year of 1948, the Society paid tribute to the work of Mrs Stewart and Miss Milligan.

From her home in Ardrishaig Mrs Stewart kept in touch with Society business through correspondence with Miss Hadden the Secretary, and this continued after she became Honorary Vice President following a constitutional change in 1952.  

In 1955 Mrs Stewart left Scotland to settle in Fish Hoek in the Cape, South Africa where she had relatives.  She maintained her interest in the Society through regular correspondence with the Secretary and took great pleasure in receiving a visit from the Society’s president, Lady Elgin, in 1960.  In a letter to Miss Hadden, she said of the visit “we had a lovely tête a tête which we both enjoyed.  It was lovely for me to get up to date news and views of the Society”.  When talking about her research work, Mrs Stewart confided to Lady Elgin that she had employed her ability to whistle to good effect when collecting tunes, first by learning them and then writing them in notation.

Mrs Stewart died on the 15th of October, 1968 in her eighty sixth year and at the Annual General Meeting in that year a tribute to Mrs Stewart was delivered by Miss Marguerite Kenyon of Glasgow.  It was Mrs Stewart who first had the idea to form a Scottish Country Dance Society and to her must go the credit for having taken the first steps towards its foundation.  In 1974 at the instigation of Group Captain David Huxley of Leamington Spa Branch, a memorial subscription was started for Mrs Stewart.  As a result of that an Altar Table and Cross were presented to the Church of the Holy Cross at Portnacroish at its re-dedication on the 9th of September 1976, in memory of Mrs Stewart.

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  • Join a worldwide community of Scottish country dance and music

Join an RSCDS Branch & receive member benefits

There are 159 RSCDS Branches and over 300 Affiliated Groups in more than 50 countries around the world, located on all continents (except Antarctica).

They organise and run classes, dances and other social events in their own areas and are committed to helping develop Scottish Dance and Music for future generations.

We encourage you to try Scottish Country Dancing for yourself to see just how much fun it can be, so please come along and learn how to 'Dance Scottish'. 

Wherever you are in the world there is most likely Scottish Country Dancing.

Find my nearest branch

  • © 2024 The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society
  • Registered Charity No. SC 016085
  • Company No. SC 480530
  • 12 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7AF