Two trail-blaz­ing ladies

To­day, women on tele­vi­sion and fe­male for­eign cor­re­spon­dents are mak­ing the news as much as re­port­ing it. He­len Brown talked to au­thor Su­san Ker­acher about two in­trepid Dundee ladies in the news more than 100 years ago . . .

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - Feature -

ONE OF the most pop­u­lar dis­plays at The Mc­Manus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Mu­seum, is Two In­trepid Ladies, part of the Dundee and the World ex­hi­bi­tion. It tells the story of Marie Imandt and Bessie Maxwell, both jour­nal­ists with D. C. Thom­son who, in 1894, were sent off by their em­ployer on a fact-find­ing mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate the lives of women around the world, send­ing back reg­u­lar re­ports for pub­li­ca­tion in The Courier and The Weekly News. Their jour­ney took the best part of nine months, they cov­ered 26,000 miles and vis­ited 10 coun­tries. Their ar­ti­cles cov­ered ev­ery­thing from re­li­gion and in­dus­try to ar­chi­tec­ture and fash­ion; from visits to an Asian opium den and an Amer­i­can In­dian reser­va­tion to a Parsee wed­ding and a din­ner party in the sub­urbs of Tokyo.

Cu­ra­tor of Art at The Mc­Manus Su­san Ker­acher ex­plained: “While work­ing on Dundee and the World, we de­cided to in­ter­pret the ma­te­rial we had by look­ing at the col­lec­tors and how what they had gath­ered – ev­ery­thing from arte­facts from An­cient Egypt, via an African mask to Ja­panese decorative arts – came to be in Dundee.

“Ob­jects are in­ter­est­ing but so are the peo­ple be­hind them. Those col­lec­tors fell into four broad cat­e­gories – the Four Ms as we called them – mer­chants (like Sir James Caird), mis­sion­ar­ies such as Mary Slessor, mil­i­tary per­son­nel and mys­ter­ies, things whose prove­nance and his­tory was un­cer­tain or com­pletely un­known.

“It was when we were re­search­ing th­ese col­lec­tors in the Lamb col­lec­tion at the li­brary I dis­cov­ered the story of the lady jour­nal­ists – and I was hooked!”

So who were th­ese “two in­trepid ladies”? Franziska Maria Is­abella Imandt was born in Dundee in 1860 to Prus­sian emi­gree and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist turned lan­guage teacher Peter Imandt and his Scot­tish wife Annie McKenzie. She was ed­u­cated at Dundee High School and gained a univer­sity qual­i­fi­ca­tion at St An­drews 10 years be­fore women were al­lowed to grad­u­ate in the same way as men.

Her decade-younger col­league Bessie Maxwell, was also a High School pupil who stud­ied at Univer­sity Col­lege, Dundee. Her younger sis­ter, Annie, fol­lowed her into jour­nal­ism.

In 1894, both were es­tab­lished jour­nal­ists – Imandt was de­scribed by D. C. Thom­son as “our lady edi­tor” – re­port­ing on ev­ery­thing from so­cial and artis­tic events to pay and con­di­tions.

The story opened up such a wealth of fas­ci­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion that along­side the pop­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tion, Su­san has now put to­gether a book of some of their ar­ti­cles.

Their ex­ploits may not have had the un­cer­tainty of the war zone re­port­ing of to­day, but given its con­text, their jour­ney and mis­sion was ex­tra­or­di­nary enough.

“Those who could travel in those days,” Su­san said, “tended to have ‘done Europe’ but as well as tak­ing in France and Italy, the ladies’ itin­er­ary cov­ered Egypt which was ‘the’ place to go at that time; In­dia, with its strong con­nec­tions to Dundee; China and Ja­pan, just open­ing up to the west and the USA and Canada.

“It was a very wellor­gan­ised ex­pe­di­tion, with con­tacts, many with Dundee links, se­cured in as many of the des­ti­na­tions as pos­si­ble. D. C. Thom­son him­self had trav­elled to Egypt and used his con­nec­tions there to ease their path. They trav­elled first class, stayed in the best ho­tels and had health checks be­fore they went. Thomas Cook had been or­gan­is­ing ma­jor travel tours for some years but this was still some­thing very un­usual. And in­stead, as many peo­ple from Dundee had done, of trav­el­ling widely for work and to live, es­sen­tially, in ex­pat com­mu­ni­ties, th­ese women went to ob­serve for them­selves and in­form those who couldn’t travel of what they saw, the truth of women’s lives.

“And they did find them­selves in sit­u­a­tions of po­ten­tial dan­ger. When they were in the Far East, the Chi­nese-Ja­panese war was rag­ing and be­ing re­ported by their male col­leagues.

“They must have been aware of the pos­si­ble dif­fi­cul­ties but seem to have treated it all as an ad­ven­ture.”

Their styles were very dif­fer­ent – Marie Imandt’s com­mit­ted and emo­tion­ally en­gaged, Bessie’s lighter and full of hu­mour. Hu­man in­ter­est, at­mo­spheric evo­ca­tion and nar­ra­tive be­came im­por­tant.

Su­san added: “The scope of what they pro­duced is truly amaz­ing. They must have been re­search­ing and writ­ing all the time.”

When the ladies ar­rived back in Scot­land they un­der­took a long se­ries of lec­tures and talks about their ex­pe­ri­ences and con­tin­ued to write and re­port. Bessie fa­mously went down a coal mine in Fife to write about work­ing con­di­tions.

l Dundee’s Two In­trepid Ladies: A Tour Round the World by D. C. Thom­son’s Fe­male Jour­nal­ists in 1894 is pub­lished by Aber­tay His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety at £7.50: ISBN 978 0 90 0019494.

Su­san Ker­acher, cu­ra­tor of Art at the Mc­Manus.

In­trepid fe­male re­porters Marie Imandt (left) and Bessie Maxwell.

Pic­tures: Dundee Cen­tral Li­brary Lo­cal His­tory Cen­tre.

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