Mabel: the Principal’s Wife Talk by Julia Melvin, granddaughter of Principal James Irvine
Alumna Julia Melvin, granddaughter and biographer of Sir James Irvine, will be giving a lecture about her grandmother, Lady Mabel Irvine (1880 to 1967).
Mabel Williams first met Jim Irvine in 1899 while they were both students in Leipzig, he completing a PhD with pioneering chemist Wislicenus and she being ‘finished’ as a musician. According to the conventions of the day, and the requirements of her father, they were not able to marry until 1905, by which time Jim had obtained a permanent post, as a lecturer in Chemistry at St Andrews. Thereafter Mabel’s life was dedicated to the support and enabling of Jim’s career, as lecturer and then professor of Chemistry (1909 to 1920) and as Principal of the University (1921 to 1952) and in managing their family and household, as well as her own musical performance and writing.
Mabel’s story gives a personal insight into the heart of University life during a half-century of extraordinary change. She was formed by her Ulster roots and the rather old-fashioned social mores of St Andrews of the early twentieth century. She witnessed the 500th anniversary of the University, the agonies of two world wars and the birth pangs of the University of Dundee. She entertained ‘princes, peers, poets, professors and plain people’ from her position as ‘first Lady’ and hostess in University House, and maintained an extensive correspondence with Rectors and honorary graduates such as JM Barrie.
But she was also left behind when Jim travelled on University, higher education and government business and suffered the death of an only son in 1944. Her ambition for her husband, her pride in his achievements and her endless search for good domestic staff might seem old-fashioned today, but her story is a fascinating one which Julia has uncovered from the family and University archives, and which she will tell with her customary enthusiasm and wit.
There will be an introduction by Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Mapstone and a reception following the talk in Lower College Hall. The lecture is open to the public and all are welcome.