National Wallace Monument inducts first women in Hall of Heroes

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Wallace Monument
Photo credit: Jim Mailer

Missionary Mary Slessor and charity co-founder Maggie Keswick Jencks have become the first women to be inducted into the Wallace Monument’s Hall of Heroes.

The Hall of Heroes, located on the second floor of the monument, currently contains the busts of sixteen men who “secured their own place in Scottish history”, including Sir Walter Scott, James Watt and William Ewart Gladstone.

The two women were chosen by a public vote on the National Wallace Monument website, which originally sought to choose only one. Among the final fourteen on the shortlist were Gaelic poet Màiri Mhòr nan Òran and Holocaust hero Jane Haining.

Mary Slessor, who was born in Aberdeen in 1848, worked twelve hours a day in a Dundee jute mill to provide for her family before becoming “the most celebrated Scottish missionary since David Livingstone”.

She is most remembered for her time among the people of Calabar in Nigeria. Initially describing the locals as “heathens”, Slessor soon decided that improving the lives of the locals was more important than converting them.

She learned their language and cultural traditions, and lived beside them, eschewing the urban missionary compounds where her contemporaries stayed.

While posted in Calabar, Slessor was concerned by a local superstition which said that in every set of twins born, one was possessed by an evil spirit. Often, this led to both twins being cast out into the bush to die, and the ostracizing of the mother.

Her solution was to adopt hundreds of these children, saving their lives and helping to start the process of cutural change.

Upon Slessor’s death, flags were flown at half-mast on government buildings across the country. Her face appeared on the Clydesdale Bank’s ten pound note for twelve years between 1997 and 2009. You can read more about Slessor’s life here.

Maggie Keswisk Jencks was born in Cowhill, Dumfriesshire, in 1941. In 1979, she co-founded the Holywood Trust, which continues to support young people in Dumfries and Galloway to this day, and the Keswick Foundation, which established Hong Kong’s first hospice for the terminally ill and still supports mental health services in the region. Keswick Jencks created both alongside her father, Sir John Keswick.

In May 1993, she was told that the cancer that had been stemmed by an operation five years earlier had recurred, and that she had only two to three months to live.

She soon began work on a Cancer Caring Centre to help others in the same situation, and that idea grew into a charity, Maggie’s, which she co-founded with her husband, American architect Charles Jencks.

Keswick Jencks died in July 1995, fourteen months after her initial diagnosis. She was still working on the charity plans the day before her death. The first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in November 1996, and there are now twenty across the UK and abroad.

Many more are currently in development, and an Online Centre which provides professional advisors to people around the world is available on the charity’s website, where you can also learn more about Maggie Keswick Jencks’ life.

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