Who Do You Think You Are?
Flora Clift Stevenson 1839–1905
This social reformer devoted decades to improving the prospects of Scotland’s children
On 18 August 2021 the Bank of Scotland’s polymer £50 note entered circulation, bearing a portrait of Flora Clift Stevenson, a background illustration of Edinburgh’s Randolph Crescent, and the quotation “What Miss Stevenson did not know about education was not worth knowing”. Stevenson was a pioneering social reformer who specialised in education for poor or neglected children. In 1868 she joined the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and became one of the first women in the UK to be elected to the new school boards when she joined the first Edinburgh School Board in 1873. In 1900, after contributing to many debates on education over the years, she was unanimously elected the board’s chair.
In 1899, when she was 60 years old, her achievements were acknowledged through the naming of Flora Stevenson Primary School in Edinburgh. Although she had been born into a merchant family in Glasgow, she later lived in Edinburgh at 13 Randolph Crescent. It was in the Scottish capital that she began her educational reforms. These included an evening literacy class
for ‘messenger girls’ in her house, and organising schools for poor children. She was concerned with ensuring regular attendance, and with equal pay for women teachers. She had a particular passion for the education of girls, at both school and university level.
Shortly before she died, Stevenson was given the freedom of the City of Edinburgh.
An even greater tribute came when children lined the streets in their thousands for her funeral.